Vladimir DOBRYNIN, President of the Commander Islands Aleut Association, speaks about the life and problems of that small indigenous nation in an interview with Andrei KRIVOSHAPKIN, member of the Writers' and Journalists' Unions of Russia

ARCTIC VOICE No. 12 December, 1996


By Andrei Krivoshapkin, a member of the Writers' and Journalists' Unions

Literally speaking, the Commander Islands are situated at the end of the world.

The biggest inhabited island is 90 km long and 40 km wide.

Recently I became acquainted with Vladimir Dobrynin, the president of the Commander Islands Aleut Association.

Open-minded and easy to talk with, he somehow wins your favour right away. Short and sunburnt with a small beard, he gives an impression of a worldly-wise man.

Dobrynin willingly told me about the Aleuts and their life. The Aleuts have their own territorial-administrative structure, namely the Aleut national district. There are 752 people in the district, including 346 Aleuts.

As of June 1, 1996, there was a total of 408 unemployed, i.e. the majority of the local population.

Ten years ago, a conference entitled "The Problems and Rational Use of Nature on the Commander Islands" was held at Moscow State University. After that many specialists and scientists visited the Commander Islands. Some of them defended their candidate's theses. As a result of their activity a State Natural Reserve has been created on the Commander Islands, a good initiative in itself. But Vladimir Dobrynin has a different opinion: "This doesn't solve the problems which the native population is facing, but instead complicates them. The establishment of the Reserve has proved to be the main obstacle in the way of traditional nature use by the native population and determination of the borders of hunting and fishing areas."

According to Dobrynin, for the last few years production has been declining and consumer goods prices have been soaring, which has affected the living standards of the natives. Experienced doctors, teachers, and cultural workers have been leaving the Commander Islands.

During the 1995-1996 academic year due to the absence of teachers there were no physics lessons in senior classes.

Little by little, the national culture is falling into declay. From 1993 to 1996 the Aleut Star, a district newspaper, the local TV studio and movies network were closed.

The national ensemble "Unangan" broke down. Lack of money does not allow them to put out an Aleut-Russian and Russian-Aleut dictionary.

This year the supply of necessities has sharply declined.

The irregular water, fuel and gas supplies to homes and offices is a common thing. Vladimir Dobrynin is eager to help the natives of the Commander Islands to survive in spite of all the difficulties. He thinks that the government of the Russian Federation must work out and approve the government programme of the Aleuts' social and economic rebirth and development. He believes that the natural resources of the Commander Archipelago should primarily be used for solving the socio-economic problems of the district in general and for reviving its traditional economic activities in particular.

The material and technical basis for coastal fishing of sea fish and crabs should be created. The Aleut tribal community should deal with it. It is necessary to develop fur farming on the Islands, to start the extraction and processing of sea kale, the picking and processing of wild plants. The local natural resources should become the basis for the development of the processing industry, which must put out finished articles. So it will be possible to sew national attire and make souvenirs.

The Aleuts do not have their representative in the regional legislature (legislative body). Why don't they have seats in the Regional Duma?

The Commander Islands are located so far that it is difficult for the Kamchatka regional administration and for the Russian government to reach it.

It seems to me that at present it will be quite reasonable to give the Commander Islands Aleut Association all authority, and good results won't take long to appear.

(RIA Novosti)