MISSION: Southwest Research and Information Center is a multi-cultural organization working to promote the health of people and communities, protect natural resources, ensure citizen participation, and secure environmental and social justice now and for future generations

Indigenous Peoples & Mining Policy
A Russian Perspective

Between December 2nd and December 13th of this year, Southwest Research and Information Center (SRIC) hosted a group of Russians as part of an Open World Program exchange, a Library of Congress-managed project, in New Mexico. Co-organizers for this exchange were SRIC and Pacific Environment. The theme of the exchange was "Indigenous Peoples and Mining Policy."

The Russian participants in the exchange included two people from Kamchatka Region in the Russian Far East, one from Vladivostok on the Pacific Coast north of the Korean Peninsula and one from Ust-Ordinksi Autonomous Region in Siberia north of Lake Baikal.

Activities during exchange included:

  • Meetings with the New Mexico staff of Senator Jeff Bingaman, Congresswoman Heather Wilson and Congressman Tom Udall
  • Guided tour of the reclaimed Pecos Lead-Zinc Mine and Mill Complex by New Mexico Environment Department hydrologist Jerry Shoeppner
  • Guided tour of the Red River by fishing guide Taylor Streit
  • Guided tour of the Molycorp molybdenum mine and mill complex led by Molycorp staff members Anne Wagner and Bob Kilborn
  • Meetings with Acoma Pueblo staff including Land Manager Petuuche Gilbert and Water Quality Officer Laura Watchempino, among other activities.

The participants were kind enough to share their impressions of their time in New Mexico before they left for their return trip to their homes in Russia.

The Open World Delegation and Molycorp staff at the Molycorp Mill Tailings Pile above Questa, New Mexico. (L to R): Anton Ulatov, Misha Jones (Pacific Environment), Paul Robinson (SRIC), Anne Wagner (Molycorp), Albina Morilova, Petr Nokhoev, Taylor Streit (Red River fishing guide), Tamara Troyakova.

Tamara Troyakova
Open World Facilitator, Senior Researcher, Russian Academy of Sciences, Vladivostok

I have been an Open World facilitator for several years now. Most of the delegations that I have led have focused on environmental protection issues, with two delegations that went to Alaska focusing on indigenous peoples and on value added salmon fisheries. This program, "Indigenous Peoples and Mining Policy", has proven to be very interesting for me personally. My goal for this trip was to see how America, as a nation, addresses mining and that sector's impact on indigenous peoples. As it turns out, the situation here in America is far from ideal. Despite the challenges, what we see in the US is an effort to achieve a certain balance. For those of us from Russia, witnessing the positive and negative aspects of mining and its impact on local communities sets a challenge for us: looking for ways to integrate international experience into the Russian context while at the same recognizing the need to develop domestic approaches that resolve Russia's unique management challenges.

Being able to meet for discussions with the New Mexico congressional delegations is something Russia needs to learn to do. The capacity to drop in and talk with elected officials and their staffs on issues of public interest is so different that the situation in Russia where elected officials often lack the skills to interact with the public. America has defined for itself a culture of political organization that includes public participation, and witnessing this is a very positive feature of this exchange.

Petr Nokhoev
Head of the Ikhirit-Bulagotskii Raion, Irkutskaya Oblast

I am very grateful for this opportunity to come to America. This is my second trip to the U.S. My first trip was in 1996 when I attended the Olympics in Atlanta. As the head of a region where agriculture is the primary employer, I have been interested to see what role agribusiness plays in the New Mexico economy. This trip has also provided an opportunity to see how the region's indigenous peoples live, how they organize their activities and manage their affairs. For me it is interesting to learn that native peoples receive funds from the federal government that they then independently manage. This is a positive step forward in promoting responsible local management.

It is very pleasant to see how in the U.S., streets are well maintained and clean. That the public is actively involved in protecting natural resources, especially water resources, is heartening. It is clear the public is seriously concerned about water quality and takes the responsibility to assure clean, quality water for all.

Anton Ulatov
Researcher, Kamchatka Fisheries Research Institute, Kamchatka

Our visits to various mines has been the most valuable aspect of this exchange. The visits have provided an mass of new, useful information on mining sector operations in New Mexico. The photographs that I have taken will serve to illustrate to my colleagues in Russia that there can be different approaches to managing mines. I am also impressed at just how thoroughly ground and surface water is protected. I was surprised to learn that even though it had been fifty years since the mine on the Pecos River had been closed, a time came to address reclamation and a way was found to force mine owners to bear most of the financial burden for an approved reclamation plan.

Our trip to the Molycorp mine in the Red River near Questa made a mixed impression on me. I was surprised at the way the company operates its mine, mill and tailings facility, and one conclusion I have drawn is that replicating these management practices in Russia should be avoided, especially on Kamchatka where there is much greater precipitation. But that Molycorp has a $150 million financial bond, something that would provide some level of company-financed response to an accident, this is a management tool that must be introduced in Russia where companies make almost no effort to provide financial guarantees for either accidents or reclamation.

The Delegation in the open pit at the Molycorp Questa Mine.

I hope that SRIC will be able to continue to conduct mining exchanges in the future; seeing mines and talking with managers is an invaluable experience. I plan to continue to correspond with SRIC to develop new approaches for managing the mining sector on Kamchatka. The effectiveness of the work of SRIC staff, colleagues and partners reflects its long standing policy to work directly with people affected by mining and this people-based approach is an essential aspect of a functioning civil society.

Petr Nokhoev, Misha Jones, Anton Ulatov, Laura Watchempino (Acoma Water Qaulity Officer), Albina Morilova, Petuuche Gilbert (Acoma Land Manager), and Tamara Troyakova.

Albina Morilova
Editor, newspaper "Aborigen Kamchatka", Kamchatka

I was impressed by the example of land reclamation following mining operations at the mine in Pecos. And although the reclamation work took place long after the mining had stopped, the mining company, with the help of the state of New Mexico, took the responsibility to restore the landscape. It is equally impressive that the state department of environmental protection continues to monitor the situation at the mine.

As a representative of the Itelmen peoples of Kamchatka, I am truly impressed with appreciation that Americans have for hand made crafts, especially crafts made by native Americans.

The most interesting meeting was with natives from the Acoma Pueblo. The information provided by representatives at Acoma on their self-management structure, on the effort to defend their rights to avoid pernicious natural resource extraction efforts is inspiring. The earth is their most valuable resources. As they say, "the earth is our mother" and it is painful to see how our mother suffers when she is drilled or dug into. There use of a collective decision process on issues affecting all members of the Acoma Pueblo is one indication of their dedication to protect mother earth.

– Compiled by Albina Morilova

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“We, the Peoples gathered at the Indigenous World Uranium Summit, at this critical time of intensifying nuclear threats to Mother Earth and all life, demand a worldwide ban on uranium mining, processing, enrichment, fuel use, and weapons testing and deployment, and nuclear waste dumping on Native Lands.”

—Declaration of the Indigenous World Uranium Summit December 2, 2006

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