SEN's Indigenous Peoples Project (IPP) got off to a rousing start this May when a group of 15 native people representing tribes from all over Siberia and the Russian Far East gathered together at a SEN-sponsored meeting. These incredibly motivated and committed professionals are involved in environmental protection, cultural restoration, native rights, tribal government, youth empowerment, and journalism. Their Peoples are the Eskimo/Yupik, Ulchi, Altai, Shor, Kamchadal/Itelman, Kumandin, Buryat, Tuvan and Evenki.
During the two and a half day meeting held in a small village on the shores of Lake Baikal (the world's deepest lake containing 1/5 of the world's freshwater), they worked together to come up with a plan of action, purpose, goals and future projects. They also elected a coordinator, agreed to meet again next spring in Khabarovsk, and came up with a beautiful name for themselves. After a lengthy discussion they chose "Light of the Ancient Lands: A Network Devoted to the Rebirth of Indigenous Culture of Siberia and the Russian Far East."
Bill Pfeiffer, Susan Cutting and Cathy Pedevillano from SEN
were there to
witness and help facilitate this creative process. Erjen Khamangova, a native Buryat woman who is a water resources specialist, put in a tremendous effort to set up this meeting and make it a reality. Erjen was also elected coordinator of the Network for the first year. Jonathan Skurnik, an American documentary filmmaker, was there to film the meeting and interview the attendees as part of a documentary he is making. Funding for the meeting was provided by the Weeden Foundation.
There were many resolutions that came during and after this meeting. A summary follows:
"Light of the Ancient Lands" recognizes:
The main tasks of this Network are:
An extensive plan of action was created by the Network. Some of the highlights include holding regional law seminars and creating a URL entitled "Information & Rights" focusing on the legal problems of indigenous peoples; working for legal protection of sacred sites, particularly "Valley of the Geysers" in Kamchatka and several in Buryatia; and working on the legal rights of shamans and shamanism. They also plan to create a newsletter and web site for "Light of the Ancient Lands," a map of sacred sites of Siberia and the Russian Far East, and publishing "An A-Z of Ancient Peoples from the Altai to Kamchatka". The plan includes holding a folk festival and scientific conference for indigenous youth, and supporting young writers, poets, playwrights, and journalists in learning their native tongue. The Network also plans to develop partnerships between indigenous peoples of Siberia and the Russian Far East with those in North America.
In addition to being an incredibly productive meeting, this gathering had a pervasive warmth and depth and "sense of family" to it that many of the participants alluded to in some of their closing remarks:
"There is a positive strong energy about this group...a higher feeling has united us...we can bring what we birthed here to a global level gathering together indigenous peoples to help solve ecological and spiritual problems." Milan Kynyryaa
"I have this feeling that we're all related. I have a strong desire and confidence that this Network will work." Vera Bailagasov
"I have never before met such a collection of deep, spiritual people." Galina Volkova
"I have dreamt about this. When I look into your eyes I feel like I've known you before." Lyubov Krivileva
"Indigenous peoples are like beams of light coming from the sun, there's a huge strength that we have together." Olga Galenchik
SEN is committed to supporting "Light of the Ancient Lands" in arising and shining forth their wisdom and power to the rest of the world.
We, indigenous peoples
Reborn, in partnership
Living nature around us
In peace, of one birth.
Morning of the ancient lands
As Black Elk plays
And the Great Spirit illuminates all
-Leonid Bailogasov (This IPP participant wrote and read this poem at the meeting in Listvyanka in May)
"Shaman Rock," Olkhon Island, Lake Baikal, sacred site of the Buryat people
(photo by Jonathan Skurnik)
SEN has recently received a grant from the Trust for Mutual Understanding to facilitate an exchange between Native Siberians and Native Americans. A small group of Native Siberians will come to America this fall to meet with Native Americans from the Northeast and Southwest in a cultural and informational exchange on issues such as land and tribal rights, natural resource use, and cultural restoration. Stay tuned for more details!
