Indigenous Peoples and Development in the Chukchi Autonomous Okrug

(By Debra L. Schindler ; INSROP Working Paper No. 51 – 1996 IV.4.1)


The purpose of this paper is to provide an introduction to the Native peoples of Chukotka. General information is provided on the Chukchi Autonomous Okrug (District), its economy, its political structure, current socioeconomic issues (including environmental and Native rights concerns), and the people who live there. The Northern Sea Route is a vital part of the Chukotkan landscape and the level of support it receives in the future will have a tremendous impact on the lives of the Native peoples. Further research and contact with Native and nonNative organizations in Chukotka is necessary for successful implementation of any development plans. Suggestions for such research are presented in the report.

The Chukchi Autonomous Okrug was created in 1930 to provide an ethnicallydefined homeland for the Chukchi people within the socialist state. They have thus historically been the focus of communist party and government plans for developing indigenous economies and cultures. The small Yupik (Yupigyt, or Asiatic Eskimo) population of the Okrug is concentrated in a few villages on the coast. Other indigenous peoples inthe Okrug Even, Yukaghir, Koryak, etc. are minorities within minorities, whose basic mass is to be found outside the Okrug. The cultures of these individual peoples have their own differences in independence from trends in the economy, in local naturalclimatic conditions, and historicalheritage.

The Chukchi Autonomous Okrug forms the eastern terminus of the Northern Sea Route as defined by INSROP, although this vital shipping route continues down the eastern coast of Russia to Magadan, Nakhodka, Vladivostok and numerous ports between and beyond. The Provideniya hydrographic base is charged with the task of ensuring safe navigation between the 160020

Economic and social stratification, despite Soviet claims to the contrary, is significant between Natives and nonNatives. Interethnic conflicts are found over a wide range of issues, from priority landuse to government subsidies for health care, housing, and education. The formal organization of Native peoples into associations which demand rights of priority landuse, cultural freedom, educational opportunity, etc. has increased ethnic tensions in new ways. In spite of the recent mass exodus of nonNative peoples from Chukotka, the majority of the population is nonNative and Russian. Racism is not an insignificant factor in social, economic, and political spheres and has historically been a defining characteristic of many government policies in this area.

The Northern Sea Route is a vital transportation and supply route for all residents in the Chukchi Autonomous Okrug. It is especially critical for Native peoples, who have few opportunities and little means for travel outside the Okrug. At the same time, the Sea Route and its industrial customers are primarily nonNatives, with little interest or financial ability to provide the services and goods required in the Native villages without direct government subsidies. Native environmentalconcerns revolve around the degradation of natural resources through further expansion of the mining industry and possible oil production in the Okrug. Healthy and accessible reindeer pastures, inland fishing and hunting grounds, and coastal marine resources are vital to the indigenous economy and to the physical and spiritual survival of the Chukchi and Yupik peoples of Chukotka.

Expansion of the extractive industries necessitates expansion of the shipping traffic, port facilities and infrastructure if skilled workers are going to be kept in the industry. Native concerns also focus on apparent increases in government and private investment in industrial development (a nonNative sphere) while Native villages and their residents continue to experience the most severe shortages of basic goods and services. Attempts are being made to keep some of the profit from mineral extraction in local coffers, but the success of these arrangements is unknown at present. The establishment of reliable and affordable shipping is of paramount importance to any further development in Chukotka Native and nonNative. It is not, however, a matter that can be decided only between the Chukotka government and the shipping industry. Chukotka relies on Moscow for its budget and if payments are not timely, or worse yet, nonexistent, the newly privatized industries such as shipping will not be able to do business in Chukotka.

The methodology of further INSROP research is very important. Political and economic change is rapid in Chukotka; therefore, the research recommended in this report should be carried out in Chukotka making extensive use of anthropological interview and survey techniques. The collection of statistical materials is also important, but should be seen as supplemental; such materials could be collected by local representatives of Native associations and through the various administrative offices involved. Survey and interview research should be carried out by trained anthropologists working with Native representatives. Those seeking to enhance future prospects for international use of the NSR will benefit by deeper knowledge of the human as well the natural and physical dimension of the Arctic region. They may thereby reduce political and administrative problems that could arise in expanding trade and commerce in the region. Additionally, by making full and accurate information and future plans accessible and understandable to the local communities, those who seek to use the NSR may increase local receptivity to their plans.


    Debra L. Schindler, 1996, Indigenous Peoples and Development in the Chukchi Autonomous Okrug, INSROP.©