XV group of interns
Fall - Winter, 2000


Revival of the Veps Costume
Spriritual Center
Tundra Woman, Women's Crisis Center
Barents Secretariat Unites Women (continued from Bulletin #34)
Your People, the Udege
CAF in Russia
On the Implementation of Federal Programs
Support Program
The Color of the Veps Stone
The Main Stages in Veps Wedding
From the History of a Reindeer People
Reindeer Herders Supported
At the Association of Indigenous Peoples     
Meeting at the Finnish Embassy    
At the Dannish Embassy   
MacArthur Foundation

Revival of the Veps Costume

What was the Veps ethnic costume like?  The Veps Cultural Society has long been interested to know.  Sadly, the costumes used at present by folk groups are not authentic.  Therefore, the Society has asked experts from the Russian State Ethnography  Museum, St. Petersburg, for help in restoring the costume.  The largest and oldest – 17th-19th centuries – collections of Veps ethnic attire are kept there.

In September of last year, the Society held a seminar in Petrozavodsk, where Ms. L. Korolkova, a research fellow of the Ethnography Museum, provided a detailed report to Society members, labor instructors from Veps Volost [district including several villages] and Petrozavodsk schools, and leaders of folk groups on the history of Veps ethnic clothes, the techniques of their manufacture, peculiarities typical for various historic periods, and ways of wearing them.  She handed over to the Society drawings and sewing patterns for the most widespread types of the Veps ethnic costume.  Some items have already been produced at the Rybreka Secondary School and the Petrozavodsk Culture School.

However, due to the lack of funds, the work could not be spread to all the Veps schools.  Now, thanks to help from the Barents Secretariat, it is possible to do that.  The Veps Cultural Society’s Veps Ethnic Costume Revival Project has received 18,000 Norwegian kroner.

How will the project be implemented?

In Late August or early September, all those wishing to take part in the project – invited in the first place are labor instructors from Veps schools, leaders of Veps folk groups, and artisans interested in reviving the Veps ethnic costume – will go on a trip to St. Petersburg to see firsthand the Veps ethnic attire in museum collections.  The expenses on the trip are included in the project’s budget.

One of the main tasks of the project is the publication of a methodological guide on the Veps ethnic costume.  A contract will be signed with the future writer of the guide, and the work will be paid for.

Schools and folk groups as well as individual participants in the project will receive materials needed to manufacture costumes.  In late 2000, winners in the competition for the best Veps ethnic costume will receive money awards, and the Sheltozero Ethnography Museum will purchase their products should the owners wish so.

Z.I. Strogalshchikova
Project Manager
Copied from the Kodima newspaper

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Spiritual Center

The First Congress of the Telengit resolved to create in the village of Kara Kudyur the Spiritual Center of the Indigenous Peoples of Ulagan District in the Republic of Altai.

The village is located 15 kilometers [9 miles] from the district capital, at the mouths of two mountain streams – the Bashkaus and the Kara Kudyur – and at the foot of three big mountains – Cholmondu, Kochkolu, and Uzun-korum – which makes the place exceptionally beautiful.

Very hospitable people live there, which in general is typical of all the villages in Ulagan District.  Kara Kudyur has a secondary school with 120 students, but teachers of some subjects are lacking.  Professionals are reluctant to go to the village, as paychecks are in arrears and housing is an acute problem.  The simplest things are lacking for physical training classes: volleyballs, soccer balls, and jump ropes.  The gym is very small and uncomfortable.

The school and a collective farm are the only employers, and the number of the unemployed grows by the year.  The clubhouse has been destroyed by a fire, and there is no money to build a new one.  Almost no cultural events are held.  The road from the village to the district capital is in poor condition.

The total number of livestock in the Kara Kudyur Collective Farm has dropped several times over: a little over 500 horses remain out of the 2000, no goats remain, and cows are about to disappear.  The collective farm livestock breeders do not remember when their latest paycheck came.

The population of forest animals has reduced drastically.  From times immemorial, hunting has been one of the main means of survival for the native population.  Fish is disappearing from streams and lakes.

Local inhabitants live on livestock breeding and gardening on their plots.  The 1997-1998 drought made people significantly reduce the number of animals they kept.  The impossibility to sell meat, down, and wool has also reduced the living standards of the population.  The village lacks telephone communication even with the district capital.  These problems are typical also for other villages in Ulagan District, and the Spiritual Center will help solve some of them.

Azamat Tadykin (Telengit)

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Tundra Woman, Women's Crisis Center

Special studies show that official statistics fail to reflect the actual state of affairs with crimes against women, because, for various reasons, the victims, primarily victims of sexual harassment and of domestic violence, do not always go to law-enforcement agencies to ask for the culprits to be punished.  How can these women be helped?  Women’s crisis centers have been created abroad and in Russia over the past few years.  There, women are provided with psychological, legal, medical, and simply human support.

We too have such an organization.  The Tundrovichka (Tundra Woman) Women’s Crisis Center, the only one in the Republic of Sakha/Yakutia, has been working in the village of Cherskiy, Lower Kolyma Ulus [unit of Yakutia’s administrative division, district], since June 10, 1999.

