The Association of Traditional Marine Mammal Hunters of Chukotka replies to a commentary by Nikita Ovsyannikov

The Association of Traditional Marine Mammal Hunters of Chukotka replies to a commentary by Nikita Ovsyannikov

13 December 2010

We feel compelled to write this letter because those unfamiliar with the situation may decide that indigenous Chukchi or Alaskan nations are the main problem besetting the Chukchi-Alaskan polar bear population, after reading a comment by Nikita Ovsyannikov. Ovsyannikov makes it sound as though the traditional, state-regulated management of nature by local indigenous nations is the main problem of the polar bear population, rather than global climate change or the industrial development of the Arctic.


In this connection, we would like to remind readers of some obvious facts:


For thousands of years, indigenous Arctic nations have lived in harmony with Mother Nature, creating a system of sustained relations with the outside world. If they hadn't they would have simply failed to survive. Moreover, the indigenous Arctic nations did not virtually destroy the whale and walrus populations in the 19th and the early 20th centuries. Nor did they slaughter thousands of polar bears in the first half of the 20th century. We were not the ones offering animal skins or hunting tours on the Russian market in the early 21st century.


Society has admitted for a long time now, that the traditional management of nature by small indigenous nations is the only effective method for preserving the ethnic integrity of these communities. No artificial measures to conserve culture in museums or libraries will be able to preserve the linguistic medium. Moreover, long-term research shows that forced changes in the diet of indigenous nations inevitably lead to disastrous consequences for them. A traditional management of nature implies cultural, moral and physiological factors that can secure the survival of Arctic communities.


This is why we believe that the requirements of indigenous nations should not be counterposed to the issue of saving the polar bear. We need to clearly discriminate between objective necessity and commercial exploitation and conduct a systemic search for a way out of this situation. We do not doubt the fact that non-commercial use of natural resources is a fundamental condition for preserving our ethnic integrity because profit-minded business will only pursue the theoretical protection of national traditions, language and culture.


This is why we are raising the issue of the unfair treatment of indigenous Chukchi nations, and have drawn attention to the fact that we have been deprived of a crucial segment of our survival activity in today's world. Almost 20 years passed before we positively solved the problem by legal methods through open and legal relations with all parties in the negotiating process. In our opinion, the Government has acted reasonably, in implementing rational measures to save and exploit the Chukchi-Alaskan polar bear population. Instead of unilaterally authorising hunters to shoot polar bears, the Russian Federation acted to regulate this by signing an agreement with the United States. This was a well thought-out and logical move making it possible to save the common polar bear population. The United States, that is, the US Government and the indigenous Alaskan population, realised that they would have to assume additional commitments under this agreement but proceeded to a solution to co-manage this common resource.


In closing, we would like to note that those who do not respect other parties in a discussion and who make no attempt to understand an opponents' viewpoint are doomed to a skewed perception and may eventually become a threat to nature. What is preventing Mr Ovsyannikov from launching a dialogue with the Chukchi nations? Why do they portray us as the main problem hindering the effort to save the polar bear population? For some reason, he wants to appear to be an uncompromising fighter in the effort to save a vanishing species, rather than to actually save it. All the parties to the process, including scientists, native residents, nature-conservation experts and officials, need to join hands in order to save this species. We do not want to be excluded from a decision-making process that concerns a crucial issue of our nations' life partially because we are also interested in the existence of the polar bear. Moreover, the polar bear is a pre-condition for our self-preservation. We will continue to work in this direction because this is our life. We have gained long-term, positive experience in the co-management of biological resources. In 2003, the Ministry of Natural Resources allowed the organisations of indigenous Chukchi nations to independently manage their respective whale-catch quotas. We propose moving away from confrontation and move towards searching for compromised solutions to save our world.



G. Inankeuyas, Chairman of the Association of Traditional Marine Mammal Hunters of Chukotka