Nornickel's agreement with indigenous northerners discussed at UN forum

The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues held its 21st session, at which Russian and US experts discussed the application of the principle of Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), including the first such example in Russia's Arctic between mining giant Nornickel and indigenous people of Tukhard settlement.

FPIC is reflected in Article 32 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, its bottom line is that in order to use the territory, where indigenous people have been historically living, it must be received by the state or business. The ultimate goal of FPIC is to build trusting relationships with indigenous people.

In Russia, obtaining consent is not an act of goodwill by businessmen, but a legalized necessity, spelled out in the standards of responsibility for residents of the Arctic zone, which, by the way, is the difference between Russia and the United States.

Jennifer Weddle, co-chair of Greenberg Traurig LLP's American Indian Law Practice, said during the event that there were dozens of laws in the US that protected the cultural property of indigenous peoples, but there was no law that obligates the authorities to adhere to the FPIC principle. There are examples when dialogue is established and the project is implemented to the mutual satisfaction of business and indigenous peoples, but there are also opposite examples: the construction of the Dakota pipeline caused massive protests by the Sioux Indians, but the court ruled against them, she recalled.

Gregory Guldin, the president of Seattle-based Cross-Cultural Consulting Services, said it was important to increase indigenous participation in negotiations. For this they must unite in communities -- councils and commissions. Guldin cited the interaction of the commodity business with the indigenous peoples of Sakhalin as a positive examples of such dialogue.

However, this experience in Russia is not limited to Sakhalin. It is thanks to the FPIC principle that the fate of the village of Tukhard in Taimyr is being decided. Antonina Gorbunova, the executive director of the Union of Indigenous Peoples "SOYUZ" (KMNSOYUZ) and a member of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, presented a case on the implementation of the FPIC principle in Taimyr, the first such experience in the Russian Arctic.

Tukhard was founded spontaneously half a century ago, shortly after an enterprise was built on that site -- now it is Norilskgazprom, which is part of Nornickel. Indigenous northerners then settled in free temporary housing built for the shift workers of the enterprise. The village owes its name to the specifics of its activity: from the Nenets, Tukhard is translated as "a place where fire is made". Unfortunately, the place will soon be in a sanitary protection zone, and recently, living and residential construction within such zones is prohibited. At the same time, the Tukhard tundra has been the place of traditional residence and conduct of the traditional way of life of the Nenets for many centuries.

To resolve the issue, Nornickel initiated, with the approval of the residents of Tukhard, the procedure for obtaining FPIC. In March 2022, the residents of Tukhard voted for a new site for the settlement and signed an agreement with the company that stipulates the terms of the resettlement. The company will offer for approval to the indigenous population of Tukhard an architectural solution for new housing, the construction of which is planned to be completed in 2026. In addition, an important aspect is the infrastructure -- a school, a hospital, fish and meat processing shops, and much more. All housing and infrastructure decisions are made in consultation with indigenous people and are built under their full control.

Negotiations and discussions were held in accordance with international standards with the participation of international experts. The procedure was organized by KMNSOYUZ.
The Council of Representatives, which was formed by the residents of Tukhard, participates in the dialogue with business, controls construction, the quality of building materials, architectural solutions and other current issues. A mechanism for handling complaints and monitoring the implementation of the Resettlement and Village Development Program will be formed.

At the end of the event, Alexei Tsykarev, deputy chairman of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, expressed hope that the new paradigm of relations between companies and indigenous peoples proposed by Gregory Guldin would become a generally accepted global practice, the formation of which is complicated by the peculiarities of the legislation, customs and traditional way of life of indigenous peoples.

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