In October of last year, Ms. Tatyana Martynova, executive director of the INTER-MAAP international antialcoholism program and founder of our crisis center, spoke at the republican conference of social protection workers.  By that time, Tundra Woman had accumulated certain experience and had published posters, which ran out immediately under the onslaught of conference participants.  They asked a lot of questions about the organization of a crisis center.  That means that similar services may open in other Yakutian uluses.

Tundra Woman now uses the services of 15 persons, including 3 persons in each of the two shelter homes in the villages of Kolymskoye and Andryushkino.  There are plans to create such homes also in Petushki and Pokhodsk.  Although the population of these naslegs [administrative division of Yakutia] is not numerous, there are potential clients.  All the workers in the Center are volunteers, working without pay in their free time.  Their reasoning from the very beginning was this: “There are women and children whose life is harder than ours.  Where will such women find help?”

Since its foundation, Tundra Woman has helped 20 persons.  Four women and six children have been victims of domestic violence.  Four kids, witnesses of such violence, remained orphans as a result of family dramas.  They have received legal and psychological assistance.  Four girls (from seven to 17 years of age) have been victims of sexual violence, and the Center’s psychologists had to work with them.

It sounds absurd, of course: minor girls fall victim to sexual violence, not by strangers, but by fathers or stepfathers.  What a responsibility for the Center’s psychologists!  Their objective is not simply to talk, but to help, so that the psyche of a little girl does not suffer and the trauma does not affect so seriously her future life.

For the sake of women’s security, a cooperation contract will be signed with the Internal Affairs Department.  According to Yelena Antipina, Tundra Woman project coordinator, the chief of the Ulus Internal Affairs Department showed understanding of their problems.  It is impossible to do without cooperating with the police: there are situations when, after a family drama, it is dangerous for the woman to remain at home; then, the police, depending on the circumstances, will send the woman to the Center or will deal themselves with the rowdy husband.

Sometimes, the women themselves provide grounds for conflict.  Most often that happens as a result of excessive drinking.  With such women, the Center signs contracts on abstention from drinking liquors.  Otherwise, both their safety cannot be guaranteed and skilled assistance sometimes cannot be provided.

Tundra Woman volunteers keep track of what is happening to their clients and practice home calls to potentially endangered households.  One can assume that clients of the Center radically change their life and abandon their husbands with whom it is unbearable to continue living together.  Yet, those are only assumptions.  In reality, things are different: most often, life goes on as before, the husband keeps drinking and battering the wife, and the wife keeps suffering and enduring.  “We have no right to give advice to the woman.  She must make up her mind on her own,” Yelena Antipina says.  “Both those women who with our help have received apartments and those to whom we have been providing psychological and legal assistance continue living with their husbands.  Well, the woman makes her choice herself.  We can only tell her about aggression assessment and explain in what period aggression may be at its highest and how it all may end.”

The conditions of daily life of course play their role in such situations.  First, the woman is afraid to remain alone; second, by abandoning her husband she remains without the breadwinner.  So she stays with her sadist and tyrant following the principle of “no matter how bad he is, he is mine.”  Women suffer from violence but are forced to preserve the family believing that their kids need that and also hoping that violence will end.

The Tundra Woman Center has chosen two activity areas: (1) financial, moral, and psychological support and (2) assistance to victims of domestic and sexual violence.

What is domestic violence, you will ask?  This happens when a woman suffers humiliation, actual physical injuries, or threat thereof through her partner’s, husband’s, or boyfriend’s fault.  This type of violence also includes cruel treatment of kids and violence (physical, sexual, or psychological), mistreatment (which  includes ignoring) of the elderly by their children, adolescents or adults.  Sexual violence consists in insulting a woman, forcing her to have sexual intercourse with the help of threats with violence, aggression sparked by jealousy, etc.

All 15 volunteers in Tundra Woman have chosen work to their liking.  For example, a fundraising specialist works with funds coming from charities (true, there no such organizations in Cherskiy yet).  A specialist in prevention work among adolescents has assumed the functions of a children’s consultant.  The Center has psychologists and home monitors.  In sum, there is much room for fruitful work.

Tundra Woman volunteers do not stop at what they have achieved.  They have plans to obtain a grant for the Center, acquire computers, and train consultants.  Their project, in particular, states: “The Center’s principle is to develop women’s initiatives in the solution of social problems of the North.  After becoming self-sustainable, the Center plans to open a fur and leather sewing shop.  For that, we  are requesting financial support to acquire raw materials, sewing and furrier’s machines, beads, and cloth.”  They have sent this project to Sakha-Eurasia, an organization providing grants to nongovernmental charitable associations.  The Center has sent a similar letter to the Russian State Committee for Northern Affairs.

As part of the plans to develop women’s initiatives, Tundra Woman will be working with women’s councils and the Center for Social Assistance to Families and Children.

The Tundra Woman Center is planning to join the Association of Women’s Crisis Centers of Russia and the Association of Northern Centers, where Centers from Canada, Alaska, and northern Russia will be represented.

Aleksandra Tavrat
Copied from the Kolymskaya Pravda newspaper

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Barents Secretariat Unites Women 

(continued from Bulletin #34)

Developers note that most mining enterprises in Veps Volost, Republic of Karelia, fail to take stock of the quantity of mined natural resources.  The most the government can dream about is to receive at least 12 kopecks on every ruble of profit going mainly outside of the volost.  Today, there are businesses that pay as little as only two kopecks (!) on one ruble.

