The Indigenous people of the remote Altai Republic in southern Siberia are the traditional stewards of a Shangi-la land with a rare and precious ecosystem. Two years ago, it looked like the natives would lose their ancestral lands to outside developers out to exploit the pristine mountain wilderness and green river valleys. Not only was there no mechanism for natives to claim their lands, but also they were not organized to press for ownership because "ownership" of land is simply undefined in the Altai culture -- they couldn't imagine it! I attach a link to a slideshow of the land and culture of Altai.
Thanks to your donation as part of a very successful fund-raising effort through GlobalGiving.com, the villagers in two especially at-risk districts were jolted awake at the last moment by the international concern expressed by all the donations! In both districts, the most critical lands were gathered into collectives and surveyed as required. Then lawsuits were filed, successfully, to force the government to register the surveyed lands.
However, some of the most valuable lands are still tied up in court because of the way the registration system was originally set up 20 years ago when Russia began the process of privatize the land (and everything else). Lands were not allocated individually but by clan group. Within each clan group, it was pretty well understood informally who used what land, but this was not part of the privatization system. According to the system, whoever registered first got to choose the land they wanted.
Unscrupulous realtors preyed on the weak members of each clan -- the sick, the elderly, the alcoholics -- and got them to sign over their share of 12 hectares (30 acres) for a few dollars per acre (land that is now, a year later, being sold for $10,000 per acre). The realtors then claimed the best lands, and the lands with water access from each clan.
Because the local people pulled together to survey and register their lands, a significant portion of your donations remained and is funding the legal process of retrieving these "lost" lands. Efforts have thus far been successful. I'll keep you posted as the process continues.
Traditional sound healing center progress
In May, our project to construct a throat-singing sound healing center in the village of Tyungur in the Altai Republic in southern Siberia won a $2500 RUHeart prize from the Fred Foundation. I visited the site in late June, and attach a photograph. The logs are for construction of the healing center building.
Svetlana Katynova, our local partner had told me that it was in a very quiet place. Quiet indeed! It is several kilometers past the end of the road, and the end of the road is a full day's drive from the nearest city. But it's a beautiful site, located up the bank from the sacred Katun River. When I was there, the river was flooded, but the site was high and dry.
Unfortunately, construction was delayed week by week all summer, because the multiple attempts to get the RUHeart funds to Svetlana's bank were unsuccessful for a different reason each time. Finally, in late August RUHeart wired the funds to me and I sent them on by Western Union. So now Svetlana and her family and a couple of the throat-singers are in Tyungur, and the construction is underway!
During my visit, $200 of your donated funds covered transportation and food costs for the 7 young throat-singers to participate in El Oyin, Altai's biennial regional cultural festival, where the singers performed. THANK YOU for enabling this! Such festivals are crucial incubators for up-coming singers. Not only do they exchange techniques with other singers, but they are also critiqued by elders.
One of the short-comings of our group was a lack of traditional costumes, which, at about $100 per person, are far beyond the financial reach our student singers. Their singing was so inspiring that a local felt-maker offered to donate her labor to make extra-special costumes for our group. So now, we need only need to raise $50 per person or $350 for our group to be exquisitely costumed. A slideshow of El Oyin that shows some of the amazing costumes is linked below.
The great news!
Meanwhile (because no grass grows under Svetlana), TWO of her other cultural/environmental projects are receiving partial funding from the Altai Republic government. The Ministry of Tourism provided some funding for the publication and translation of a ground-breaking book on the sacred places in the Ust Koksa district where Tyungur Village is. Svetlana spent five years painstakingly interviewing indigenous Altai elders about their memories of the locations and significance of these places. The book is both an archive and a documentation of living culture.
And finally, a project to upgrade a local family dairy in Tyungur will be funded by the Ministry of Agriculture. This will include development of a regional marketing structure, and will initially employ 11 people. I will keep you posted on the progress!
At last word, the governmental administration had still not completed the land registrations that were applied for in 2008 and 2009. In your donations from both those years, legal funds for this contingency were set aside.
The law regarding land registration by indigenous people changed as of 1/1/2010. They are still allowed to register their lands, but until they are registered, these lands can now also be sold out from under the people by whichever level of government has jurisdiction.
Land values have sky-rocketed in Altai this past year, with the law permitting public sale of agricultural and grazing lands, so it is indeed fortunate that the locals can legally continue to registrer the lands (rather than having to buy what has been in their families for millennia). Even though the deeds have not been forthcoming from the registrar's office, the application for registration still gives the locals legal standing and prevents the immediate loss of the land.
Your current donations continue to assist the poorest of the poor -- the invalids and widows -- to pay the expensive surveying and registration fees.
Thank you for your wonderful support thus far!! Donations made on-line on June 16th will be matched at 50% by Global Giving, and also matched at 50% by a donor to Altai Mir University, so please help us out with this project by making a generous donation on June 16th!!