XVI group of interns
Winter, 2000 - 2001


We Will Say No to Problems
Yukaghir Congress
Health Workers Are Needed
New Views
Land of My Ancestors
Eyn’etkun, the Young Reindeer Ceremony
Nenetz Shamanism
Greens in Russia
Millennium on the Amur
The Multiethnic Turukhansk Land

We Will Say No to Problems

The small ethnic village of Zelyonyy Yar [Green Steep Bank] is situated not far from Salekhard (Yamal Nenetz Autonomous Okrug [district, area, territory, or region]), on a high bank of the Poluy river.  The name of the village is beautiful, and the landscape is for feasting your eyes, and everything seems to look all right at first glance.  However, that is so at first glance only.  In reality, problems abound.  I will try to describe them briefly one by one.

1. School

In 1999, an elementary school opened in our village for 50 students, 49 of which are indigenous [the Poluy River Valley is home to the Khanty. – Translator’s note].  As there are no leisure centers in the village, the kids spend all their spare time in the school.  There they draw, play in the gym, and watch videos.  It would be so much better if there were computers into the bargain.

Computers, and new ones at that, have been promised to our school as a direct supply from the capital of our country.  We have received some computers, but old ones, prehistoric, an early model, instead of new ones.  The keyboards have been used to the degree of total or almost total disappearance of symbols from the keys.  The funniest thing is that, apart from being ancient, the computers turned out to be nonfunctioning.  This technological miracle came to us from the Okrug capital, Salekhard, straight from the Zverev Teacher Training College, not Moscow.  People say that the new computers have been lost along the way.

2. Housing

For us, teachers of the elementary school, a dormitory has been built, but we moved in there only a year after the school had opened.  Until then, we had been taking shelter in odd places: some had lived in the school, and others had been renting housing.  On numerous occasions, we have been addressing the district Administration with requests to complete at long last the construction of our housing.  The Administration, however, limited itself to giving promises.  So we, having run out of patience, squatted the building not yet commissioned.  We bought on our own the missing wallpaper and oilcloth, boozed away by the construction workers.  The good thing was that heating was running by then.  Thus, our housing, let alone outbuildings, remains unfinished to this day.  Another thing: if this is a dormitory, I believe it should have relevant furniture, at least in the kitchen.  The district Administration keeps silence and takes no steps to resolve our problem.

The local inhabitants have been waiting for apartments for decades.  Many live in log huts built in time immemorial, and hardly will they live to see new housing.  A while ago, four phenol houses were built, and today families with many children live there, but one only damages his health by living in such a house.  Yet, what is to be done?  There is no other housing.  I will not say that nothing is being built in the village.  Some building is going on.  A two-apartment timber house has been built recently.  The problem consists in that, first, the houses are commissioned much later than their due time for shortage of construction materials and, second, sometimes very much time passes between the construction of one house and the next.  Representatives of the district Administration have recently visited the village and said that in 2001 the Administration is planning to build as many as six houses.  Well, we’ll see…

3. Club

The club is the culture center.  But how can one call the trailer two by four meters [slightly over 6.5 by 13 feet], chilly even in summer, let alone – 40-50-degree [– 40-58 degrees Fahrenheit] temperatures, a culture center?  After the spacious club had burned down many years ago, there was no talk about building a new one.  People have nowhere to go and nothing to do in their spare time.  As a result, drinking is rampant.  The indigenous population of the village has repeatedly been asking the local and the district Administrations when a club will be built, to which the invariable answer was: “We will have it built by all means.”  By no means do I want to offend the respected administrators, but does this not remind you of the building of Communism?  And where do the budget appropriations allocated to build cultural facilities in places of compact presence of indigenous peoples disappear (if they have existed at all)?  (Article 11 “State regulation of the development of the economy and culture of the indigenous peoples” in the Federal Law “On the basics of state regulation of the socioeconomic development of the North of the Russian Federation”).

4. Health

Because the village is not connected with the Okrug and district capitals by roads, difficult cases and pregnant women are taken by helicopter to hospitals in those capitals.  Now, imagine this situation: an expectant mother is taken to the hospital to give birth in winter; she has her baby and is discharged from the hospital, and with the baby in her hands, she runs around town trying to find transportation.  She is lucky if she succeeds.  What follows is even more breathtaking.  The woman travels with someone on a snowmobile at severe freezing temperatures, with the little one in her hands, dozens of kilometers to her village.  When our teachers who have come from afar learned about such situations, they were in a shock.  And for the indigenous inhabitants, this is something common.  But that is a universal problem, so to say, typical, I guess, for all northern territories.  If we turn to specifics, we will see this picture.  First, the trust in health workers has been lost as a result of these workers’ outrageous attitude to their duties.  Second, the head doctor at the Central District Hospital refuses to fire the negligent medical assistants in spite of the numerous protests of the villagers, motivating the refusal by saying that he has no other personnel to send to the village.  It was only by a fluke that several tragedies have been avoided, and it happened only because each time visiting health workers found themselves in the village.  And that attests to the incompetence of our medical assistants.  Many people, including the writer of this, are annoyed at having to walk to the medical unit for injections when being sick and feeble and running a temperature.  Medical assistants have to visit the patients who run a temperature in excess of 38 degrees [100.4 degrees Fahrenheit].  Trust me, I have had the experience of having to plod to the medical unit for injections for an entire week with the temperature of 39-40 degrees [102.2-104° F].  Why talk about the adults if these ill-fated vets refuse to visit even sick children.  The parents have to dress the sick kid and take him or her to the medical unit.  And there are also elderly and sickly old people out there.  What are they to do?  The situation with medicines is also a complete mess.  They can give a medicine to an indigenous person free of charge and sell the same medicine to another one.  And in general our dream, the dream of all people, who make up 90 percent of the population in the village, is to have health workers who are not excessive drinkers and, most importantly, who know what they are doing.  Maybe one day our dream will come true.