Therefore, people in the volost have good grounds to believe that a significant portion of the profits earned on the natural resources is spent on something very different from the needs of the local inhabitants.  Now, as never before, it is necessary to use effective Russian legislation to discontinue such a “revival” of the economy of the Veps Territory.  But who will be doing it if the government is the author of this program, approved by the Volost Council?

The conference included work in sections.  The work of the section with the topic of “Women as Bearers of Traditional Culture” sparked the greatest interest.  It gave the participants an opportunity to take a closer look at the language and culture of the Nenets and the Saami.  In addition to a beautiful arts and crafts exhibition, it was interesting to learn that the Saami, who are not very numerous, are preserving their culture and their traditional way of life.  It followed from the presentations, that the indigenous peoples had many common problems, the main one being how to preserve their traditional territories from the onslaught of industries.

Much was said also about the preservation and revival of the cultural heritage.  Thus, Ms. Nina Afanasyeva, chairperson of the Saami Society, told about the 1989 decision to create an organization for people united by a common aspiration to preserve the culture of the Saami of the Kola Peninsula.  Also in this section, Ms. Zinaida Strogalshchikova talked about the main tasks of the Action Program for the Barents Region’s Indigenous Peoples, adopted by the Regional Council of the Barents Secretariat in December of 1999.  Ms. Svetlana Pasyukova, chief expert of the State Committee for Ethnic Policy, made a presentation in this section about the 10 years of activities of the Veps Culture Society.

I believe that this conference was useful in that it enabled women to believe that they can count on each other’s help; the Barents Secretariat was able to unite them and bring them closer together.  Of much importance was the support to and attention to the problems of the region’s indigenous peoples.  It is much easier to be solving them together, because one does not feel so lonely and so exotic in the enormous surrounding world anymore.

Lana Migunova (Veps)

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Your People, the Udege

Studying the traditional culture of the Udege indigenous people is a topical question of much interest.

The Udege traditional culture has been forming for many centuries in contact with other peoples.  It was passed down from generation to generation, was preserved and enriched.  Even though as recently as at the beginning of the 20th century, the Udege were divided into numerous territorial groups with individual dialectal differences in their language, they have managed to create common traditions in material and spiritual culture and contribute to the enrichment of the cultures of other peoples in the Far East.  In this respect, I would like to tell you about Valentina Tunyasovna Kyalundzyuga, an Udege author and a person dedicated to the study of her people’s traditional culture.

Ms Kyalundzyuga was born on January 9, 1936, in a camp on the Sukpay river to the family of a hunter and fisherman.  Her mother died early.  The father brought up the three children. In spite of all the hardships, he managed to put them on their feet.  Valentina entered a teachers’ training college but was forced to give up during her first year due to an illness.  She is the mother of four.  From 1960 to 1997, she worked as chairperson of a rural Soviet/Council and then, of the Gvasyugi Administration.  She is a veteran of labor and an honorary citizen of the district and has labor awards.  She received her Bronze Medal at the Exhibition of National Economic Achievements in Moscow.  In addition to her job, she has been studying the traditional culture of her people: myths, legends, and traditions.  Her first book is a tale for children, called Two Suns, with illustrations by a well-known artist, Gennadiy Pavlishin.  In 1999, the Novosibirsk Division of the Academy of Science published an Udege volume, which included her works as well.  Ms. Kyalundzyuga is also a coauthor, with Mikhail Simonov, a research fellow in the Academy, of the three-volume Udege dictionary.

For several years now, the Union of Writers has had a request to admit Ms. Kyalundzyuga to the creative union with recommendations by Yuliya Shestakova and other writers, but no response has been given yet.  I believe that people like Ms. Kyalundzyuga, enthusiasts of a cause, should be valued.  At the turn of the 21st century, Ms. Kyalundzyuga is turning 65.  It would be so good if she met the new century having received the merited title of writer of the Udege people.

Galina Alotova (Udege)

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CAF in Russia

The Charity Aid Foundation held a conference of nonprofit organizations from September 11 to September 14, 2000, at the Holiday Inn Moscow Vinogradovo Hotel, the first of this kind in the history of Russia.  More than 250 delegates from various Russian regions took tart in the event.

The conference was a notable event of social life.   More than 300,000 nonprofit NGOs, which provide enormous financial and psychological assistance to the segments of the population that need support, are working in Russia today.  Such a practice contributes to the appearance of nonpublic providers of social assistance to citizens and new forms of mutual commitments and relations between the state and civil society.

The CAF Russia mission opened in 1993, in Moscow.  Since then, it has established collaboration with hundreds of charitable and nonprofit organizations and has distributed grants to the total amount of more than $6 million.  The CAF Russia mission is striving to do all it can to attract additional funds for social programs in Russia.

CAF operates in Russia in the following areas:

  1. Services to nonprofit organizations: free consulting on legal and financial matters, fundraising, and institutional development; an NGO training center; monthly meetings of NGO accountants’ and lawyers’ clubs.
  2. Grant programs: awarding grants on behalf of international charitable funds, government agencies, and commercial structures.

