Property and Economy among reindeer herders and hunters in a Dolgan village, North-western Republic of Sakha, Siberia.
Urung Khaia is the most north-western village in the Republic of Sakha and belongs to the Anabarski district. Out of a total population of 1200, 900 are Dolgans, the rest being either Evenki or Sakha. Dolgans are a Sakha speaking ethnic group and belong to the so called Numerically Small People. Urung Khaia is the only Dolgan village in the territory of the Republic of Sakha (most Dolgans live in the northern part of Krasnoiarski Krai). Uurung Khaia was traditionally a so called "agricultural" settlement, i.e. the main employer in this village was the state farm (sovkhoz) and most people were engaged there in hunting, fishing and reindeer herding. The Republic of Sakha was one region in the Soviet Union, where these traditional activities of the northern minorities were most centralized and controlled by the state. Because of the large territory, the collectivised hunting and reindeer herding economy was never efficient in the Republic of Sakha. High transportation and production costs were covered by state subsidies. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the planned economy, the state subsidies decreased dramatically and the whole northern "agriculture" had to be restructured and oriented towards a market economy.
In my dissertation project at the Max-Planck Institute with the working title "Work-in-progress: property relations and kinship structure in a Dolgan village, North-western Republic of Sakha", I try to analyse the survival strategies of the population of the northern districts of the Republic of Sakha. In Soviet times the population in the North was well supplied, wages were high and access to education and health care was easy. Today the formerly subsidised production and infrastructure is in a deep crisis and people have to develop new ways of earning their living. Old state farms, created in the 1940s, were renamed as MUPs (munitsipal'noie unitarnoie pred'priatie), and transferred from the central state budget to the municipalities where they are situated. The enterprises have maintained their structure and ways of production. Most former workers formally have staid in the MUP, but a large part of their income comes from private fishing and hunting. The Republic of Sakha was the first region in Siberia to pass laws that allowed a economic reorganisation of the northern minorities, and because of that there is a wide variety of other enterprises that are, depending on their status, more or less independent of the MUP and district structures. How these different institutions are connected with each other and the state or district structures, is one topic of my research project. Property relations in the Arctic North are not only determined by land use rights, but also by strategies of marketing and by access to state subsidies. These networks, which exist mostly informally and on the basis of personal or kin relations, cover the whole "economic landscape" and support people's survival during the current economic and political crisis.
During my fieldwork I spent more than 8 months in the Anabarski district and most of the time out in tundra with different hunting and reindeer herding brigades of the former state enterprise, as well as in the registered clan-communities, family enterprises and non registered private hunters. Migrating and working with people, I observed how land use rights are regulated formally and informally. The focus of the research was the network behind the formal division into different forms of property. Cooperation between state and private enterprises becomes obvious through peoples activities. My observations were supported by interviewing people who are active in these networks.
By interviewing people of the local district and village administration and by working in the archives, I collected data on how the formal division and their legal background is regulated on district level. The analysis of the migration routes, lists of the brigade members back in the 1980s and new and old state plans helped to reconstruct a framework of what people used in order to establish cooperation networks already during state farm days and what they are using for cooperation today. In the capital of Yakutsk I interviewed local policy-makers and scientists, who are influential in the current state of affairs in the reindeer herding, hunting and fishing economy. The material collected there - apart from showing personal viewpoints of the interviewed persons - was mainly on regional and local legislation and plans for restructuring and redefining the whole branch. The laws and regulations of the republic's government are on one hand an attempt to regulate the situation in "agriculture", on the other hand they embody views of how large scale reindeer herding, hunting and fishing should ideally look like.
Although in the Republic of Sakha the reindeer herding and hunting economy remained more centralised than in other regions of the Siberian North, this centralisation can only partly guarantee the marketing of meat, fish and furs. It were not only former state farms, but also private persons and new institutions that had to find new ways to sell their produce and regulate the access to the resources, which in the North means land use rights in the hunting grounds, reindeer pastures and fishing places. The restructuring of the economy and of property relations in the North is not finished today, but still "work-in-progress". Constantly changing laws and regulations give people new possibilities to adopt to the market economy. Old institutions are permanently renamed and reregistered. Anabarski district is a remote province of the republic and this means that control from the capital is not so tight, which gives the local administration more possibilities to interfere in organisational and land use disputes.