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23 february 2024

(porarctic.ru) - The preliminary results of the ethnological expert examination and the method for loss estimation were presented at the consultations with the residents of the villages of Lovozero and Krasnoshchelye (representatives of the Sami people) and the Komi and Nenets reindeer herders, as well as at the meeting of the working group consisting of the indigenous minorities and reindeer herding peoples.  

The next stage of the consultations with the indigenous peoples on the project for the development of the Kolmozersky lithium deposit was held in early February 2024 in Murmansk and in the Lovozersky District, the Murmansk Region. In Murmansk, experts met with the working group that included the members of the Council of Representatives of Indigenous Peoples under the Government of the Murmansk Region, the representatives of the Public Organization of the Sami people of the Murmansk Region and the Kola Sami Association, as well as the leaders of reindeer herding cooperative farms. All interested local villagers took part in the meetings held in the Lovozero and the Krasnoshchelye villages. The previous similar public meeting took place in September 2023. Such meetings are held to maintain effective two-way communication of the Polar Lithium company with the indigenous communities and reindeer herders whose ethnosocial and ethnocultural environments may be affected by the future development of the country’s largest lithium ore deposit.    

“The ethnological expert examination carried out by the Project Office for Development of the Arctic (PODA) acting as an operator is nearing completion. At present, some distinguished scientists are analyzing the materials to work out their recommendations for minimizing the impact on the original habitat of the indigenous peoples and propose compensatory measures. The losses incurred by reindeer herding farms are being calculated now. Certainly, everyone agrees that the reindeer husbandry must be preserved in the Murmansk Region and the impact of the project on the reindeer herding farms must be minimized. The experts are focused on this issue now,” explains Nikolay Doronin, Chairman of the Board of the PODA who took part in the consultations and spoke about the structure and tasks of the ethnological expert examination and the work of the expert commission.

The representatives of Norilsk Nickel, Polar Lithium and independent experts spoke to the working group members and the villagers.

Vasily Zakharov, a Norilsk Nickel’s representative, talked about the company’s efforts as part of its due diligence measures. According to him, the company uses the approach of extensive, good faith consultations with the parties whose interests may be affected by the development of the deposit. Several meetings have already been held in the course of extensive preliminary consultations with the representatives of public organizations and indigenous communities, as well as reindeer husbandries and the residents of the Lovozero and Krasnoshchelye villages. Zakharov emphasized that the current meetings with the working group are being held for the third time. According to him, all the main reports on the ethnological expert examination that refer to the issues of ecology, ethnology, sociology and the impact of the project on the traditional way of life and crafts have already been received. A group of experts starts studying these issues and they will issue recommendations aimed at minimizing the impact and will propose some compensatory measures. At the same time, the representatives of the indigenous peoples will be able to study all the research materials and draw their own conclusions. This will enable them to be informed during future consultations.

“Based on the recommendations that will be proposed as a result of the ethnological expert examination, the company will develop a draft plan for interaction with the indigenous peoples relating to the Kolmozerskoye lithium deposit, and this document will be discussed and finalized later on through consultations using the principle of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC),” said Zakharov. He particularly mentioned that a project for the optimal location of the linear objects of the deposit is under development now. It is based on the information obtained during the ethnological expert examination and is aimed at reducing the possible impact of the industrial facility on the reindeer husbandry, the traditional industry of the region.

Valentin Kryazhev, Chief Geologist of the Polar Lithium company, explained the status of the geological exploration at the deposit. He said that on February 21, 2023, the company received a mining license for the deposit located 86 km east of the Lovozero village. The ores there come to the surface, so open pit mining is possible. There are no harmful, toxic or radioactive impurities in the rock, which is confirmed by numerous laboratory tests of the samples taken during the drilling and mining operations and studied (184 wells were drilled, 5 trenches and 1 stripping were made). Kryazhev specifically noted that 130 complete radiological analyzes of the samples taken from all rock types throughout the entire deposit were carried out. As for the level of ionizing radiation, 129 samples were of class 1 (non-emitting) and one sample is at the lower limit of class 2 (weakly emitting). “The rocks do not have radioactive isotopes and pose no danger. No harmful substances will be emitted into the air or released to soil or water at any stage of the production process. Dumps and tailings do not pose an environmental hazard,” the company’s chief geologist summed up the results of the research.