CAF Russia is prepared to share experience, information, and resources with all who are interested in developing nonprofit sector philanthropy and civil society in Russia.  For more information, please contact

Office 4, 57 Sadovnicheskaya St., Moscow 113035
Tel./fax: (095) 792-5929
E-mail: cafrussia@cafrussia.ru
Web site: http://www. CAFonline.org/cafrussia/

Azamat Tadykin (Telengit)

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On the Implementation of Federal Programs

The Federation Council of the Russian Federation held parliamentary hearings “On the implementation of federal targeted programs in support of Northern regions,” organized by the Federation Council Committee for the Affairs of the North and Indigenous Peoples, on October 26, 2000.  Representatives of federal legislative and executive branches of government, heads of administrations of several regions and cities of the North, and NGOs took part in the session.

After hearing the reports, the participants in the parliamentary hearings came to the conclusion that the implementation of the programs under consideration is progressing very slowly.  The deliverables, for the reason of unsatisfactory funding from the federal budget, the volumes of which keep reducing by the year, fail to meet the programs’ objectives.

Over the past three years, the Economic and Social Development of the Indigenous Peoples of the North Program received only one-third of the planned amount from the federal budget and 8 percent of the program’s budget.  The Children of the North Program, in two years and nine months, received only 23.1 percent of the funding provided for in the budget.

The Economic and Social Development of the Indigenous Peoples of the North Until the Year 2000 Federal Targeted Program has failed to meet its objectives: to improve the entire complex of living conditions in the North.  Moreover, negative tendencies in this sphere are continuing to increase.  The living standards of the peoples are dropping; unemployment and poverty are increasing, and people’s health is deteriorating.

The fact that the level of funding for these programs in draft 2001 budget is set below the 2000 figures and much below the programs’ budgets cannot help but cause concern.  At the same time, no public financial support to reindeer herding in the North, one of the main components in the economies of many regions, is provided for.

Rodion Sambuu (Toja Tuvinian)

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Support Program

An action program to support the Finn-related peoples of Russia and their cultures has been implemented in Finland since 1994 under the Finnish-Russian Treaty on Relations Framework and the Agreement on Collaboration in the Sphere of Culture, Education, and Science, both signed in 1992.  On the Finnish side, the M.A. Castrén Society is implementing the program.  (Matthias Alexander Castrén [1813-1852] was a well-known [Finnish] philologist and ethnologist, who has come up with the theory of kinship between the Finnish-Ugric, Samoyed, Turkic, Mongolian, and Tungusic languages.)

The program to support related peoples annually receives from the Ministry of Education 2.5 million markkas.

A consultative commission, chaired by the General Secretary of the Society of Finnish Literature, determines the orientation and content of the program.  From the very beginning, the program’s main objective was the development of ethnic languages for purposes of education and information.

Thanks to the financial assistance allocated by the Society of Finnish Literature to publishing houses and book authors, 20 publications were issued in Karelia in 1994-2000.

To increase the prestige of ethnic languages and their development, the M.A. Castrén Society has instituted a literary award, gives grants to translators of books, and provides support to the publication of fiction books for children and adolescents as well as for adults – those books which local publishing houses view as socially important.

The Society assists in the development of the museum business, focusing on the development of partnerships between museums, training of museum workers, and publication of their research works.

Collaboration is also developing in the library business.  The Society gave a new impulse to the development of relations between libraries when it acquired sets of 65 titles and sent them to eight republican and district libraries of the Finnish-Ugric regions in Russia.

The Consultative Commission identifies as one of the program’s areas the use of ethnic languages on the radio and on television, language learning with the help of the radio and television, and support of print media.  The Society has provided assistance to the distribution of four periodicals in the Republic of Karelia.

Lana Migunova (Veps)

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The Color of the Veps Stone

Rainbow is a very frequent guest in the Lake Onega country of the Veps.  Sometimes, it is seen several times per day.

Its seven colors, in a way, symbolize the seven sides of life of the Veps: red is the color of a local stone; orange, the color of life-giving and purifying fire; yellow, the warm color of wood; green, the color of the forest; light blue, that of waters; dark blue, that of marsh flowers; purple, that of the clusters of willow herb, growing on mother earth.

As recently as some 20 years ago, when the trail between the village of Pedaselga and the Veps village of Sheltozero had no asphalt pavement, the visitor taking a rain-soaked road to come here would look in amazement at the abundant puddles, bright crimson in color.  The famous Shoksha porphyry tinged the water.  The only deposit of this unique stone has been under development on the shore of Lake Onega since the 1500s.

Since those times, Moscow, Yaroslavl, and, later, St. Petersburg construction projects had teams of Veps stonecutters working on them.  Crimson quartzite, worked by their hands, is still present in the walls of the Engineer Castle and mosaic floors of the Kazan Cathedral in the northern capital of Russia [St. Petersburg] and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier memorials in Moscow and Petrozavodsk.

In 1846, porphyry monoliths were sent to Paris, for Napoleon’s gravestone.

Cutting stone by hand, Veps craftsmen were providing peasants with mills, state metallurgy factories, with refractory lining material, housewives, with superb grindstones, and city construction projects, with high-strength paving setts.

