This is the first in a series on indigenous populations around the world and the difficulties they face.
Indigenous communities in Sakhalin have faced land wars and oil exploitation, but work is being done to change this.
Sakhalin Island lies between Russia and Japan in the North Pacific ocean. It’s rich and diverse groups of indigenous communities have often been overlooked, through years of occupation and minor land skirmishes. Indigenous communities still make up 0.7 per cent of Sakhalin’s population, and remain important stakeholders in the island’s cultural, social, and political development.
Sakhalin’s indigenous community is made up of four different ethnic groups: the Nivkh (the most numerous), the Uilta, the Evenki, and the Nanai. The Evenki and Uilta are known for reindeer herding, while the Nivkh were known for hunting and fishing, until the 1980s when they began to move into urban settlements.
While most of the indigenous communities have adopted the Russian-Japanese culture imposed upon the island, there are some cultural factors that tie the island to its indigenous past. The Nivkh language, for example, is spoken by about 10 percent of islanders, and is apparently unrelated to any other language on Earth. Additionally, revivalist movements are currently gathering steam, which seek to emphasise the island’s traditional shamanistic roots.
After centuries of being caught up in a land war between Russia and Japan, Sakhalin, which is now a formally Russian territory, still faces problems. After experiencing an oil-boom in the post-Soviet years, Sakhalin has seen an influx of oil companies developing pipelines on the island. This has posed issues for the island’s indigenous population, as their natural surroundings are damaged and polluted. As a result, indigenous islanders have begun protesting the actions of multinational oil conglomerates.
There are, of course, more positive sides to the story. In recent years, the Sakhalin Indigenous Minorities Development Plan has been established, with the aim of further involving indigenous communities in the economic and social life of the island. This plan, supported by Sakhalin Energy, also aims to help reduce the negative impact of oil exploration on the islanders.
Sakhalin Island is the perfect example of the vivid, diverse cultural landscape that is often overlooked among discussion of more prominent geo-political forces. With the help of people working to prevent environmental disaster, this vibrant indigenous cultural will hopefully remain prosperous for years to come.