The impact of Covid-19 on Indigenous Peoples living in the Russian Arctic

16 July 2020
Input on Covid-19 by the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North

According to data available on May 20th, Indigenous Peoples living in the Russian Arctic were not infected with COVID-19. At the same time, 143 Indigenous People Ultchi were infected in Bogorodskoye village, situated on the non-Arctic territories of Khabarovsk region, 1 of them died. The situation was complicated by remote location of this village and lack of high-technology medicine. Due to rapid response of authorities and RAIPON, spread of the virus in this village was stopped. The situation is stabilized now.

COVID-19 showed the importance for Indigenous Peoples of legal access to natural resources available in their habitat, in particular, to fishing and hunting. In order to prevent spread of COVID-19, Russian authorities took measures to restrict hunting. Luckily, these restrictions don’t apply to Indigenous Peoples and other persons, for whom hunting is a basis of their existence. Fishing and reindeer herding communities of Indigenous Peoples also continue their traditional economic activities.

Arctic reindeer herders revealed resiliency. Their elders keep memories about Spanish flu pandemic in 1918. There were flu victims among nomadic reindeer herders that time. Nowadays, they were timely informed about coronavirus. Thus, they did not come to towns and villages. We also should stress here, how important for Indigenous Peoples is the opportunity to self-supply by traditional ways.

The system of necessary response measures has been built up in Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, where 18 000 nomadic reindeer herders live. This system includes social benefits, delivery of basic-needs products, information spread by satellite phones. Nomadic reindeer herders are provided by satellite phones free of charge in accordance with some regional laws.

The threat of COVID-19 pandemic clearly indicated nomadic population as a special risk group. The remoteness and difficult access to places of their living, specific ways of self-reliance, limited social mobility, limited access to information and public services, all these factors make nomadic population the most vulnerable group. This concerns not only medical treatment, but also all areas of their activities. Indigenous Peoples are facing an inexorable disruption of their traditional economy in terms of global quarantine, scoping from access to fully-featured medicine and education to breaking of trade and supply relations, which are crucial for marketing traditional products of their economic activities, purchasing of tools, ammunition, fuel, clothing and other goods for their families and households.

The older generation mainly keeping cultures and languages of Indigenous Peoples is a major risk group for COVID-19. The virus can obliterate their mother tongue and ancient culture in one stroke.