Kogalym-Lor – the lake where a man died

Kogalym-Lor – the lake where a man died

“Indigenous peoples and oil” events in Finland 1999


Speech in the seminar

Kogalym-Lor in Khanty means “the lake in which a man died”. For some reason, Lukoil Oil Company has chosen that as the name for its capital city.

On Change

When someone decides to make a tourist trip he marches into a travel agency office and procures a visa. In his trip he wants to see our region the way it has always been. He wants to widen his aesthetic horizon and know how this people there have lived some time back. But how can such a people be a museum piece?

I have come to the conclusion that when a representative of an indigenous people has changed and taken on the idea that we can extract oil and construct railways, then the change has also taken place in the soul of that person. I have organised trips for such persons who want to see how our people lives. I have taken them in families who practice nomadic life and move around with their reindeer herd. Now the same family head is a lorry driver. From this family we can only arrive at something, what has happened and still happening to our culture.

As an example I can also mention a certain Russified man whom I took to that family. He is an oil worker and his ancestors have sometimes lived in the area where a city was later on built. Because the city was build on his land he was given accommodation in the city. He was given a job and means of income. I would not say that such a person is a museum piece. I would never want to say he is a representative of the people because in that case he will begin to pose around as such, and then one is not sincere.

This person came to visit us at our place because he wanted to see proper human beings. He wanted to see how the horns of the last reindeer herd of this people are on the wall. He wanted to hear opinions of the head of the house and his thoughts and to hear him say how difficult it is for him nowadays, perhaps otherwise, too, but also psychologically.

The man had quit his last well-paying job. He just did not derive spiritual satisfaction, for instance, driving a truck. He asked me to procure ten reindeers from somewhere so that he could get a new start. He wanted to herd reindeers and I helped him. He got a good breed of reindeer but the situation is however such that the family’s life split into two. Residing in the city and moving with reindeers. The family no longer wanted to live in a hut. The family no longer knew how to secure a living there: how to herd reindeers, how to acquire food, how to fish, what is got from the land and how it is prepared. The family preferred using modern toilet facilities to a hole in the ground. The man has one part in the hut, but his other part has to visit the city flat. He is no longer capable of not residing in the city. But then, he gradually understands that he can live in the city and still herd reindeers. However, in this case, the worst harm is done to the reindeers. Reindeer is part of nature and therefore cannot be taken care of in that manner. Reindeer must have the full attention of a person, and only in this case it can fulfil its God-given task and full worth, and this person will again be his people’s educator of full standing. Everything attains full value when everyone is doing his part in his or her own environment. It often happens to the city reindeer herders that the herd disperses and escapes. And a representative of the indigenous can no longer gain back his job in the city. These instances perhaps say a lot of the situation of the indigenous peoples in Russia

Reindeer and human

Reindeer can play a multiple role in the life of human being. Now after the period of communism, families privately owning reindeer have at most 500 reindeers. Old people have told us that reindeers used to be considerable more. If we mathematically calculate the number of reindeers now and the economic costs involved, families cannot sustain themselves in normal circumstances. If there are 50 reindeers in a family, just what I have, then the way we understand it, there are not reindeers. But in families that have little reindeers, just like in my family, then reindeer plays an ideological role. Fifty reindeers do not produce meat for the year and neither do they produce sufficient transportation equipment for one’s needs. But when a family with children live with these reindeers, then they have an educational function. Irrespective of whether a family has plenty or little reindeers, a person has to learn the relationship between reindeers, nature, humans and the totality. Even if a person had ten reindeers he would have to learn to recognise this interrelationship.

When there are several hundred reindeers then they serve as means of transport and provide food and clothing. Then one must learn to handle and educate them: one should be able to distinguish a draught animal and one that can move fast. In such circumstances, the wife and daughters must learn how to treat leather in order to obtain pieces for leather clothing. In addition to the ability to make clothes, they should be made beautiful and represent folk culture.

