Gold mining destroys lands of indigenous Shor people

In addition to being affected by surface coal mines, the Shors are affected by gold mining companies which expropriate their land, pollute the environment and kill their flora and fauna. To make matters worse, companies do not make financial contributions to municipalities and do not comply with prior consultation processes. The traditional economy of the Shors, their way of life, their culture and their diet are in danger.

By Center Anti-Discrimination Memorial Brussels (ADC) *.

Indigenous debates, November 30, 2021 – At least eight mines are operating near the villages of Shor, on the Magyza, Balyksu, Bolshoy Nazas, Zaslonka, Orton, Fedorovka and Bazas rivers. These rivers are the only source of drinking water for the villages and for the traditional economies of the communities: breeding and hunting of wild animals of the Siberian taiga. Mining is also contaminating fish, an irreplaceable staple in the Shors’ diet, while piscivorous wild animals have migrated to remote areas inaccessible to hunters.

Included in the category of territories of traditional residence and activity of indigenous peoples, Shor villages must be protected by law against commercial exploitation and the destruction of nature. In addition, the lands of Shor in the Russian region of Khakassia are included in “specially protected territories of traditional natural use”, where any activity threatening natural resources is prohibited. However, despite legal protection, gold mining and the number of mining operators have increased over the past five years.

Artificial lake formed as a result of gold mining near the Balyksu river. In the background, we can see the location of the gold diggers. Photo: Vyacheslav Krechetov

Pollution of rivers, tributaries and streams

As gold is extracted from the upper reaches of rivers, the water bodies located downstream are the most affected. Residents of Askizsky District report that the Khakassia Gold Mining Cooperative dumped untreated contaminated water into the Balyksu River. In 2020, water was found to exceed five times the allowable concentration of pollutants such as iron, copper, zinc and petroleum derivatives.

In the Kemerovo region, the gold company Novy Bazas, whose licensed territories extend for 32 kilometers, polluted the Bazas and Orton rivers, as well as numerous tributaries and streams that supply water to the villages of Orton, Trekhrechye and Ilyinka. Water resources and several species of fish have been seriously affected. In the spring and summer of 2021, some residents of Trekhrechye were poisoned after consuming fish. Complaints lodged by residents with local government, control bodies and the prosecution have been ignored.

The main danger for rivers is the artificial alteration of their water course. Miners use this technique to get as much gold as possible during the term of the land permit. They artificially change the direction of the stream and extract the metal present in the original bed. However, when they complete the activity, they do not put the stream in its place. This leads to loss of river depth and pollution from petroleum derivatives, manganese and mercury, which accumulate in areas affected by mining.

The main danger for rivers is the artificial alteration of their water course. Miners use this technique to get as much gold as possible during the term of the land permit.

In addition, the change in direction of the course of a river causes blockages during the snowmelt season, which means that villages are flooded in the spring. During this process, the bottom flattens out and the water begins to have less oxygen as it is generated by cavities, rocks and other natural formations in the river bed. As summer arrives, the river warms up and becomes covered with blue-green algae, which affects native flora and fauna.

Flooded quarries occupy large areas of land due to the removal of the rock mass. These quarries are deeper than the level of the river and therefore the surrounding water flows in that direction. As a result, many artificial lakes began to appear in places where forests and fields were located. In the spring, the water level of these lakes rises, causing flooding that affects the flora and fauna of the land.

A new bed. The washing machine pours gravel directly into the river. Photo: Vyacheslav Krechetov

Illegal logging, animal husbandry and wildlife

During the exploration phase, before extraction, a large number of ecosystems are also affected. In 2021, the shores of the villages of Orton, Ilyinka, Uchas and Trekhrechye located in the Kemerovo region had to contend with illegal geological explorations from Novy Bazas, which reduced agricultural land and polluted the area with construction materials. Similar violations of environmental laws were also recorded in Askizsky district, where areas used for grazing livestock, collecting hay, and picking berries and mushrooms were affected by the activities of the cooperative of gold mining from Khakassia.