Following the May meeting of Siberian indigenous leaders, myself Bill Pfeiffer and I (Cathy Pedevillano) accompanied by documentary filmmaker Jonathan Skurnik and native Buryat Erjen Khamangova, travelled around the southern portion of Lake Baikal which is the homeland of the Buryat Peoples. Thanks to Erjen who arranged most of our trip we were fortunate enough to meet with tribal officials and native Buryats, visit sacred sites and cultural museums, and work with a very powerful shaman.
The goals of this trip were to meet native people and learn
firsthand about their culture, their beliefs, how they are surviving
on their tribal lands and what assistance they may need to preserve
their cultural identity, their lands, their sacred sites. We also
wanted to see how or if they were able to live sustainably and
how they may integrate ancient beliefs and practices into modern
day society. Jonathan was there to document the people and the
land, how they fit together, how their beliefs influenced their
way of living, what aspects of their culture have survived Soviet
domination, and how an American nonprofit organization (i.e. SEN)
is working with these indigenous people.
We first travelled to Ust-Ordinsky to meet with tribal officials of the Buryat Peoples and were greeted by a lavish feast put on by two Russians who are the head officials of the Tribal Government. To have Americans visit this remote town was quite an event. We toasted to the coming together of our cultures, to the Buryat peoples, and to future collaboration of our organizations. The finery and abundance of this six-course meal was in stark contrast to the dire poverty of the native Buryats just outside the window.
The tribal officials were very proud of the Buryat land and people and wanted us to see as much as possible. They generously gave us a car and driver to take us to our next destination which was Olkhon Island in the middle of Lake Baikal.
Olkhon Island is known as the place of shamans and is where the most sacred site of the Buryat people is found. According to Erjen, "Shaman Rock" is where, legend has it, the first shaman was born who was male and since he was lonely, he created the first female shaman. Buryat women are not allowed to go right up to the rock but she urged me to go. This place was like nothing I'd ever seen before. It seemed three-dimensional, one-dimensional, multi-dimensional. The difference between this sacred site and others I've visited is that this felt pristine and so well-honored; there were no signs of desecration and the energy could be tangibly felt. I spent some time praying and journeying and listening to Spirit here and felt my own power being activated by the power of this place.
We next travelled to Ulan Ude, a large city in southern Siberia not far from the Mongolian border which is also Erjen's home. There we were to meet with a shaman named Altan Erdenie. When I first saw Altan, I thought she looked familiar, and when I looked into her eyes, I felt a deep soul connection that I cannot describe in words. She said that our spirits had been connecting before I arrived.
Altan's speciality is re-connecting individuals to their ancestral lineage. She believes that many of our gifts and powers come from our genetic ancestors and that many people are blocked from receiving those energies. Altan does a special ceremony to restore one's connection to their ancestors and will only do it if she feels a person is ready. She felt that Bill and Jonathan and I were ready and that the ceremony would help us do our work in the world.
Altan performed the ceremonies in a special place in the mountains in a beautiful circle of pine trees and grasses. We each received the gift of this powerful ceremony. I felt a strong energy enter me and "saw" a circle of my ancestors from both my mother's and father's side come to me. Altan surprisingly allowed Jonathan to film these ceremonies after checking with the spirits if it was okay. She felt that the film would help get her work more out into the world, and that this work of restoring our ancestral lineage was important to helping humanity survive.
We also caught a glimpse of Buryat family life by meeting Erjen's mother, her 92-year old grandmother, her 12-year old daughter, her husband and her cousin. A moment from this encounter that is etched in my mind is seeing four generations of Buryat women sitting on a couch laughing and singing a folk song written by the eldest.
So, how are indigenous beliefs and practices linked with sustainability? Well, I learned, it can be as simple as making do with what you have, living with less, being thankful for what you do have, acknowledging the power of the earth and the spirits, believing in the power of shamans and sacred sites, connecting with your ancestral lineage, taking public transportation, giving of your own resources to friends and neighbors, gathering together to sing and dance, and being able to have four generations of woman together on one couch.
This trip was indeed a blessing for all of us and for the rest
of the world who will learn more of Siberian indigenous culture
The international and local controversy over a planned road and gas pipeline in the Altai mountains of southern Siberia, and the resurrection this summer of government plans to dam the Katun River, have resulted in a thriving public debate over how to ensure the "sustainable" future of the Altai region.
