IX group of interns
February 1999

Table of Contents

Ache of the Shorsk Land
Will We Save the Sacred Places?
Whose Fault Is It?
Industrial Development and Indigenous Peoples of the North
Koriak Indigenous People and Housing Privatization
Evenk School "Turen"
Khanty Traditions






Ache of the Shorsk Land


From the time immemorial the traditional activities of the Shorsk indigenous people, living in Orton village of Kemerovo oblast, were hunting, fishing, gathering, cattle and small farming. But the Kemerovo oblast is filled with penitentiary institutions. In 1968 the main activities of the convicts became logging, supplying the chip labor timber. And gradually the forests around Shorsk villages became less and less. The rivers became shallow, wild animals disappear together with their habitat. The only way to sustain the lives of the villages that is left is the small farming. With the loss of the traditional activities the spiritual loss and the loss of traditions and customs for the Shorsk people became inevitable.

The local authorities are absolutely helpless in protecting the environment not only from the timber industry but from the gold miners as well. Right now the land alongside rivers Bazas and Orton is absolutely dead. The water is so polluted that it is dangerous to drink.

Alexander Kirsanov,
Shorsk, Kemerovo

Go back

Will We Save the Sacred Places?The gas producing district of Novy Urengoy in Yamal-Nenetz Autonomous Region covers territories of the Novy Urengoy city itself and several towns – Korotchaevo, Limbi-Yakha, Evo-Yakha and mining sites UKPG1 and UKPG15. Also there are numerous sacred places of indigenous people (Nenetz) whose ancestors lived on this land hundreds of hundreds years before the gas industry. Many of those places are ruined and pillaged during the building of the city and the mining explorations.

The Nenetz clans of Aivasedo, Piak, Kheno, Ader, Niaruy, Vanuito and Vora demand a special protection zone status for the following areas: Eseto-yakha river, Larek hill, lake Vyn-to, mouth of Pyrinto-yakha river, Tavdot hill, Erko-nado forest, Parny hill, Khynosotyia forest, forest alongside Mur-yakhavane-sale river, river Sidia-mintcha, Mongoriubey river, lake Morodoto and mouth of Ngopoy khorlovo-yakha river.

Also the reindeer corral places need special protected zone status as well. Because Nenetz clans traditionally gather in these areas for centuries of their nomadic life for rituals and celebrations. Those places are: area between Bolshoi Tab-yakhi and Malyi Tab-yakhi rivers, Eseto-yakha river, Siabu-yakha river and river Mongoyuribey.

R. Khartaganov,
Nenetz, Yamal-Nenetz Region

Go back

Whose Fault Is It?We live at the time when life without electricity is impossible to imagine. Equally difficult is to imagine someone who is willing to live in the dark cold house. It is like being hungry. Nobody likes it. This winter in Bystrinski district of Kamchatka is literally an endurance and patience test for the people of the district. Despite the expensive hydroelectric plant #4, just recently opened in the district, towns of Esso and Anavgai spent from time to time in total darkness.

What are the reasons for the reoccurring power absence? Pretty simple. Our defiant mountain river Bystraia has a thousand-year-old habit of freezing in wintertime almost to half of its depth. It is inconceivable to think that those highly qualified experts that built the plant did not have enough imagination to think beforehand about a simple fact that without a sufficient amount of water the plant does not work. That explanation was given on the pages of our newspaper “Novaia Zhizn”. That means we are going to have the power only from time to time until the river becomes ice-free in the Spring.

Our district is heated by hot springs. The administration of Kamchatka must spend a lot of “real” money to supply fuel to the diesel power stations that give energy for the local pumps that get hot water to the houses. As everybody knows Kamchatka always has problems with fuel deliveries. Thus, the hydroelectric power plant does looks like a good solution. Alas…

In our area February is not a warm month. A few days ago, during one of those February nights that was especially memorable by its freezing temperature and piercing wind, the plant stopped again. Just for an hour and a half the pumping station in Anangai stopped pumping hot water through the pipes. It was enough time for the pipelines leading to tens of houses to “burst”. The houses quickly became colder than the February night itself.

The repairs can be done only when weather gets warm. In Spring. So, whose fault is it that we live in the dark and cold houses? Probably those who built the power plant. They definitely could do a better job. Now, all we can do is wait for the Spring and be more patient.

How much more? We are patient when we wait for our wages that nobody pays us. We are patient while we are freezing in our cold apartments, where we are patiently light up candles in the dark so we can teach our children… to be patient… May be one should never be patient when one encounters indifference, irresponsibility and greed?

Lilia Banakanova,
Even, Kamchatka

Go back

Industrial Development and Indigenous Peoples of the NorthOn the territory of reindeer herding community “Rassvet Severa”, in North-Even district of Magadan oblast, there is Kubaka gold deposit. It is estimated as having about 84 tons of gold. Presently the license to explore and mine belongs to joint Russian-American company of Omolon (OZRK).

