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Ethnological Expert Assessment: beneficiaries, value, and timing

The three most frequent mistakes in interpreting the ethnological expert assessment (EEA) objectives are to estimate losses from commercial development of land, to stop production, and to restore ecosystems. Theory told through experience who needs the procedure and when and why it is needed based on Nornickel’s experience.
The EEA is usually procured by the business wanting to establish the impact of its activities. It is a scientific research of operations impact on indigenous peoples, their traditional activities, culture and sacred sites. The EEA helps establish the impact on reindeer herding, fishing, hunting, gathering of wild plants, and develops an action plan to prevent, minimize, mitigate and compensate for potential and actual damage, covering not only production operations but also related linear facilities, such as power lines and roads.

The Russian laws set the stage, and the international ESG standards encourage companies to conduct impact assessments (referred to in Russia as EEAs) prior to project start, that is, before factories are built or mines are developed.
Nornickel’s experience
In 2023, the company ordered an EEA to support the development project of Kolmozerskoye lithium deposit in the Lovozersky district of Murmansk Region. The project will be developed by the Polar Lithium joint venture between Nornickel and Rosatom.
The deposit was discovered and recorded on the books 50-60 years ago, with no further research carried out on the site. Nikolay Doronin, Chairman of the Management Board of the Project Office for Arctic Development says: “The ethnological expert assessment helps identify how and who exactly may be affected by the deposit development, considering the relative distance from settlements and land use by reindeer herders.”

The EEA is sometimes ordered on a post-exposure basis, after the event has already happened. An example of such situation would be an impact of human activity.
Nornickel’s experience
Nornickel conducted its first EEA in 2020 in Taimyr, when an accident caused a diesel fuel spill. Based on the EEA results, discussions were held with the regional government leaders, communities, representatives and organizations of indigenous peoples.

The consultations have resulted in a program to facilitate development of indigenous peoples.

Program parameters:
  • period - 5 years,
  • financing - over RUB 2 bn,
  • 44 actions.

Purpose of ethnological expert assessment

The study provides answers to three questions.

What are the potential impacts on indigenous peoples, their traditional lifestyle, activities and culture, and how can these impacts be minimized? “For instance, construction of a road to the deposit could intensify human activity impacts on the tundra, and consequently food supply of reindeer, their migration routes, and fawning locations. This can put reindeer herding at threat,” explains Aleksei Tsykarev, UN expert and former Vice-Chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Which communities may be exposed to impact? The EEA identifies the specific indigenous settlements, communities, economic entities or social groups that could potentially be affected by the project. “In the road construction example, the affected social group may be comprised of production cooperatives, reindeer herding communities and private reindeer herders. The EEA seeks to identify the affected stakeholders, households or organizations,” says Alexei Tsykarev.
Nornickel’s experience
The Kolmozerskoye deposit is located on land leased by the Tundra agricultural and production cooperative engaged in herding reindeer, including privately-owned ones. It is based in the Lovozero village. The cooperative can be considered the most affected party, so its participation in consultations is mandatory. Moreover, the cooperative will be reimbursed for losses associated with geological exploration.

The territory of another cooperative based in the Krasnoshchelye village may be potentially affected by the construction of project linear facilities. Therefore, the cooperative is also involved in the negotiations.

In parallel, the company interacts with major organizations and decision-makers of the Saami indigenous people of the Murmansk Region:

  • Council of Representatives of Indigenous Peoples of the North under the Government of the Murmansk Region,
  • Kola Saami Association,
  • Public Organization for Promotion of Legal Education and Preservation of Cultural Heritage of the Saami People of the Murmansk Region.

A year before obtaining the license, Nornickel and the Polar Lithium JV hold preliminary consultations with the indigenous and reindeer herding peoples of the Murmansk Region by way of gatherings in the Lovozero and Krasnoshchelye villages.
Who acts on the part of the affected communities? “The purpose of the assessment is to identify the parties who can negotiate on behalf of the affected indigenous communities. Sometimes it turns out that no party has a 100% authorization to represent the affected communities. In such cases, the company should negotiate with several parties, for example, the Council of Elders, reindeer herding community, and informal association of reindeer herders,” says Alexei Tsykarev.

Answers to these questions help develop the Indigenous Peoples Plan (IPP) in consultation with the indigenous peoples. The plan sets out measures to avoid, minimize, mitigate and compensate for major adverse impacts on the indigenous peoples. Based on the assessment, the project may be updated and even cancelled. In any case, the EEA lays the groundwork for negotiations in good faith and fair agreements between companies and indigenous peoples.

Ethnological expert assessment results

An important document is a business project impact map which identifies the exposed communities and stakeholders to negotiate with.

In the supporting reports, researchers describe the type of impacts and exposure extent. The documents contain complex technical and scientific information. “It is important to understand right away that during consultations, the EEA results will have to be presented in plain language,” Aleksei Tsykarev stressed.