Beginning from the 1800s, local clay served for manual production of the red brick with which the stone churches in Verkhruchey and in the Yashezero Monastery and some buildings in Petrozavodsk have been built.

Today, travelers can not only view the deposits of crimson quartzite in Shoksha, the mines of black gabbroic diabase in Drugaya Reka, greenstone in Ropruchey, and grindstone on the island of Brusno but also try – with the help of quarry workers – and chip off pieces of the same rock (and from the same place) from which the emperor’s gravestone and the ceiling of the funeral hall in V.I. Lenin’s Mausoleum are made.

Lana Migunova (Veps)

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The Main Stages in Veps Wedding


In the late 1800s and early 1900s, wedding was a solemn event in the life of not only the young couple and their relatives but also in that of the entire village – an event attracting many people, funny, and interesting.

The young man or his parents tried to find the bride in their own village or a neighboring one.  A popular saying asserted: “A good man marries in the neighborhood, and a bad one, across the mountains.”  It was normal to marry early in Veps villages, at the age of 16-17 or even earlier.  The reason was the peasants’ desire to improve their social and property status.  Thus, a girl from a numerous, poor family tried to marry into a wealthier family.  There were two forms of marriage: through matchmaking or abduction.  In ethnological literature, the wedding rite is divided into three stages: the prewedding one, the wedding proper, and the postwedding one.

Widespread was the tradition to match in the evening or even at night.  Such a tradition may have to do with the tendency toward secrecy, coming from ancient times.  At matchmaking, exchange of security was practiced.  This tradition consolidated the relations of the two parties.  The Veps knew a rite that bound the relations of the two parties: “eye crossing” (praying).

The time for wedding was set at matchmaking.  Prior to the wedding proper, parties were organized for which young people gathered.  If the girl was an orphan, then before the wedding she would go to the grave of her parents and ask for their blessing.  On the wedding eve, the girls’ bath was held.  The bath is associated with the girl saying good-bye to freedom.  The way to the bath and back was accompanied by wailing. The bride and her friends walked under a white tablecloth.  The use of a tablecloth or a coverlet in the rite was an ancient protection from spoil.  A hen party was held in the bride’s home.  It included the hair-combing rite, in which the bride’s relatives participated.  Then, the wedding proper took place.  The train (several sleighs, the number depending on the number of guests) with jingling bells approached the bride’s home.  Then, the “bride price” was paid.  First, the bride had to be found among the togged up friends, and then the bridegroom had to “buy out” the bride from her friends by treating them to candy and cakes.  Then the goodman prepared horses to go to church.  The wedding train went to the church.  The groomsman went in front.  He played the most important role at the wedding, as it was he who was responsible for how the wedding progressed and how traditions were observed.  The groomsman protected the young couple from the spoil, to which the bride and bridegroom were exposed in the very important period in their life.

The marriage service took place in church.  Along with Christianity, old pagan beliefs continued coexisting in people’s ideology.  For example, during the marriage service, in order to head the family, the bride tried to stand on tiptoe and to be cautious and avoid stepping outside of the rug on which she stood, so that the family would be stronger.  After the marriage service, they went to the young man’s village, not directly though, but via other villages.  In front of the train, a barrel with burning tar would go to the home of destination.  In front of the home, the young couple would be met by gunshots in the air and the road would be barred by little flags.  The custom persists to this day.

The bridegroom would take the bride to the house in is arms.  On the porch, they would be met by the bridegroom’s parents holding an icon.  The young couple would kiss the icon and would bow to the ground before the parents.  Their heads would be sprinkled with chicken down and barley as well as feathers from a sieve for them to live in friendship, agreement, and prosperity.

The principal guest at the wedding was the sorcerer; the groomsman could play the role of the sorcerer.  He was revered and feared; everyone tried to play ball with him and give him presents; at the table he was given the seat of honor.

In the morning, the bathhouse was prepared for the newlyweds.  The wedding partiers would put the mother-in-law on a sled and take her to the bathhouse after the newlyweds.  On the second day of the wedding, the so-called “princely table” was organized, after which the newlyweds would ride on horses adorned with towels and streamers, with bells jingling and songs being sung.  That would be the end of the main stages of the Veps wedding.

N.A. Ankhimova
Veps Ethnological Museum

Village of Sheltozero, Republic of Karelia

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From the History of a Reindeer People


Before the Russians came to the present-day Evenk country between the Lower Tunguska and the Stone Tunguska rivers, the taiga recent arrivals had been hunting animals only to satisfy their own needs.  The Cossack pioneers who appeared there in the 1600s, were surprised to discover that the Tunguses were lining their skis with sable fur.

The Evenk met the Russians on their land in a friendly manner and viewed with understanding the fact that from then on they would be subjects of the Russian State.  The state immediately imposed on its new subject what was known as yasak (a kind of income tax), which had to be paid in furs: skins of squirrels, otters, foxes, and sables of course.  The Evenk were quick to understand that furs were real forest money.  Trading with Russian merchants, who because of their specialization had the name of “Tungus traders,” it was possible to exchange furs for anything they liked: tea, sugar, tobacco, ammunition, light and longwearing fabrics for clothing.

