(2004) JLP 49: 75-90





N. Novikova




Many of the indigenous small-numbered peoples of the north of the Russian Federation are dependent on reindeer herding for the material basis of their lives, and for their cultural identities. These are threatened by recent changes, especially by the conversion of pastureland to industrial uses and by the dissociation of younger people from nomadic life when schooling. A number of provisions in the laws of the Russian Federation recognise the customary laws of the indigenous peoples of the North, and provide that their traditional environments and ways of life are to be protected, but there are difficulties in making the laws effective. This paper is concerned with research aimed at seeking solutions to these problems, drawing also on examples of indigenous peoples in other countries of the Artic region.


Russian Federal law makes provision for both the normative and the institutional recognition of customary laws, but the nature of the customary laws and the mode by which and fields of activity in which they are to be recognised are little known and difficult to determine. A new approach to indigenous peoples’ legal knowledge is required. It is necessary to develop understanding of the customary laws according to which indigenous peoples live, in a certain sense, in equality with wildlife.


Self-government and the establishment of self-governing territories at a local level are provided for in Russian legislation, and in some cases offer the best means for development of local customary laws. Work has been carried out to enable representatives of indigenous peoples to develop effective arguments to advance their customary laws through negotiation and litigation. Further, a project based on the study, interpretation and formulation in legal terms of aboriginal culture needs to be developed to enable the legislation on indigenous peoples to become effective.