Application of ethnological expert assessment results

The EEA results support the project discussions with indigenous peoples using the human rights-based approach, or FPIC– free, prior and informed consent. International standards require that such consent be obtained for the implementation of industrial projects in the territories where indigenous peoples live and work.

During the consultations, the company ordering the EEA is obliged to convey the EEA results to all discussion participants in a clear and comprehensible form and make sure that the indigenous peoples understand the matter of concern.

Negotiations are held in several stages, and it is essential to schedule them at a time and in a place convenient for all participants. Representatives of the company and affected indigenous communities participate in the negotiations. Results of each negotiation stage are thoroughly documented, recorded in minutes and shared in the public domain (optional).
Nornickel’s experience
After each stage of negotiations on the Kolmozerskoye deposit development, the results are posted on the website.
Negotiations provide inputs for the Indigenous Peoples Plan (IPP) outlining three types of activities:

  • impact mitigation,
  • compensation,
  • monitoring and support for indigenous peoples’ participation.

The IPP may be used as a basis for the action plan to facilitate sustainable development of indigenous peoples.
Examples of actions taken by Nornickel

Impact mitigation and minimization actions:
  • project facilities are relocated to avoid damaging or destroying the sacred sites of indigenous peoples,
  • manufacturing facilities with high noise levels are built as far away as possible from herding areas, animal migration routes and fawning locations.

Examples of sustainable development initiatives:
  • housing construction,
  • construction of medical and obstetric care stations, modern community centers,
  • refurbishment of school gyms and further equipment of schools,
  • purchase of equipment for meat, fish, and wild crop processing, deer hide tanning and dressing,
  • purchase of community-made products.

Compensatory measures:
  • provision of new land plots for herding,
  • financial compensations.

EEA procedure

The impact is assessed with the engagement of indigenous peoples and can consist of three stages:

  1. preparations: planning the work, developing methodology (if necessary),
  2. field research – with the help of research expeditions,
  3. findings evaluation – preparing reports with conclusions and recommendations.
From the business project perspective, the EEA should be performed at pre-design stage.

Getting ready to start the business project based on the EEA results as illustrated by the Kolmozerskoye deposit case

EEA providers

The ethnological expert assessment is a scientific research that may involve ethnographers, biologists, economists, cartographers, land surveyors, and specialists in reindeer husbandry. Therefore, the EEA is conducted by independent research institutions with the engagement of indigenous peoples.
Nornickel’s experience with the Kolmozerskoye deposit
The EEA is run by the Project Office for Arctic Development. The research team comprises independent experts engaged by Soyuz Union of Indigenous Peoples (KMNSOYUZ).

Legal aspects: official and actual

Russia. The EEA is mentioned in Law No. 82-FZ “On Guarantees of the Rights of Small-Numbered Indigenous Peoples of the Russian Federation. The procedure is recommended but not required. The EEA methods and applications are not regulated. In 2018, a draft federal law on ethnological expert assessment was prepared, which has not yet been submitted for discussion to the State Duma.

At regional level, the EEA law has been adopted in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) and Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Area.

Globally. “Under the international approach described in Guidance Note 7 of the International Finance Corporation, ICMM and IRMA industry standards, the Russian EEA is a pre-FPIC due diligence study.

It is not a substitute for direct interaction with indigenous peoples, but it allows the company to comprehensively study the project impact and establish the potential project affected indigenous communities, territories and extent of such impact, and most importantly, mitigations.

The EEA helps identify future parties in FPIC negotiations and develop the Indigenous Peoples Plan,” explained Vasily Zakharov, Chief Manager of Regional Programs at Nornickel.
Nornickel’s experience
Traditional activities on the Kolmozerskoye deposit territory are officially undertaken by the Saami. Apart from the Saami, the Komi-Izhma and Nenets do reindeer herding on the Kola Peninsula. The Saami, as an indigenous people of Murmansk Region, and the Komi and Nenets herders will be involved in the FPIC procedure in Murmansk Region.

“Since not only the Saami people are engaged in the traditional use of natural resources (reindeer herding) in the Lovozersky District, through expert discussions, we have come up with a special term: indigenous and reindeer herding peoples,” says Vasily Zakharov.

Proactive position

The EEA and FPIC procedures help businesses and indigenous peoples find a mutually acceptable solution. Commercial development can and should be carried out while minimizing the harmful impact on indigenous peoples.

“From the sustainability perspective, it is important that miners and processors are proactive. In the case of the Kolmozerskoye deposit, the company has committed to perform the EEA as prescribed by corporate policy, international standards and laws.

It is a way for the business to claim that they want to understand the impact on the indigenous peoples and their economic activities. And most importantly, that decisions will be governed by this understanding,” Nikolay Doronin summed up.

Photos by Nornickel
March, 2024
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