By that time, the Evenk, being smart and bright people, had invented and had been using a number of simple but fairly efficient hunting devices.  They were weapons of bloodless hunting, one that did not damage skins: sable traps and traps for other small fur animals, pits, and nooses woven from sinews.  They have come down to our days.  In addition, the Evenk were skillful bowmen: the arrow could hit any animal at a long distance from the hunter.

Thus, any Evenk with self-respect would without much effort provide himself with his own means of production, even though primitive.  In addition to that, having a small herd of reindeer (some 20-30 heads; a larger herd would require more time to the detriment of hunting), a man, if he was not lazy, could ensure relatively prosperous existence for his family.  When hunting failed to provide enough to eat, the reindeer would prevent famine.  The reindeer were a real emergency relief asset for taiga people: they provided meat when needed, skins for clothes and chum [tepee] covers, and strong sinews for sewing footwear and fitting up bows and crossbows with strong strings.  The Evenk saying “the reindeer means life” was absolutely right.

Russian merchants’ great demand for sables encouraged the Evenk to keep developing increasingly intensive hunting of fur animals.  The Evenk had no use for money in the taiga, and for a long time they knew only barter trade.  The cunning merchants often deceived the gullible Tunguses, practicing unequal exchange.  For a flint gun, for example, one sometimes had to pay a pile of skins as high as the gin’s length.  (The Evenk quickly discovered the possibilities of firearms and would pay any price for them.)  It was even easier to trick a Tungus after treating him to firewater.  Meanwhile, the czarist government, until the change of regime in 1917, was making sure that liquors did not make their way to the taiga.  Thinking people realized what detrimental influence liquor has on the indigenes.  They tried to safeguard the aboriginal peoples from sliding into the abyss of alcoholism – at least, as regular suppliers of valuable furs to the royal treasury.

Until 1917, the Evenk led a life primitive in a sense, but fairly prosperous and calm.  No one interfered in their tribal relations, no one dictated their will, and no one taught them how to manage their economy and how to hunt, fish, or gather.  The problem as such did not exist for them: the virgin, endless taiga had enough room and wild game for all.  It is another thing that in their development the Tunguses, lost in the taiga wilderness, were lagging far behind the Russians, moving farther and farther east from the original Russian lands.  However, as the Evenk were not inert but very inquisitive and receptive, they willingly borrowed from Russians what they saw as useful.

In their turn, the outsiders profited culturally from the Evenks’ experience in hunting and orientation in the taiga.  That was how mutual penetration of the two cultures: a modern one and an almost primitive, tribal one.  Their synthesis was producing splendid results and consolidated good-neighborly relations of the indigenous and outside population (simple hunters and craftsmen are meant here, not the Tungus merchants, although they too have played a positive role in bringing civilization to the Evenk).  By the late 1800s, the Evenk were no longer the “wild Tunguses” as imagined by the great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin in his famous poem Monument.  This is what the Yeniseyskiy Listok newspaper (1893, # 11) wrote about the Evenk who were coming to Turukhansk to trade:  “The Tunguses are characterized by significantly developed good taste; they do not drink tile tea, nor do they use undistilled vodka or alcohol; the most prosperous ones eat only flour bread and like to have silver utensils, especially spoons, or eat with spoons of fossil ivory…”

However, it would be totally wrong to believe that all the indigenes lived in clover.  Many, unfortunately, would sometimes be occasionally exposed to drinking and sometimes would be exposed to drinking all the time.  According to V.N. Uvachan (Evenk), Doctor in History, Tungus merchants practiced making the natives drunk on poor-quality vodka (although it was against the law) and would exchange their goods for furs unequally: they would cheat the people under the influence, thus reaping colossal profits, from 50 percent to 300 percent.

Commercial-and-usury capital had destructive effect on the subsistence economy of the local population.  In no way did it contribute to serious development of production relations and did contribute to the conservation of backward, closed, patriarchal economy of the Tunguses.  Such policy with respect to native population fully suited the czarist government.  That is why the Evenk, like many other northern peoples, in their majority remained illiterate people moving toward extinction.  Entire clans would sometimes die from infectious diseases.  They also had stratification into the poor and the rich.  Nikolay G. Chernyshevsky left these reminiscences from his exile on the Vilyuy telling about the life of Evenks and Yakuts: “Looking at these people gives you pity,” he wrote on May 17, 1872.  “I have gotten accustomed to seeing poverty, very much accustomed.  But I cannot remain indifferent when I see these people: their abject poverty makes my callous soul feel nauseous.  I have stopped going to town in order to avoid meeting these hapless people.”  Revolutionary democrat Afanasiy P. Shchapov [1831-1876] wrote that these people, “(…)talented and brave, stagnate in ignorance, and we, apart from failing to enlighten them, have impoverished, corrupted, and cowed them and have pushed them to the verge of extinction.”

The testimonies are very grim of course and must be in keeping with reality.  The very same yasak collection was accompanied by brutal and sometimes inhuman ways of taking away furs from the natives.  To make them pay the tribute unconditionally, the fur tribute collectors would take hostages from among the most respected members of the clan or community or would often apply physical violence to the debtors.  In the corridors of bureaucratic power then, the inhabitants of the northern borderland of the Russian State were referred to as “fur-tribute strangers.”  The Tunguses, who usually were very cautious with natural resources and who never took from the forest more than necessary, were forced to double and triple their efforts hunting fur animals, mainly sables.