The geologists and the oblast authorities proposed to the local association of indigenous peoples to take a five-year credit from the oblast administration to buy into OZRK. But we have almost no information on the project. The compensation for the allocated to OZRK reindeer pastures (about $200 000 US, split between the administration of the district and the association) still yet to come. The complete environmental assessment of the long-term effect of the mining has not been done. A lot of questions about safe keeping of the so-called “pulp” (the ore that was treated with cyanides and is left at the end of the mining cycle) are still unanswered. We also are concerned with the fate of the reindeer herders who lost their migrating territories to OZRK plant.

The indigenous people are alarmed, because our district is the only one left in Magadan oblast

That not yet totally destroyed by the gold mining industry. We still have clean forests, rivers and pastures. Our waters are spawning grounds for extremely rare salmon. And people who live in the district are predominantly indigenous – Even, Koriak, Itelmen. All of us are, so far, engaged in traditional activities (hunting, fishing, reindeer herding) and, because of that, still maintain the traditional ways of life.

Not only to have laws protecting the rights of indigenous people on paper, but to comply with them in every day life is the only way to preserve for the future generations the unique nature of our land and unique traditional culture of our peoples.

Anna Gromova,
Even, Magadan oblast

Go back

Koriak Indigenous People and Housing PrivatizationI want to share my thoughts on the housing privatization in our Koriak Autonomous region of Kamchatka. After several years of the privatization we can look back and make some conclusions.

In these, difficult for the country and for Koriak region, times nobody is building any houses in the region. It is the third pressing problem for our region after the insufficient supply deliveries and chronic non-payment of wages.

Beginning from the 1960th and all through the 1980th there was a law that guaranteed a house or an apartment to every non-indigenous “specialist” who comes to work and to live in the indigenous communities. But the indigenous people had to be for 10-15 years on the waiting list to get a decent dwelling. It was hugely insulting to people who lived on the land of their forefathers. Many of my relations (in reindeer herding community of Tymlat for instance) still either live 8-10 people in two rooms or do not have any place to live at all.

Some people say that part of the revenues from industrial development the regional administration spends to build houses for indigenous people. This is probably true. But equally true that it is far cry from solving the housing problem.

With the much publicized privatization again the true beneficiaries are the “immigrants”. After spending any time in our region they privatize their apartments or houses, sell them and leave back where they came from. Furthermore, the region must built for them or buy new housing there where they choose to go and pay for their relocation. Many of those who already got new housing in Russia proper are not in a hurry to move out from their houses in our communities, although they must by law. Also some businesses are buying the best houses and use them as offices and stores, while we are suffering from the housing shortage. There must be some local laws forbidding use of the living housing for commercial use.

We, the indigenous people of the region – Koriak, Chukchi, Even, Itelmen, feel as if we are not a part of the state. My ancestors, living on this land for thousands of years, always had a roof over their head – either a teepee, or a log cabin, but it was theirs. The state must always remember that our forefathers lived here, now we do, and after us our children and the children of their children. For we have no other place to live.

Polina Lastochkina,
Koriak, Kamchatka

Go back

Evenk School "Turen"Language is what holds any people together into an ethnically unique group. Language is the most important tool to shape the future generations. To have your language, your customs, and your traditions preserved is to have a mighty shield against the spiritual death of your people.

48.2% of all Evenk living in Russia are in Yakut-Sakha republic. Their number is 14 428 people. They live mostly in Bulunsky, Oleneksky, Zhigansky, Mirninsky, Anabarsky, Ust-Maisky and Aldansky ulus (district). One can also hear the Evenk language in community of Iengra (Neriungrinsky ulus) and Tiania (Olekminsky ulus).

The biggest cause of decline of the Evenk language and the biggest threat to its survival in Russia is the fact that the Evenk are spread throughout huge territory of the Russian Federation and the rapid loss of the traditional way of life. The latter was intensified by the forcible elimination of Indigenous communities during the 40th and 50th. And for many years in Yakut-Sakha the education provided for everybody only Russian and Yakut languages.

And now as the result of the above almost no school has the Evenk language teachers. Almost every Evenk feels that there must be classes in Evenk language to revive the language and the culture in Evenk communities. Losing its language leads to ethnic marginalization of the people. And inevitably what follows is the sense of impotence and low self-esteem, and suicides.

The famous linguist Wilhelm von Gumbolt believed that even the “dead” languages could be revived. Because every people, through centuries of its existence, develop so called “language sense” or “the linguistic awareness”. All one needs is to create special conditions.

In 1996, with the help from Ministry of Education and Ministry for Nationalities of Yakutia, a children language school “Turen” was opened in Neriungra. During these years many Evenk children from many uluses studied in Turen. The classrooms are well equipped. Evenk children go through intensive language courses and study their culture. Plus all the general subjects and computer and foreign languages (English and German) and basic courses in radio and TV reporting.

