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.
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