Some sources say that in 1812-1813 sables along the Yenisey and the Tunguskas were very numerous.  In Turukhansk, they would sometimes even be killed with sticks in the yards.  The royal purse used to receive from Turukhansk Territory 6,000-9,000 sables annually, hunted by the Tunguses.  For those times and hunting methods (firearms were then bulky and had wicks and were used mostly to hunt large wild animals), that was a very impressive number of precious skins.  Soon, however, thoughtless, intensive hunting of the sable first undermined its population and then reduced it to nothing.  As early as in 1862, the number of hunted sables dropped to 250.  That was a veritable environmental catastrophe.  The Yenisey Ridge sable practically disappeared in the Evenk taiga.  With the depletion of the sable population, tribute furs lost their importance, as other, so-called color furs, were much less valuable than the skins of the extinct animal.  Therefore, the tribute began to be collected not only in kind but also in cash in accordance with local costs.

As the leading role of fur hunting receded, the center of traditional Evenk economy moved toward the development of taiga reindeer herding.  The smartest and most enterprising heads of households kept hundreds or even thousands of reindeer.  Having many harness reindeer, the Evenk took up trade intermediary business, buying from outside merchants the necessities of life and reselling them to their fellow tribesmen.  They also concentrated in their hands the main tools of traditional nature use: fishing tackle and hunting gear.

Meanwhile, due to the coincidence of numerous circumstances (climate change and epidemics), the native population in the Tungus country by the early 1800s had dropped significantly.  Accordingly, the number of taxpayers had reduced.  That was a matter of major concern for the royal government.  It was necessary to somehow influence the situation with the general state of the dependent tribes.  The Regulations on the Government of Siberian Tribes, developed by Mikhail M. Speranskiy, governor general of Siberia [1819-1821], was to address the problem.  The statute legitimized the right of the indigenous population of Siberia to private enterprise and trade and titles to “entire strips of land” for traditional nature use, sufficient for the nomads to move around.  A number of articles prohibited the enslavement of the tribal people by colonists and officials in power.  The aborigines were also given other opportunities and rights to practice their traditional way of life and economy with minimal interference by power structures.

Galina Shutova (Evenk)
Based on materials from the book The Evenk by A. Amosov

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Reindeer Herders Supported


Decree # 382 of the Government of the Russian Federation “On additional measures of state support to reindeer herding in 2000-2005” came out on April 28, 2000.  This was the topic of my conversation with Vladislav Tikhonovich Zharov, chief of the Department of Northern Development at the Ministry of Agriculture and Food of the Russian Federation.

The decree focuses on further development of reindeer herding, improved use of its products, and provision of employment to indigenous peoples of the North.  On the basis of the decree, the Russian Agriculture Ministry issued Order # 697 of August 4, 2000, which states the task to draft a program to stabilize and further develop reindeer herding (in the first place, the bigger, harness reindeer of the Tofalar breed) and increasing efficiency by introducing modern technologies.

Reindeer herding cannot be put on its feet in Russia without state support.  Let us hope that such support will be provided, and consequently, support will be provided to the indigenous peoples of the North.

Rodion Sambuu (Toja Tuvinian)

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At the Association of Indigenous Peoples


On October 18, 2000, we, interns of the 15th Group of the L’auravetl’an Information Center, met at the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia, and the Far East (RAIPON) with Pavel Vasilyevich Sulyandziga, who briefed us on the accomplishments and prospects of the RAIPON.  In 1997-2000, the Association consolidated its structures and conducted several comprehensive activities aimed at uniting regional ethnic organizations, increasing the role of indigenous peoples in the development of northern regions, and bringing to the attention of the international community and state power agencies of Russia and its regions the plight of the indigenous peoples of the North.

The supreme body of the Association is its congress, held once every four years.  The 4th Congress of the RAIPON will be held on March 26 – March 30, 2001.  Every regional and district association will send its delegates to the congress.

The Association is working on three main projects:

-- The Saami-Nordic Project for the publication of the World of Indigenous Peoples – Living Arctic journal;

-- The Institutional Development of Russia’s Indigenous Peoples Project, which includes support to regional associations.  In 30 regions, the associations have received office equipment, and in 15, they have been hooked up to e-mail; and

-- The Small Business Project.  Month-long courses will be held in Moscow for 10-12 persons doing small business in their communities.  Five of them will go for training to America.

Larisa Ivanovna Abryutina, the Association’s vice president for health, was born in Bilibino District of the Chukchi Autonomous Okrug [area, district, region, or territory].  For a long time, she was a physician in a mobile medical aid group servicing reindeer herder teams.  As the manager of such a group, she strove to bring into the tundra all kinds of medical specialists.  A caring person, she tries to help everyone.  Larisa Ivanovna has recently become Candidate of Political Science and is actively involved in social work.  Ms. Abryutina does a lot as vice president as well, because entire settlements are being abandoned in northern areas and physicians move to central areas of the country.

As a result of many months spent on visits to various organizations, she has reached agreements with some clinics to service patients who have remained without attending physicians.  Over the past four years, about 70 persons have been cured and many have been operated on.  Larisa Ivanovna has a dream: to create a Health Protection Center under the Association.

