New research out of the Nelson Institute studies interactions between oil companies and Indigenous people

November 3, 2020

New research out of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies is exploring benefit sharing between Indigenous people and oil companies, a topic that Maria Tysiachniouk, PhD brought to Nelson along with her own theory of benefit sharing arrangements in the Arctic.  The research is being led by researchers at the Nelson Institute and Department of Civil Society and Community Studies, with Tysiachniouk and professor Leah Horowitz co-authoring several papers and Tysiachniouk independently authoring the paper, Disentangling Benefit-Sharing Complexities of Oil Extraction on the North Slope of Alaska. Sustainability12(13), 5432.

“I always wanted to come to Nelson and to this University,” Tysiachniouk said of her collaboration with Horowitz. “I came across an opportunity with Leah [Horowitz] where she was interested in working with somebody who is able to compare their own data with the data that she was collecting on pipelines in the United States and I was very interested.”

Tysiachniouk generally studies interactions between oil companies and Indigenous people in Russia and the United States, so she felt this collaboration was a good fit for her. Tysiachniouk is an established scholar, working at a research center in Russia and focusing on environmental governance and conservation in global contexts. 

To date, the collaboration between Tysiachniouk and Horowitz has generated a published article in Resources and an article in Sustainability, a publication in press with Environmental Politics, one chapter that has been accepted for a book to be published by Springer, and two additional manuscripts are in progress.

The article, which is published in the journal Sustainability, is titled, Who benefits? How interest-convergence shapes benefit-sharing and Indigenous rights in Russia. It analyzes a shift in benefit-sharing arrangements between oil companies and Indigenous Nenets reindeer herders in Nenets Autonomous Okrug (NAO), Russia. With the assistance of Laura A. Henry, a professor at Bowdoin College and Svetlana A. Tulaeva, a scholar of International Relations and Politics at the North-West Institute of Management, Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, Horowitz and Tysiachniouk  discovered that” a shift in benefit-sharing arrangements between oil companies and Indigenous Nenets reindeer herders in Nenets Autonomous Okrug (NAO), Russia, can be seen as an evolution of the herders’ rights, defined as the intertwined co-production of legal processes, ideologies, and power relations.”  Through the adoption of formal methodologies including laws that support access to compensation, “benefit-sharing shifted from paternalism (dependent on herders’ negotiation skills) to company-centered social responsibility (formalized compensation rules).” This shift ultimately provided “greater rights for Indigenous groups.”

In the paper currently in press, titled, Indigenous-led grassroots engagements with oil pipelines in the U.S. and Russia: the NoDAPL and Komi movements Tysiachniouk and Horowitz joined Varvara Korkina and Andrey Petrov with the ARCTICenter and Department of Geography at the University of Northern Iowa, to explore the role networks play in the Indigenous rights movement’s strategies. Specifically, the paper compared the NoDAPL (Dakota Access Pipeline) movement led by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in the U.S. with grassroots Indigenous-environmentalist networks of water defenders in the Komi Republic, Russia. Throughout this research, Tysiachniouk was particularly interested in seeing how governance generating networks (GGN) apply to this case study.

GGNs is a concept that Tysiachniouk developed to analyze private authority governance, in other words cases where new global agendas and/or regulations are developed using global standards, rules, norms or recommendations. In the case of this research the team explored the emergence of GGNs due to the protesting of oil pipelines.

“While in the Netherlands I started creating my own theory on governance generating networks,” said Tysiachniouk. “Here at Nelson I was trying to adjust this theory to a wider context and analyze the interactions between Indigenous people and oil companies using this theory. This paper was exciting for me as it looks at social movements against pipelines in Russia and the US, in very different contexts. It was a great opportunity for me to come here and look at the Standing Rock case study. I did interviews with people originally from Russia who came to Standing Rock to collect testimonies from Indigenous peoples.  We worked very closely together with all co-authors and collected excellent data.”

Ultimately, the research showed that “even if governance of pipelines remains unchanged locally, new governance may be generated at other scales.” This study shows that “this new governance arrangement may enhance or impede Indigenous rights, as it plays out differently in divergent scales and contexts.”

In addition to publishing in academic journals, Tysiachniouk has also been creating visualization of her research through  “Art Social Science” project that brings together designers, artists, and scientists to create visual representations of these studies, popularize science, and attract wider audiences.  

“I am developing social science exhibitions and work closely with artists.  We organized seven exhibitions in Russia and one in Finland,” said Tysiachniouk. “These are artworks related to science done by professional artists and/or students. For example, I was teaching a course for artists at Lapland University. Their assignment was to create artwork in a way that art students can cite specific pages of published research papers. This was a very interesting experience to merge scientists and art students.  Here, at Nelson Institute, we created visual abstracts and illustrations to research articles that we wrote with Leah Horowitz.  It was my initiative to organize Russian designers to do this for all our papers. You can see our visualized articles on the web

While Tysiachniouk’s time with the Nelson Institute will be ending in November, she shared that she was very pleased with the work that has been accomplished, in particular the advancements that have been made in understanding the benefit sharing between Indigenous people and oil companies and her GGN theory.

Tysiachniouk said, “I was very happy that it stepped further theoretically.”

Horowitz added, “It has been very exciting to compare Indigenous-led engagements with oil and pipeline companies in such different socio-economic, political, and cultural contexts, which has helped us to develop broader theory around power relations and indigeneity within grassroots environmental governance.”