Item 5 (Commerce) and item 6 (Administration) are indivisible, like “Lenin” and the “[Communist] Party” in their time.  This is family business.  He is the head of Administration of the village, and she is the salesperson at the village store.  But in actual fact it all turns out to be the other way around.  I can add nothing to this.  Think for yourselves, but I guess that Mavrodi [a financial pyramid swindler of the early 1990s] is a far cry from this.

7. Diesel Power Plant

It would be good to have in the village a new powerhouse.  In the existing building, the soundproofing between the operators’ room and the diesel room is very poor.  All the operators have hearing problems.  The people are going deaf!  And also, why do the operators, who work 24-hour shifts, are paid only for 18 hours (their work schedule is 24 hours of work and 72 hours off)?  The district bosses say that that is the way it should be as the power plant’s output does not allow to pay more.  Then why do the operators work for 24 hours instead of 18?  I can see no logic in this.

We, indigenous peoples of Russia, unlike indigenous peoples in civilized countries, are not used to helping ourselves.  The historically formed conduct stereotype of an indigene who suffers or is in conflict with himself or the administrative system is suicide or unrestrained habitual drinking.  Women have more choices: they can also go to the streets.  Time and its flow make us change and flow along ahead even looking back.  The running of time accelerates before the eyes of our generation, and at time’s dictation we go through more and more personal tragedies per capita in our lifetime.  That means that we need to counter them, actively help ourselves…  Indigenous people are not always able to make the right choices in life, and not because the world is defective and constrained.  Simply, they are not always able to discern their own opportunities, because they create for themselves an imaginary model, limiting the world and themselves in their mind, preferring life “on the flat” to the real multidimensional space.  And our task in the future, as former interns of the Information Center, is to help indigenous people see the actual situation as an uninterrupted process that can be influenced purposefully and rationally.  It can be influenced in order to cause positive changes in society, in man, in man’s idea of himself and the world around.

Vitaliy Laptander (Nenetz)

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Yukaghir Congress


The Second Congress of the Yukaghir, which took place in the summer of 2000, requested the president of the Republic of Sakha/Yakutia (RS/Y), Mr. M. Nikolayev, to personally supervise the question of titling aboriginal landholdings of the Yukaghir in Verkhnekolymsk [Upper Kolyma] Ulus [district], in the Shamanikha river basin, and consider the possibility to reestablish the Yukaghir village of Tustakh Sen, Nizhnekolymsk [Lower Kolyma] Ulus, as an ethnic cultural center of the Yakutia Yukaghir, under the name of Edilvey.

