The anthropology research team was happy to be invited to the North Eastern Federal University of Yakutsk in Eastern Siberia, held on 28th and 29th of September. Yakutsk is the capital of the Sakha Republic, Russia’s biggest administrative unit with the coldest winter temperatures and a population of just under 1 million inhabitants.
The faculty of law and the international department took the lead in enhancing international cooperation across northern countries at the University. The background is a Russian Federal University reform, under which Yakutsk became one of the only 9 Federal universities in the country with an expressed international mandate.
Our first day of the visit focused on official meetings with the University leadership, meeting students, faculty, and teaching research topics and methods to them. That generated great interest among the just under 100 students, who stayed twice as long as scheduled in the packed lecture hall. Towards the end, active discussion revealed their interest in study and life in the western North, as well as exchange opportunities, as for example under the Uarctic’s North 2 North programme.
On our second day we gathered in the posh hall of the dissertation evaluation council in massive armchairs for the conference, opened by the vice-speaker of the Sakha Yakutian parliament, Andrei Krivoshapkin, one of the top indigenous politicians, Eveny by nationality. He finished his opening speech by praising the BBC documentary on his home region, a documentary which the anthropology research team had set up in 2010.
One cluster of presentations dealt with legal aspects of competing land use in the North, especially where industry and indigenous livelihoods coexist. Another cluster was on solving conflicts between different land users with the focus on compensation arrangements for indigenous residents. Thirdly, presentations dealt with the historical forms of organisations of land use in this part of the world, where indigenous Eveny, Evenki have lived with Yakuts and Russians since the late middle ages.
We felt reminded of Lapland when hearing the statements that legislation for indigenous peoples should focus on language and cultural preservation. While progress had been made since the 1990s, the laws do not yet really work in the region. For example, the numerical restriction in the Russian legal definition of indigeneity was discussed and criticised – a topic about which colleagues have published before (linkt to Anna’s article).
The conference ended with passing a resolution on legal and developmental aspects of coexistence with industry and indigenous land use. A Northern Indigenous Minorities Centre will be recommended to be established, which would be the only one of its kind in Russia. The resolution will be presented to the Sakha Yakutian Parliament, and may become the base for a Sakha initiative in the Federation Council of Russia – the Upper Chamber of the Parliament.
During their visit, the three foreign guests Florian Stammler, Nuccio Mazzullo (Arctic Centre) and Ingo Heidbrink (Old Dominion University, Virginia, USA) received the “red carpet treatment” everywhere, in best Russian tradition of hospitality. We got an extensive social programme including nice restaurant with raw frozen fish and other local delicacies, ethnographic excursion, permafrost chamber visits, ice sculptures, and city excursion. We thank our hosts, especially Aitalina Ivanova, for all the hard work in setting up this meeting and taking so good care of us, and look forward to further meetings in the future.
Last but not least, we were so happy to experience one more lovely surprise as we were met by our former intern Natalia Bochkareva. She had heard by chance about our visit to Yakutsk and was able to meet us a day before she would leave to Germany. After her return from France Natalia has successfully graduated and was now about to continue with some further postgraduate studies in Europe. We thank her for her warm-hearted thought and for her specially handmade traditional gifts that will remind us of our reunion and will accompany us on our return trip to Lapland!