Indigenous yet unrecognised. The legal reality of the Izhma Komi people

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The Russian Federation defines indigeneity narrowly. Under Russian law, only those groups that inhabit the territories of the North, Siberia and the Far East, comprise fewer than 50,000 people, maintain a traditional, nature-based way of life, and self-identify as a separate ethnic group can be recognised as so-called small-numbered indigenous peoples (KMNS). As a result, several de-facto indigenous groups cannot obtain the status of KMNS and benefit from related rights. There are also peoples that, despite fulfilling the Russian criteria of indigeneity, still fail to be recognised as KMNS. Russian legislation nevertheless does provide certain rights for some non-KMNS groups.
This article is based on a literature review and fieldwork research among one such non-recognised community, the Izhma people, who belong to the wider Komi group. It asks what legitimate rights the Izhma Komi possess as an indigenous group and how these are exercised on the ground. In doing so, this article provides new knowledge that reduces confusion among scholars and practitioners regarding Izhma Komi legal and factual positions. The paper focuses specifically on legislation that covers the traditional economic activities of reindeer herding, fishing, and hunting, as embodied in both federal and republic regulations, to demonstrate the interplay between written laws and their non-coherent implementation on the ground.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)343-362
JournalThe Polar Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2022
MoEC publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • reality of law
  • indigenous rights
  • Russian North
  • Izhma Komi
  • empirical legal research

Field of science

  • International political science


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