When I was a kid, my family would come to Aktru in the summer. We’d travel on horseback from our home up the valley, to sled down the glacier! The ice came down all the way to where I am kneeling right now. But look where it is today. My kids will never sled down the Aktru.Alexander Dibesov, Warden , Aktru Glacier Mountaineering Camp
For countless generations, Altai people herded their livestock across what is now known as the Golden Mountains of Altai UNESCO’s World Heritage Site, in Russia’s southern Siberia. They endured many obstacles–from Mongol hordes to Soviet oppression. Today, they face the new challenge–climate change. Torrential downpours, freezing and thawing splinter the rock and destroy petroglyphs, the millennia-old repository of Altai people’s culture. Permafrost that preserved the remains of Altai ancestors in burial grounds for thousands of years is melting. And unpredictable snowstorms, winter rains, thawing and freezing, decimate herds of sheep and horses on which the Altai people still heavily rely. Local shamans are convinced that only through restoring their reverential relationship with the sacred and spiritual realms can Altai people and the rest of the world restore the balance of the Earth and its climate.
Altai Climate Change Adaptation Response
The ideas of Interdependence, and Equal Partnership are at the heart of the Altai climate change adaptation work.
The Interdependence of people and nature, known as biocultural diversity, is the rich fabric from which a multiplicity of responses to climate change arises. The Uch-Enmek Nature Park is the first protected area in Altai, and Russia, intended to sustain such interdependence by not keeping ‘wilderness’ away from local people within the park’s boundary—the more conventional and widely accepted way of nature conservation in the last 100 years. Instead, the Park protects the ancient relationship between the Altai people and their traditional territory. It preserves the Altai people’s traditional livelihoods by maintaining pastures where local people can move their cattle as the seasons change. Additionally, the Park attracts cultural tourism, which brings extra income to local people, creating additional resources that can be channelled towards strategies to copewith climate change. More importantly, the Park is restoring and protecting Altai’s sacred sites that, according to the local worldview, regulate the flow of energy between the cosmos and the Earth, balancing the relationship between people and the land, and regulating weather patterns.
Equal partnership between local people and outsiders is a basic requirement for any climate change adaptation project to be successful. Many initiatives being developed to tackle climate change—like UNESCO’s “Frozen Tombs of Altai” project aimed at preserving the Altai burial sites, or kurgans, from climate change—seem well meaning and even plausible. However, because the project was developed without the full informed consent and participation of local Indigenous peoples, the work is doomed to fail, for it misses the true significance of the objects it is trying to preserve. UNESCO’s Frozen Tombs project mistakenly sees the value of the kurgans only in the material objects that could eventually be unearthed by archaeologists, preserved, and studied. It fails to recognize the much more significant role of Altai’s kurgans as sacred sites regulating the human-environment interactions such as weather and climate. This important role can only be sustained if the kurgans remain intact and Altai people continue to maintain their relationship with them.
Relationship with the world must be based on our ability to keep the sacred balance with all living beings and the Land.Maria Amanchina, a traditional Altai healer