Debates Indigenas: Gold mining in Khakasia and its impact on the lives of the Shors

In addition to open-pit coal mining, which has had a major impact on Shors, a small-numbered Indigenous group from South Siberia, gold mining companies are also expropriating Indigenous Peoples’ lands where they have led their traditional lifestyles for centuries, polluting the environment, and destroying Indigenous cultural sites. The companies involved in gold mining neither follow Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) processes, nor pay taxes in the municipalities where they operate. Thus gold mining not only puts at risk the very survival of the Shor traditional way of life and livelihoods, but also doesn’t benefit them in any way economically.

At least eight placer mines were operating in close proximity to Shor villages, on the rivers Magyza, Balyksu, Bolshoy Nazas, Zaslonka, Orton, Fedorovka, Bazas and some others. All of these water bodies together are the most important form of sustenance for the Shors, as they are the only source of drinking water for their villages, livestock, and the wild animals of the taiga, which are the foundation of the Shor economy. The disappearance of fish due to waste discharged into the rivers by the placer mines deprives the Shor of an irreplaceable element of their diet, and the wild animals that eat the fish have migrated to remote areas that hunters cannot access.

Formally, the Shor villages should be protected by law from commercial exploitation, as they are on the Federal List of Places of Traditional Residence and Activities of Small Indigenous Peoples and, in case of Shor lands within Khakasia, are included within the borders of “specially protected territories of traditional nature use”, where any activity that threatens the condition of natural resources is prohibited. However, despite such legal protection the scale of gold mining and the number of gold-mining cooperatives in Khakasia and Kemerovo Oblast have drastically increased over the past five years.

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