Mining also affects the Siberian fauna. Animal species such as grayling, capercaillie, elk and black marten have almost completely disappeared from the woodlands surrounding the villages of Shor. Many mines are located along the migratory routes of hoofed animals such as deer and elk. During spring and autumn migrations, the noise of mines and environmental disturbances stress the animals and force them to seek new places to live. Of course, fish cannot spawn in areas where gold is mined.

According to environmental protection laws, gold companies are responsible for the environmental remediation of lands affected by mining activity. However, despite promises made by minors, this obligation is often not fulfilled. Although complaints have been lodged by locals and there are clear cases of environmental contamination, the licenses of mining companies operating near the villages of Shor have never been revoked or suspended.

The ancestral meadows of the villagers of Ilyinka were destroyed by the mining company Novy Bazas. Photo: Vyacheslav Krechetov

Licenses and uncontrolled decisions without prior consent

The Shor community has been almost completely excluded from the decision-making process when it comes to determining whether or not to grant a mining license in a land where traditional activities are carried out. For example, the residents of the Shor village of Neozhidanny only discovered that the land had been granted to gold mining cooperatives when heavy machinery was near their village and when industrial and land clearing works. have started.

The farmland of several community members was also destroyed. In addition, the only road, from the village to the cemetery and to the hunting and gathering areas in the forest, was blocked by a checkpoint that can only be crossed by miners. While authorities say a public hearing was held in the presence of local Shors, the villages say none of their members participated or was aware of the activity.

An identical situation of violation of the principles of consent occurred in the Shor villages located in the Kemerovo oblast: Orton, Trekhrechye, Uchas and Ilyinka. In recent years, at least three mining licenses near the villages of Shor have been granted without any public hearing. The lack of prior consultation affects the self-determination of the Shor people under international law.

Residents of the village of Neozhidanny discovered the landing of a mining cooperative while heavy machinery was nearby. Photo: Vyacheslav Krechetov

All losses for the Shors

Although they have caused so much environmental and social damage in the territories traditionally occupied by the Shors, almost none of the mining companies are registered in the municipalities where they drill underground. This means that the taxes they pay do not contribute to local budgets. Thus, the Shors are surrounded by territories exploited for mining, but receive no benefits.

The traditional areas where the Shors of Khakassia live and the Kemerovo region do not have shops, schools, medical facilities or proper roads connecting villages to district centers. The unemployment rate in the Shor Territories is almost 40% higher than the average rate for the region. The only sources of income are agriculture and products related to traditional activities such as hunting, fishing and gathering. But there are fewer and fewer traditional economic activities due to the destruction of the environment.

It is difficult to hunt on the traditional lands of the Shors. Not only because of environmental degradation, but also because mining companies prevent access to hunting areas or threaten to prevent entry by those who publicly protest against gold mining. Unfortunately, the companies have a lot of influence: a manager of the Pay-Cher-2 cooperative is a tenant of a forest land and, at the same time, the owner of a private hunting company which adjoins the lands where the Shors hunt. This contradicts the Federal Wildlife Act, which enshrines the right of indigenous peoples to preferential use of wildlife in their traditional territories.

Outcrop of granite rocks (waste mountains) at Gora Kuylyum. Photo: Vyacheslav Krechetov

Challenges for the Shors

The fact that the Shors belong to the category of “small indigenous peoples” means that they are under the special protection of Russian law and that the state must ensure their development and well-being. However, on the contrary, they are gradually losing their traditional lands, activities and income due to gold and coal mining. This poses a threat to their identity, language, culture and very existence. Like other indigenous peoples living in the Russian Federation, the Shors have a high level of urbanization, which is a direct consequence of mining and general state policy.

Therefore, it is important to disseminate information on violations of indigenous rights in order to ensure a prosperous life for the Shors who continue to live a traditional way of life. Recently, the efforts of activists and human rights defenders have started a dialogue on alluvial gold mining. So, in October 2021, it was made public that the government of Khakassia was considering a moratorium on the licensing of gold mining companies.

* Anti-Discrimination Center Memorial Brussels (ADC) is an NGO working for the protection of the rights of vulnerable groups in the region of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples.

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