Reindeer Portal Interview with Leonid Khudi, Yamal Union of Reindeer Herders

October 31, 2008 • Philip BurgessBlog, ICR/WRH

leonid-khudiDuring the recent EALAT Information workshop (September 2007) and seminar on the Yamal Peninsula, a series of interviews were made with key people related to reindeer husbandry in the world’s largest reindeer husbandry region, including Sergei Haruchi, Dmitri Khorolia and Leonid Khudi.  In this feature, we are reproducing the interview with Leonid Khudi, who is Nenets, from a reindeer herding bankground, is the EALAT project coordinator for Yamal, is the Chair of the Reindeer Herders Union of Yamal and works for the regional administration.

Let us have a short talk about the work shop, about climate change, about the future perspectives of reindeer herding, oil and gas and what you would like to mention. These last days we had some very unique experiences in the tundra and celebrated the 80-years anniversary of Yar-Sale. What do you think about the importance of our co-operation and the organizing of work shops like we have done with EALAT. You are responsible for EALAT in Yamal.

Leonid Khudi Well, we are not only talking about the two last days. Our work began already in March in Nadym, when we celebrated the 10 years anniversary of the 1st Reindeer Herders Congress which was held in Nadym, in the Yamal district of Russia. During this event the first part of this seminar took place. We agreed that its second part would be arranged in the tundra. As it turned out, this event coincided with the anniversary of Yar-Sale which to my opinion is not only the centre of reindeer herding in Yamal but in the whole of Russia. This event was important because it emphasised that reindeer herding of the Yamal type plays an essential role in the preservation of reindeer herding in not only Russia but in other countries too. Reindeer herders’ experience and knowledge have been collected here during centuries and may at present play an important role in preserving the culture of reindeer herding and other types of traditional economic activities in the Arctic countries.

That’s why the understanding and know-how which we today and yesterday discussed at our seminar, can help to collect those small bits of traditional knowledge which are still preserved among other northern peoples. Such work has not been done before. I hope that this seminar at Yar-Sale will be followed up by other seminars, either in Norway or in other Russian regions, and that this will lead to the formulation of clear priorities. These priorities could be issues connected with global warming,  melting of permafrost and last but not least questions pertaining to natural resources exploitation in not only Yamal, but also in the other Russian regions and in other countries. These types of activities (like oil and gas exploitation) is non- traditional and has had consequences, some of them negative. This is due to the fact that reindeer herders’ and local population’s experiences were not taken into consideration.

I hope that whatever will be done in the North and in the Arctic, the interests of indigenous peoples will be taken into consideration. And that there will be as little impact as possible on the reindeer pastures and the indigenous peoples’ traditional ways of living. I would like that oil and gas exploitation would be to the benefit of the peoples in the North. I am very grateful to our Norwegian friends who spend their time on arranging such a seminar on Yamal. To quite an extent this by itself helps us to solve internal problems in the field of reindeer husbandry. Today the reindeer herders told us about their problems. We hope that the information about the questions which were taken up during this seminar will be made known to arctic region governments in not only Russia, but also in other countries.

Yesterday many reindeer herders were quite concerned about warming of Yamal, and problems of climate change. You mentioned the problem of permafrost. Could you elaborate a little bit more. Do you see the climate as a problem for reindeer herding?

Yes, this is a problem, especially for Yamal. As you know reindeer husbandry notably needs lowlands with rich pastures. This permafrost melting which sooner or later will occur, is accelerated by the process of oil and gas exploitation as such. There are huge deposits of such resources in Yamal. This accelerates melting. This problem must not only be studied from the point of view of the preservation of the reindeer husbandry but from all sides. This is in order to preserve our territory. Non- rational use of territories, especially those with permafrost conditions, may lead to melting. Once in Soviet time the government planned to turn the Siberian rivers South. This would also have contributed to melting.

I hope that the Russian government and other governments act in a rational way. And that they take in use of  these northern territories while taking care of the unique nature there and the interests of the peoples who live here. It would be fine if you after your arrival back home you would analyse your trip and explain the problems which we have discussed here to the Arctic Council. It would be good to inform your government about the problems existing in the North by means of projects and international organizations. This is what I wanted to say.

We also heаrd yesterday about the rich culture and knowledge of Nenets reindeer husbandry. Do you think it’s possible to preserve their know-how for the future.

I think we will manage. But I must stress that this knowledge, these experiences and these traditions only will be preserved as long as these reindeer herders themselves do so. We will not manage to preserve them in an artificial way.

Could you finally say some short sentences to the Saami reindeer herders – do you consider oil and gas resources development a problem? Do you have you some experience from this?

Sergei Haruchi, Lydia Vella and Leonid Khudi.
Of course I can. Reindeer husbandry is reindeer husbandry, it doesn’t matter whether it is in Scandinavia or in Russia.  I have only one wish. Oil and gas exploitation will come sooner or later anyway. My hope is that Sami reindeer herders will make fully use of the experiences of Russia and the Russian reindeer herders there, the reindeer herders from Yamal included.    I say this not by chance. These are bitter experiences, which we have got by huge efforts and the loss of many pastures and reindeer which it will be not possible to get back. That is why I would appreciate it very much if Sami reindeer herders would take into consideration these experiences.

Thank you for these fantastic days in Yamal and for all the work you have done to organize this event. We can assure you that we will get the information through.

Thank you very much and all the best to all of you!

Questions were by Svein Mathiesen and Lars Miguel Utsi, translation was  by Anna Degteva and Lars Miguel Utsi, sound and film was by Philip Burgess.

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