«Noyabrskneftegaz» is a subsidiary of «Gazprom Neft». It is going to extract oil and gas in the ancestral lands of 16 families of the Khanty people, including the Sopochins family. The ancestral lands of reindeer herders are located on the watershed, so streams and rivers will suffer from oil pollution, as well as water that many people and animals drink far beyond these lands.
Exploration works are dangerous as well as oil production, because the company will build its infrastructure in any case and ancestral lands will be cut by roads. The Sopochins family is cought between two oil companies. This is the last land where they can graze deer. But right now «Noyabrskneftegaz» is building a road in a place where deer give birth in the spring. This occurs without agreement with the reindeer herders.
The Sopochins are a large family of Khanty people. They preserve the traditional way of life, distinctive culture and mode of life in the modern world. This is a good example of indigenous peoples` life. They live in the forest-tundra all year round, all their lives. The ancestral lands were given to them from the ancestors who lived in the same place. These lands are the second largest territory of traditional nature management in the Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous Okrug.
Joseph Ivanovich and his wife Rimma are the eldest in the family. Their son's name is Stepan, his wife's name is Olesya. Stepan and Olesya have three daughters: the eldest is four, and the youngest is not even a year old. Sometimes Stepan goes to work for watches, but basically the Sopochins live by what the land gives them: they take care of deer, they make the necessary utensils, collect berries, fish.
Khanty led a completely nomadic way of life and lived in raw-hide tents, huts made of poles covered with reindeer skins. Now huts are also used, but each family has several small wooden houses. They looks like traditional Russian houses, but windows and doors in them are quite small for keeping the heat better.
Why do they need a few wooden houses ? It's all about the seasonal migration of deer. There are a lot of mosquitoes in the summer so deer go to the summer house. In that place the reindeer herders fumigate with smoke to fight off the insects. Deer go to a new place in autumn and divide into small groups. In the spring they gather in a herd again on another territory. Khanty move after a herd of deer every season.
Deer are the most important things in the Khanty`s life. Now you can use snowmobiles instead of harness in the tundra, but deer are still important. Indigenous people use their meat and skins in their household and sell them. People with a traditional way of life do not have other ways to earn and support their families.
Deer feed on herbs and yagel (lichens grow very slowly, only 3-5 mm per year), so they can`t graze in one place for a long time. Thereby reindeer herding requires large areas.
The Sopochins family has more than 200 deer. Each of them is important, because usually a female deer gives birth to only one deer per year. Female deer always go to the same safe place for the birth of dear. But the oil industry is building the road in that place right now.
The Sopochins family lives on patrimonial land in the Surgut district of the Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous Okrug. You need an hour and a half to drive along the country roads to get to them from Kogalym.
The area of patrimonial lands is enormous. 16 families of reindeer breeders, including the Sopochins family, live in almost the same territory that Moscow occupied in 2011. They need so much land, because they can`t survive here otherwise. You can`t engage in agriculture in the forest-tundra, so indigenous people bred deer, hunt, gather berries. Deer can`t graze in one place for a long time, so reindeer breeding requires such large areas. The Khanty family moves across this territory following the deer all year round.
This is their own home. Here you can tie a boat near the shore, cover it with a tarpaulin and know that it will be in place when you return. The same hummocks with rare trees seem dull for urban residents. But for reindeer herders, these are the usual and cozy corridors and rooms, living rooms and playrooms, storerooms and workshops.
The Khanty people have lived in Western Siberia in harmony with nature for hundreds years. Now the oil industry has turned on their lands. Oil companies do not take the interests of indigenous people into account; animals die in oil spills which cause reindeer herders to lose their last pastures.
Right now UN experts on the rights of indigenous peoples are preparing recommendations for Russian authorities. They can help preserve the Khanty’s unique culture and avoid unnecessary conflicts with oil companies. Send them a letter, they have to pay attention to this problem!