Up until today, the Russian energy giant Gazprom has decreed that a gas pipeline must be routed directly through one of the world’s most precious valleys—Altai’s Ukok Plateau—in the process not only desecrating the UNESCO World Heritage Site there, but jeopardizing the entire Altai culture as well.
But today, a glimmer of hope appeared, when the Altai Pipeline did not appear on Gazprom’s announcements of current projects. However, international pressure must continue, because the stakes are so high, and because it is still uncertain if the project has been abandoned.
The unified protests of the Altai people have been treated with contempt. Even the projected unprofitability had been insufficient to counter the lucrative construction contracts. Preparation for construction already began last summer, despite the absence of legally required permits.
Please sign the international petition that was initiated by a local indigenous resident at http://www.culturalsurvival.org/category/campaigns/russiachina-pipeline-threatens-sacred-highlands, and to contribute what you can to the legal defense of the plateau.
The high Ukok Plateau in the center of the Altai Mountains, called by Herodotes “the pastures of heaven,” is a place worthy of its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a permafrost plateau at the very southern edge of Siberia, surrounded by Russian peaks on the north, but by Mongolian, Chinese, and Kazakh peaks in the east, south, and west. It can only be reached via 10,000-foot-high passes.
The plateau is breathtakingly beautiful and pristine. Nobody but the spirits of Altai and a large number of endangered species live on the plateau. It is a place of palpable power. The Altai people who are attuned with the place know that the so-called “burial mounds” are part of an ancient and sophisticated energy system that keeps the crust of the Earth stable.
Amazing progress was made last summer toward the development of the planned cultural revival center in the village of Tyungur in Altai. Local volunteers installed about 1000 feet of fencing (to keep the cows out and the young children in), dug and constructed an outhouse, and built an outdoor kitchen and sheltered dining area, as well as two traditional summer a’ils for sleeping.
All this was immediately used to host a month-long summer camp for children from nearby villages, teaching them traditional Altai arts and freeing their parents for their critically important herding and subsistence farming activities.
The vision is the construction of an incubation center to foster the revival of traditional “cottage industry,” which was suppressed during Communist times. Only the few elders still have the know-how. The funds to purchase the building materials were donated during the previous winter. Next summer’s construction on the site is dependent on further donations this winter. Please donate generously!
The young Altai throat-singers whose education we have been supporting have been continuing to perform to accolades at regional ethnic music competitions. The revival of throat-singing is central to the continuing viability of the Altai culture, because throat-singers are the keepers/transmitters of the oral history. And access to the history is necessary in order for the Altai people to keep their covenant with Mother Earth to protect their sacred lands.
In all of this, costuming may seem like frosting on the cake, but actually, it is a necessary part of the singers’ process of attuning themselves to the “group mind” from which they transmit the history. The making of the costumes is itself a sacred act.
Your generous holiday donation for the creation of the young throat-singers’ ceremonial costuming will enhance the capability of this new generation to access guidance for their people.