I visited the market square here in Helsinki near the presidential palace and saw reindeer leather on sale and souvenirs made of different parts of reindeer. Unfortunately my relatives do not use leftovers from their products in this manner. If now a skilful reindeer herder is able to sell reindeer meat then the leather goes back into nature’s cycle. It is not used to produce souvenirs. Even though there is no such reindeer owner amongst us who could start a trade based on reindeer products. I believe that there will be one in the near future. Although we do not aim at everyone selling reindeer products it would be good if a few could do this

Besides me is my wife who helps me think of, and deal with all issues. She produced my belt purse and it is made in such a way that there are no leftovers anywhere. She is making all attempts to teach the skill to our children and grandchildren.

The Globe and petroleum

Just before the meeting began I had a telephone conversation with my relatives. They had visited my reindeers and extend their greetings. My relatives will still go to visit their reindeer heard and from there proceed to visit the oil company to discuss the abnormal relation that we have with them. A discussion on the difficulties that we have. I don’t believe that they will get to a common understanding.

I feel that we discuss here all the aspects of our common issues: the relations to the state, to the reindeers and to the oil companies. I know precisely that I came here from the surface of the same globe. When I was born, my father and mother were inhabitants of this globe. That is why I would like to hold the discussion from the perspective of a host of this globe. We have been given only one globe.

On the first day we held a discussion in Turku with a representative of our related people of Estonia. We were looking at a shaman drum (the logo of the seminar that is reproduced on the cover of this publication). The drum gives a picture of the world. At the centre of it is the equator, but on the north half of the globe there are a human being and an oil company. Our globe has no other dimensions.

If oil companies combine their forces to drive out human beings, the humans will disappear from the globe. But if human beings combine their strength then it is possible that they retain their home. Yesterday one of my relatives said here that we cannot entirely refrain from oil. We cannot refrain from the so-called development. So far I have not been able to explain to myself what this development means. Perhaps you the audience can tell me what it is.

Oil is an invention of the last century. It has tended to take over humanity entirely in this century. Oil resources are limited on our globe. For how long can oil help people? Maybe 200 years – and after that? On the other hand oil is such that humans themselves suffer from it. And even if the oil companies with the help of technology would meet all environmental standards, oil would still be harmful to humans. Certainly there are also such negative consequences that we have not yet observed.

For instance my daughter lives in a certain house in the village. She grows potatoes on a spot where some time ago there was a coal plant. It has been completely demolished and there is no trace whatsoever. That was a long time ago. In spite of this, the potatoes grown on my plot differ in many respects from hers. I am afraid to use her potatoes and so we are now cultivating them only on my plot.

Let us think of this as a global issue. When we have stopped using petroleum products, what can happen on our globe? Oil is in the interior of the earth. We take it from there and use it. How does it affect the future? So long as there is oil, it will put a brake on development. It prevents human beings from turning to other forms of energy. It is so because it would be disadvantageous to those who get their earnings on oil.

Newspapers advertise cars. This is directed to the person who has been forced to use petroleum products. Anyone who supports this mode of life is unwittingly supporting oil production. In this way we are creating for ourselves an ideology that influences the human consciousness. For instance communism was an ideology that influenced human consciousness in the same way.


Yuri Aivaseda:

How could the coincidence have come about that in whatever country where there is production of oil, or fossil fuel or any substance connected to these, the site always happens to be where minority peoples live?

Ulla Lehtinen:

I would like to comment on that question. Apart from the fact that there are natural resources on the lands of indigenous peoples, there are other reasons, and one of them is environmental racism. It may even the biggest reason. Among others the US has oil reserves and does not need to go elsewhere in the world. But apart from saving them for strategic reasons, it is cheaper to produce oil elsewhere, where there is no need to be concerned about human rights of people with the wrong colour. On the one hand these people have little possibilities to defend their own rights and on the other hand, they have little experience in this.


An interesting question. I don’t want to speak about other countries. I have thought about this myself. There is another reason. If we take, as an example, the place where my relatives live, I have observed the following since the beginning of the 1990s. Where living is most suitable from the perspective of human habitation, oil is generally found precisely at that place. This is a typical phenomenon on our planet and it has to be researched into. When in 1992 I discussed with the director of Varjogan-Neftegaz Company, we slightly dealt with this also. He reacted to this very quickly and requested me to make a map about those places where human beings in my opinion have most often settled. I have not begun to make such a thing because that would cause more harm than good to my people; these are issues that do not depend on me, but on the higher powers.