V group of interns
Spring - Summer, 1998


The Heartache
We Are Looking for the Ways to Survive
The Tale of Two Villages
The Yukagir Pictographs
The World of Selkoop
Negidal Indigenous People

The HeartacheThe heartache is always in my soul. My people. The Koriak. What kind of future awaits us? Will the world know us in 20-30 years? What if we simply get dissolved by the human race? Will we be able to protect our language, our culture, the reindeer, the tundra, our rivers and our land? The land of ours - the cornerstone of our very existence, can we save you from distraction?

Most of our young people already do not speak our language, do not know the world as our old folks know it. And they sense the void in their souls. And many, too many, commit suicide or drink and drink and drink, so not to live the life of despair, the life with no future. The old go to the “upper people” and take with them the invaluable life experience, the knowledge of years, their dances and songs - everything that nobody needs anymore. The bridges between the generations are broken and, without those bridges, our way of life is no more.

The main goal today is to preserve our language and culture. Not to reject the modern world totally, but take from it what is the best, what we can use to survive in it. We need our own lawyers, economists, doctors, managers. We need to regain control of our land so we once again can become its guardians and protectors.

The future of indigenous peoples largely depends on indigenous peoples themselves. We must breath into our young people the hope for the better future, wake up their minds and hearts, we must be united. The World must learn that only when ALL the peoples in human family live decent lives, only and only then the World becomes decent.

Valery Etneut,

Go back

We Are Looking for the Ways to Survive


Everybody knows about the Kamtchatka peninsula. But not everybody knows about the Itelmen indigenous people. If you ask people on the streets of the Kamtchatka regional capital - Petropavlovsk who are the indigenous people of the region, most of them will answer - the Koriaks. They are not to be blamed for their ignorance.

In 17th century my people lived on the territory covering the southern half of Kamtchatka and were numbered 20 000 people. But already in 1820 only 2000 Itelmen were left.

We are the fishing people. Not a single Itelmen can live without fish on his table. The fish gives us life and also is the main cause of our presently miserable existence. Everybody comes to our fishing waters - the Russians, the Japanese, everybody. Money can by the necessary licenses. Itelmen do not have money. But we need to eat.

The main village of my people is the village of Kovran. In 1995 it was “raided” by the interior forces looking for the “poachers”. They caught 4 main poachers, confiscated their fishing gear. Those 4 were old retired men of the village. The old man Strelnikov could not live with the insult - he left to the “upper people”. And the real poachers - commercial companies were calmly doing their “caviar” business.

1997 was for Kovran yet another step closer to the unbearable poverty. 13 people died from January through July. A burial after the burial. The village does not have a single doctor. The children are half starving.

But life is going on. The bright summer sun, small vegetable gardens and blooming tundra are taking the Itelmen of Kovran away from the black thoughts. During one beautiful summer day like that a group of Canadian visitors came to Kovran. The guests shared with us our food and watched our dancers dance for them.

The head of the Canadian group Mr. Peter Ernek (an Inuit from Nunavut) told about the long struggle of his people for their rights and their land. About their successes and their problems.

They managed to get a lot from the Canadian government. Maybe we also will find a way to stop the decline of our people.

Last March we decided to boycott the 300th anniversary of annexation of Kamtchatka by Russia. We disagree with the official version that my people willingly “invited” the Russians to come so they “would help us to survive”.

We see that today the Russians are doing a lot to develop our lands and make the life for everybody better. But the truth of history must be told. We must be honest with each other. The indigenous peoples of Kamtchatka have no legal, political or economic protection. The authorities remember us only in time of one or another celebration.

Our boycott is not an act of demonstration. We simply are looking for a way to survive as people and a people.

“Tkhsanom” (Council of Itelmen revival)

Go back

The Tale of Two Villages


In the North of Kamtchatka there were two ethnic villages of the coastal Koriak - Oliutorka (143 people) and Kultushnoe (256 people). The authorities decided “to relocate people of the both villages into the district center Tilitchki, in order to provide better jobs and better social and living conditions”.

Indigenous people were outraged. They plead that they live by hunting, fishing and gathering and their land is the subsistence and spiritual basis for their existence. Their main argument was that the land is the land of their ancestors and without that land they are doomed to spiritual and physical death.

But as at the time of that decision making nobody asked them the same now nobody was listening to them.

After the forcible move to Tilitchki the old began dying one after another, the young had no jobs and began to drink. The few jobs available were unskilled menial jobs. Gradually we began to loose our hunting and fishing skills and our language.

Now we are trying to find money to move back to the ancient villages and give them a new life.

Larisa Ankundinova,
Koriak, Kamtchatka

Go back



The Udege people belong to the Tungus-Mantjur group. Presently there are only 2000 Udege. They live in Primorsky and Khabarovsk regions. Traditionally Udege live by the rivers and even the names of different Udege bands are the names of the rivers - Bikini, Samargin, Iman, Khor and Aniuke. Udege did not have writing, their religion is shamanism. Their traditional activities are hunting, fishing and gathering.