Semyon Zubakin, the head of the small semiautonomous Altai Republic, population 204,000, has written several op-eds this summer in the local papers defending his position on the economic development of the region, touting the necessity of constructing a road and gas pipeline to China through the Ukok Plateau, a World Heritage site and biodiversity center sacred to indigenous people.
Alexandr Surikov, Head of the Altai Krai Administration, is lobbying Moscow for the construction of a massive hydroelectric dam on the wild and pristine Katun River. New regulations may require each Russian region to supply its own power, and both Surikov and Zubakin believe the dam is the best potential energy source. The Russian company UES has supported their push to resume construction of the dam, which has been halted at least twice due to public opposition.
With elections coming up this winter, politicians are working hard to shape public opinion in support of both the road and the dam.
Zubakin posits that the economic well-being of the Altai lies in the construction of a wide network of roads, a railroad, and an airport, in order to facilitate tourism and the transport of goods. He heralds the resulting feasibility of further mining including a coal mine near the protected Lake Teletskoye and other large development projects in the republic.
Environmental groups, scientists, parliamentarians, and citizens
continue to oppose the road and pipeline project, de
manding that an alternative, less destructive route be sought, and that a truly sustainable plan be developed for meeting the Altai's needs for energy and economic security.
There is strong popular support for the goal of energy independence, and some scientists including Yuri Toshpokov, the director of the Katun River dam project favor the utilization of the abundant wind, small hydro, and solar opportunities of the republic. Environmental activists, scientists and engineers argue that these opportunities should be quickly explored, including international training seminars on renewable energy and the immediate construction of electricity-generating demonstration sites.
"We don't need to dam the Katun. We could get just as
much power by improving energy efficiency and using solar, wind,
and small hydro resourcesmany experts favor going that route,"
says Irina Fotieva of the NGO "Fund for 21st Century Altai."
SEN has been invited to bring renewable energy equipment to the
region this fall and install it at a lo
cal demonstration site near the proposed dam area, using the occasion as an opportunity to teach others about the advantages of this technology and to popularize it in the press.
Just as important in the majestic Altai mountains and along the sacred, mighty Katun is the rising success of ecotourism, a promising new enterprise that is beginning to bring economic benefits to the region.
The Ukok debate has involved leaders of the UN Development
Program (UNDP) and UNESCO, who visited the Altai in June. Wolfgang
Reuter, director of UNESCO's Moscow bureau, declared that the
plans for the road to bisect the Ukok Plateau touched UNESCO's
interests in defending World Heritage sites, and that he felt
that UNESCO's experts should be involved in an open discussion
of the project. He also emphasized the value of international
agreement on the issue because of the need for "trust among
Site of the proposed Katun Dam. In the foreground of the picture is Gregg Eisenberg, SEN exchange participant (see article on page 5), meeting with the director of the would-be dam and a local NGO opponent of the dam. (photo Alyson Ewald)
And an extra special thanks to the following organizations and volunteers who donated time and services to SEN over the past year: Charles Strader, Emilie Hamilton, and Alyosha Witness; Onechoice Digital for in-kind web/email hosting and internet consulting/design help; and the following exchange participants: Maria Burks, Gregg Eisenberg, Amory Lovins, Jonathan Skurnik, and Ed Smeloff.
To this end, SEN strives to empower people to take action in defense of the biosphere and to create a sustainable culture through its two major programmatic areas: the Northern Eurasia Environmental Assistance Program (NEEAP) and the Metamorphosis Project: Restoring Our Inner and Outer Ecology
Issue #16 was produced by Susan Cutting, Alyson Ewald, Shanti Gaia, Leslie Goldstein, Cathy Pedevillano, Davis Chapman, and Bill Pfeiffer. This newsletter has been printed on paper recycled from 100% post-consumer waste and has not been rebleached.
The SEN Newsletter is published twice a year. A subscription is included with membership in SEN and costs $30 per year. Send a check payable to "Sacred Earth Network." SEN is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation.
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