Irina Samsonova, Doctor of Economic Sciences, Head of the Department of Ethnosocial and Ethnoeconomic Research at the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), spoke about the ways of estimating the potential losses of the reindeer herding farms. This Republic has a law on ethnological expert examination in the areas of traditional residency and traditional economic activity, as well as in the areas of traditional environmental management by the indigenous minorities of the North, and extensive practice has already been developed to use this instrument. Samsonova gave examples of the real compensation measures used during the development of the deposits in Yakutia, and also described the factors influencing the calculation of a potential damage. Experts follow a similar approach in the case of the lithium deposit.

Alexey Novozhilov, Candidate of Historical Sciences, Head of the Department of Ethnography and Anthropology at the St. Petersburg State University, made a presentation on assessing the impact of the project on the ethnosocial and ethnocultural environment of the indigenous communities and reindeer herding people of the Lovozero District. In the summer of 2023, he was the head of the ethnographic team that held about 70 in-depth interviews with the locals in this area.

In his turn, Alexey Tsykarev, an international human rights expert who had held various expert positions at the UN for ten years, spoke about the potential effect of the industrial project on the traditional way of life, crafts and culture of the indigenous peoples of the Murmansk Region. “Based on the data received from the indigenous peoples, the deposit does not directly affect the traditional native and sacred places of the Sami people and other reindeer herding peoples. Being located far from settlements, the Kolmozero village is not among the priority areas of traditional environmental management by the indigenous peoples, with the exception of reindeer herding. At the same time, it is important to understand that any impact on reindeer husbandry will definitely have an adverse effect on the community as a whole as the decrease in the number of animals will result in less meat, skins and other by-products of reindeer husbandry - this will have an impact on everyone,” the expert said.

Tsykarev also mentioned some possible ways for the interaction with indigenous communities regarding the Kolmozerskoye deposit, including minimizing and mitigating the negative impact on reindeer husbandry, supporting the reindeer herding farming and the production of related products, providing help in maintaining the reindeer herd stock, supporting the youth and the educational activities, as well as promoting the preservation, study and documenting of cultural and linguistic heritage and conserving the ecology and biodiversity.

Antonina Gorbunova, a lawyer in protecting the rights of indigenous minorities, took part in the discussions at the meetings.

The Project Office for Development of the Arctic acts as an operator of the ethnological expert examination for the project for the development of the Kolmozerskoye lithium deposit in the Murmansk Region. The license to develop the deposit was received by Polar Lithium LLC (a joint venture of Norilsk Nickel and Rosatom). The ethnological expert examination will allow the assessment of the potential impact of the industrial project on the culture, crafts, traditional way of life of the indigenous minorities of the North and reindeer herders of the Lovozero District.

The working group consists of the representatives of public and reindeer herding organizations and the communities of the Sami people for their interaction with the Polar Lithium company during the ethnological expert examination aimed at receiving, studying and transmitting the information about the project and the ethnological expert examination results to the indigenous communities and reindeer herding peoples of the Murmansk Region.

At the first extensive consultations held in June 2022, Polar Lithium announced its intention to offer the FPIC procedure to the Sami people, Komi reindeer herders and Nenets people. Before starting the FPIC procedure, due diligence activities are carried out, including the ethnological expert examination aimed at planning the reduction of the project’s impact on the indigenous communities, as well as the development of compensatory measures and a sustainable development plan. These activities will be included in the plan for the interaction with the indigenous peoples that will be proposed for consideration at the FPIC meeting in 2024.