The main staple of their diet is fish and meat of wild animals. Those Udege bands that have extensive contacts with Chinese and Russians began to grow small vegetable gardens, but fish and meat still their main food. Many Udege prefer it raw. Udege of Primorsky region gather ginseng.

Before the Soviet revolution Udege lived in the small clans in the forest. But the soviets forced them into villages where they had hospitals, schools and other elements of the social welfare. The same time Udege were forced to speak Russian, the Udege language as well as the practicing shamanism were strictly forbidden. As the result the very few modern Udege know much of their language and the traditional culture.

Traditional Udege clothe is similar for men and women - a rob made out of fabric, fixed at the right side, pants underneath and short leather boots. The head is covered by a small round fur hat. Underneath which there is a kind of a cotton or wool helmet with long sides and back to protect from rain and snow.. A woman’s rob was longer and more ornamented than man’s.

Udege believes are full of spirits and mythology of the creation. The sacred animals are tigers and bears.

The same as all indigenous peoples in Russia, Udege are in horrible economic and spiritual situations. The language and culture are dying, the birthrate is dropping, the tuberculosis is rampant.

Natalia Kantchuga,

Go back

The Yukagir Pictographs


There are two main types of the pictographs - the writings of hunters and fishermen and girls’ love letters.

The first type can be qualified as pure pictographs. The information was the most concrete and practical - the trails of hunting and fishing parties, the number of people in a party or a camp, the days traveled, who is sick or died, etc.

The second type was written only by the girls. The adult married women did not write it. They were written on the birch bark and called “Tosy”. Those were the love letters and expressed complicated abstract emotions such as grief, blues, happiness, joy, love. Those “tosy” are striking in their visuals. Although the human figures look like a closed umbrella and men and women are very similar, one can see nuances that make clear distinction between the men’s and the women’s figures

Some scientists point out many similarities between the Yukagir pictographs and those of the American Indians.

Yuko Kurilov,

Go back

The World of Selkoop


Selkoop indigenous people believe themselves to be the children of the Earth. The Earth is a flat plate that is hold by “koschar”s (some kind of a huge mammoth). “Koschars” move constantly and as the result the side of the plate where the Sun comes up would rise once in a while and it would be difficult for the Sun to come up to the sky. And the cold winter would come. The vicious cold storms would rage and block the Sun’s way to the sky. The Sun of course revolves around the Earth.

When the Soviets brought the Selkoop children to schools, many children refuse to believe that the Earth revolves around the Sun. They claimed that if this were so, then the wind would always blow in one direction.

Selkoop believe the Sun to be a man, and the Moon - a woman. The Sun was instrumental in the birth of a human being. In Selkoop language a Sun beam and a human soul are the same word - “ilsat”. Only when a Sun beam touches a woman she gets pregnant with a new life. The Sun can not only give a new life, but also can bring back the dead.

One part of human soul is breathing - “kaity”. It is always with a human. When a man dies his “kaity” leaves the body and goes to the other world. The other part is “ilsat” - “the one that gives life”. All that are alive (animals, birds, fish, humans) have “ilsat”. “Ilsat” is a lot like a man - it needs to drink and to eat.

Selkoop believe that there can be more than one soul in a human. Up to eight at the same time.

The world has three worlds. The upper world - for the spirits, the middle world - for the people and the underworld (very much alike the middle) - for the dead souls. The lord of the upper world was Num or Nob. He did not care much for the other worlds. His son Iia tended to the middle world. The underworld was under the rule of Ylynta Kota (the old woman of the under). All three worlds are connected by the huge tree. Shamans use it to clime up to the upper world. To get to the underworld they had to go through a huge cavity in the tree.

Irina Shafrannik,

Go back

Negidal Indigenous People


There are only 622 Negidal are left in the world. All of them live in the Khabarovsk region. There are two distinct dialects in Negidal language - the Upper dialect (it is influenced by the Ultchi, Orotchi and Nanai languages) and the Lower dialect influenced by the Evenk language. Negidal traditional religion is shamanism.

Traditionally Negidal are hunters and fishermen. The Upper Negidal also kept reindeers, but only as a transport. The reindeer was the main difference in the way of life between the upper and the lower Negidal. Both group lived in settlements. The main staple of their diet was fish, especially salmon. Fish skin was used to make clothes, shoes and other necessary things. Everything was highly and intricately ornamented.

At the end of the 19th century Negidal begin to eat potatoes introduced by Russians. With time Negidal begin to grow potatoes in their small gardens.

Presently Negidal live with the same problems as all Indigenous peoples of Russia. Only it hurts to think that soon there might be no Negidal left, their culture and language vanish forever. It is a dream to have in every Negidal community such people that would do everything to preserve and revive our culture, pass it on to our children before it too late. It is a dream, but it is a possible dream.

Yulia Dekal’, Negidal

Go back