Tatyana Terletskaya, Galina Alotova

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Meeting at the Finnish Embassy Interns of the 15th Group of the L’auravetl’an Information Center have met with Ms. Kristina Tronningsdal, Second Secretary of the Finnish Embassy in the Russian Federation.  Kristina shared her impressions about Russia and noted that the multiethnic nature of our country was what impressed her the most.

Kristina believes that meetings with representatives of indigenous peoples are very important as it is thanks to such meetings that information from the localities can be obtained directly, information that provides a realistic picture of the situation existing in the areas where those peoples live.  Only this way, in Kristina’s opinion, it is possible to learn about the real causes of what is happening.

Kristina explained to us that if we want to change something in the life of our peoples, we must act, initiating laws helping indigenous peoples hold out in these hard times.

Also at the embassy we were told about collaboration with NGOs, in particular, the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia, and the Far East and about the support to projects suggested by NGOs representing Finnish-Ugric peoples.

As for Kristina’s personal opinion about Russia, her impressions are much more positive than what she has imagined prior to seeing our country.  Today, one can speak about Russia as a country open to all kinds of contacts.

Kristina told us about the state’s policy with respect to the Saami, native to Finland.  According to her, the collaboration of the Finnish government with Russia is mainly concentrated in the northwestern region.  The embassy maintains contacts with Mordovia and Tver and Saratov Oblasts.  Kristina noted the importance of reviving the languages of indigenous peoples and told about Finland’s representation in the Arctic Council and the Council’s conference in Alaska.  This intergovernmental forum discussed diverse questions, including environmental problems.  Kristina noted the enormous importance of the NGOs involved in supporting projects suggested by the Russian side.  Interaction with these organizations is a feasible chance to find understanding and assistance.

We would like to note that the meeting at the Embassy of Finland passed in a friendly atmosphere, created by the hospitable hosts.

Galina Shutova (Evenk)

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At the Danish Embassy On October 13, 2000, we visited the Embassy of Denmark.  Fist Secretary Kristian Dons Kristensen gave us a friendly welcome.  He told us that Denmark was dealing with problems of indigenous peoples.  The Kingdom includes Greenland, inhabited by the Eskimos.  Although Greenland belongs to Denmark, it is a self-governed territory.  That means that they decide internal questions on their own, but the Kingdom regulates Greenland’s international policy.

“The entire world is dealing with problems of indigenous peoples,” Mr. Kristensen noted.  “We work with human rights, in particular with the rights of the peoples of the North.  We pay special attention to environmental problems for it is a world problem.  To date, Denmark has dealt with developing countries. Russia is not one of those; therefore little assistance goes here.  Mainly, we provide assistance to territories situated in northwestern Russia: Karelia, Murmansk and Kaliningrad Oblasts, etc.  At the same time, we can look into maters concerning environmental matters in other regions as well.  The Danish Embassy has provided assistance to the Chukchi Autonomous Okrug in sending toys to Chukotka District.

Tatyana Terletskaya (Chukchi)

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MacArthur Foundation Ms. Susan King is the deputy director of the Moscow mission of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, with whom L’auravetl’an Information Center 15th Group interns have met.

The MacArthur Foundation is an independent, private, charitable organization providing assistance to groups and individuals who strive to achieve sustainable improvements in living conditions.  The Foundation strives to contribute to the development of healthy individuals and efficient communities; keeping peace between and within countries; practicing responsible choices in human reproduction as well as preserving the global ecosystem capable of supporting healthy human communities.  The Foundation works toward those goals by supporting research and development in policy making, replication of results, education, training, including professional one, and practical activities.

The Foundation’s initiatives in the Newly Independent States are aimed at supporting independent research and innovative approach to the solution of topical social problems, contributing to improving the professionalism and strengthening the creative potential of practical researchers.  Also supported are ties between researchers in the independent states of the region and their counterparts in the far abroad.

The MacArthur Foundation is focusing on four main areas:

Society and law:  Development of legal culture; realization by citizens of the role of legal mechanisms in the protection of their rights; social security; social interest law; law enforcement; and informational openness.

Human rights:  Protection of civil liberties; economic and social rights; rights of women and minorities; economic change affecting women and minorities; support of equal participation of women and minorities in public life; women’s reproductive rights; and human-rights monitoring.

Environment and society:  Sustainable development; maintaining biodiversity; public participation in the preservation of ecosystems; legal, economic, and social aspects of environmental protection and natural resource management; innovative approaches ensuring efficient energy production and consumption; and economic and environmental impact of energy production and consumption.

Peace and security:  Broad concepts of security addressing radical causes and consequences of conflicts, including such as environmental degradation and the use of natural resources; religion, ethnicity, migrations, and uneven economic development; arms control and disarmament; and arms proliferation and regional conflicts.

Project proposals can be in the form of a letter in a free format that may include the following aspects:

The problem that the project is called to solve;

Brief project description: its purposes and goals, ways to achieve them, and importance of expected results;

Proposed starting date and project duration;

The total amount of funds requested;

Data on project participants; and

Information about the organization and its activities.

Letters are accepted throughout the year.

Galina Shutova (Evenk)

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