The spirit of rediscovering the Evenk self-identity is prevailing in the school. Respect for one’s mother tongue is deep in the child’s soul. The school celebrates traditional Evenk rituals such as “Bakaldyn” and “Ikenipke” but also study the songs and dances of many other peoplesto learn to respect the multicultural world we live in.

The real revival of the traditional language and culture is possible only when the entire people takes a part in it. For that reason some of the children spent some time at a reindeer settlement of the Niurmagan clan. They so the Evenk language in its traditional, natural environment. Some other children spent some time living with other Evenk families in Iengra.

The “Turen” experience proved that getting in touch with your own language and culture, even for a short time, gives a strong inner push towards rediscovering your ethnic self-identity. The children and the teachers want to thank everybody who helped to provide opportunity to study and rest for the Evenk children.

Fenia Lekhanova,
Evenk, Iengra

Go back

Khanty TraditionsWhat are the Gods of Khanty indigenous people? The entire believe is based on souls and spirits. The souls and spirits often live in amulets and idols. Khanty also believe that all humans relate to animals. Because of that there are quite intricate laws that govern an animal worship and hunting. Different clans and families relate to different animals.

But one animal stands alone and is worshiped by everyone. That is the bear. Bears are called “forest men”. But the bear is a superhuman, for, long time ago, he was the youngest son of the Sky God Torum. But for his unruly character Torum expelled him to Earth and ordered to be a sort of judge to humans. He is to rule human fates, help the innocent and punish the evil.

Moos are also widely worshiped. They are called “the long legged things”. They are a symbol of happiness. A frog “swamp woman” is a symbol of a secure family and family happiness.

The cult of ancestral worship was very important to Khanty. Often ancestral spirits lived in trees. Tree was a connection between the underground, the sky worlds and the world of people.

Fire – “woman in red robe” was the symbol of protection from the evil spirits.

Also there were humanlike spirits-creatures, some of them were guardians and rulers of a single house, some, stronger and more powerful, ruled large areas (a field, a swamp, a part of a forest or a mountain). Places that had spirits were the places for rituals.

The sacred places were separate for men and for women. Just a few were for all.

Traditional cultures place such an importance and significance on every man-made thing, that to see it in a museum makes me sad. Without human hands to use them, without a human society to bring them to life – the traditional objects in a museum are only dead things.

One of the things that moves me the most is the decorative traditions of my people. I’d like to share with you what little I know. An outsider looking on Khanty objects might think how very much alike they all are. But it is not so. Any Khanty hunter among thousands easily finds not only his own sleds or skis, but also even the tracks they left on the snow. That is because everything that a man makes for himself he likes. And that creates an invisible but strong link between the creator and the creation.

Khanty women are famous for their work on dishes and boxes made out of bark. Some of the ornaments that are popular now date almost 4 thousands years. Very often animals are a part of the intricate ornaments. With a special care cribs are made. There the main figure always is a wild turkey that guards the child’s spirit while he sleeps.

Traditionally Khanty from different parts have different favorite materials to work on. If Surgut and Nizhnevartovsk Khanty prefer to work on bark, then Khanty-Mansi, Berezovski, Beloiarski and Oktiabrski Khanty prefer fabrics, but Priuralski and Shuryshkarski prefer fur.

Wood and bone for decorations were used less. To work on wood or bone was strictly the men thing. Wooden and bone things were made for work and decorations were more laconic and strict.

In the old days Khanty used tattoos. The art and significance of tattoos are lost now. A pike’s jaw and soot were used to make tattoos. Men’s tattoo was “Tiamga” a sign of a particular clan or a family. Women most often tattooed an image of a flying bird. It was believed that a flying bird helps a person after the death to cross over ocean into the land of the dead.

Khanty made shoes and clothes from fish skin, used a lot of beaded fabrics. But the most widely used for everything and everywhere was reindeer skin.

Many good monographs and textbooks are written on Khanty traditional arts. But I believe that traditional art of a people is a great labor of the people’s spirit. And only the people can understand and comprehend it fully. But maybe there is no need to “understand” it. Maybe it is needed only to remember that traditional art is a part of the meaning of the existence of my little people – the Khanty.

We call our land “Yugra”. It is our joy and out pain. There parts of Yugra where the life goes the same way it has done for thousands of years, and there are parts where you can’t find even a trace of Khanty culture. Reindeer pastures where are no reindeers but plenty of oil and gas rigs. But everywhere the traditional culture is in danger. I believe that the main goal of the technological progress must be to find a balance, a compromise between a man and a nature. The very compromise that our ancestors managed to keep even upto this days. Maybe the so-called “big” nations can learn something from my little people.

Tatiana Yegorova,
Khanty, Khanty-Mansi Region

Go back