The Congress recommended to the Government and the State Assembly (Il Tumen) of the RS/Y to make necessary amendments in draft Comprehensive Program of Socioeconomic and Cultural Revival and Development of the Yukaghir for 2000-2005, approve and ensure its funding as of 2001, and to the State Assembly (Il Tumen), the Congress recommended to design a mechanism for implementing the Law of the RS/Y “On the Suktul [traditional governance body] of the Yukaghir people” and carry out on-going monitoring of the implementation of this and other laws on socioeconomic and cultural development of indigenous peoples; draft and pass laws “On the representation of indigenous peoples in state power agencies” and “On deductions for the use of mineral resources in places of compact residence of indigenous peoples”; trigger the passage of federal laws “On alternative civilian service” and “On ratifying 1989 ILO Convention # 169 “On indigenous and tribal peoples in independent countries.”  To the RS/Y Government, the Congress recommended to achieve larger funding for activities under federal and republican targeted programs of socioeconomic and cultural development of indigenous peoples with respect to the places of compact residence of the Yukaghir (the villages of Andryushkino and Nelemnoye); solve the mature problem of building a school for 88 students in the village of Nelemnoye.  To the RS/Y Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Provision, the Congress recommended to achieve the allotment of 500 stock reindeer to the Chayla Clan Community, fund the construction of the hunters production division in the Bolshoye Uluro area, Nizhnekolymsk Ulus, and provide Yukaghir clan communities with snowmobile and outboard-engine equipment and spare parts on a leasing basis.  To the RS/Y Ministry for the Affairs of Peoples and Federal Relations, the Congress recommended to ensure the construction of two 2-apartment houses in Andryushkino and one 2-apartment house in Nelemnoye, to be commissioned in 2003-2005; include in the list of activities under the republican program for the socioeconomic development of indigenous peoples until the year 2005 work to reinforce the bank of the Yasachnaya river in Nelemnoye and find a possibility to fund the operation of the Elders Council of the Yukaghir Nation.  To the RS/Y Ministry of Material Resources, Commerce, and Transportation, the Congress recommended to monitor on an on-going basis the functioning of the newly opened trading posts in Andryushkino and Nelemnoye and take measures to radically improve their provision with consumer goods.  To the RS/Y Ministry of Health, the Congress recommended to reestablish the 3-bed hospital in Nelemnoye, improve the supply of medicines to the health institutions in Andryushkino and Nelemnoye, and renew medical services to the hunters, reindeer herders, and fishermen in places of their operation.  To the RS/Y Ministry of Education, the Congress recommended to fund the writing and publication of schoolbooks in Yukaghir in the amount of one textbook in each dialect annually [the Yukaghir language has two dialects: the Tundra dialect and the Taiga, or Kolyma, dialect; in 1989, it was spoken by at least 417 persons out of the overall population of 1,142, but since then the number of speakers seems to have increased a little. – Translator’s note] and approve a standing curriculum for Yukaghir ethnic schools based on suggestions from ulus education departments.  To the RS/Y Ministry of Labor and Social Protection of the Population, the Congress recommended to include in the RS/Y State Employment Program the creation of jobs on the territories inhabited by the Yukaghir and organize sewing shops in Andryushkino and Nelemnoye, a fur farm for 25 heads of breeding blue foxes in Nelemnoye, and minishops to process local products in Andryushkino to be commissioned in 2002; organize retraining and training of unemployed Yukaghir.  To the Ministry of Housing and Utilities, the Congress recommended to make repairs on boiler plants in Andryushkino and Nelemnoye (by 2002), solve the question of providing cold water supply to Nelemnoye in the course of 2001, and include the construction of a sewage treatment plant in Andryushkino in the plan prior to the year 2003.  To the Ministry of Culture, the Congress recommended to fund the creation of ethnic cultural centers in Andryushkino and Nelemnoye in 2001 and to improve the logistical support of the Houses of Culture in Andryushkino and Nelemnoye and of the ethnic folklore ensembles Yerpedie, Maaruol, and Yarkhadana.

The Second Congress tasked the Elders Council of the Yukaghir Nation (Chairman G. Kurilov) with strictly and continually monitoring the implementation of its resolution.

Raisa Fyodorova (Yukaghir)

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Health Workers Are Needed


Nosok is the most populous ethnic village in Ust-Yenisei District in the Taimyr (Dolgan-Nenetz) Autonomous Okrug [district, area, territory, or region].  Life in the village on the threshold of the 21st century began to get better.

On September 21, 2000, Nosok inhabitants welcomed very important visitors at the festive opening of two socially important facilities: a school for 192 students and a two-story, 25-bed hospital.  Then Taimyr Okrug Governor Gennadiy Nedelin, Okrug Duma Chairman Vladimir Sitnev, and John Khagazheyev, general director of the Norilsk Mining Open Joint-Stock Company, attended the festive ceremony.  They received the right to cut the red ribbon at the entrance to the hospital and the school.

It was the funding from the Norilsk Mining Company that made the construction of these facilities possible.  The tundra people’s dream has finally come true: they will now be able to receive medical assistance in a beautiful and warm hospital, and their kids will go to a spacious school.  The new buildings have changed the look of the village and are making its inhabitants feel happy.  The hospital has spacious wards with new beds and bedside tables.  All the rooms are equipped, but there are no physicians specializing in specific fields.  The hospital is in an urgent need of health workers, as it services not only the village but also the vast Nosok tundra.  The staffing of the school is in a much better shape.  The teachers thanked the sponsors, and a gala concert took place in the school building.

Inga Tapkina (Nenetz)

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In the second half of 2000, the Amur Indigenous NGO took an active role in the publication of part two of the book Creative Heritage by Pongs Kile, as we are not indifferent to the fate of the Nanaian culture.

*   *   *

In September, members of our organization attended the session of the [Khabarovsk] Territory Duma that discussed the territorial law “On the community.”  Federal legislation, in particular the Federal Law “On the general principles of organization of the communities of indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia, and the Far East of the Russian Federation,” treats communities as nongovernmental organizations, and the territorial law needs to be put in line with it.

What guiding principles will the territorial Administration stick to when allocating quotas for industrial fishing if as of 1999 nongovernmental organizations were barred from fishing on the Amur? What forms of ownership of the indigenous population will now be called ethnic enterprises?

Our organization has promoted a proposal to create a Union of Ethnic Fishers and Sea Hunters; it has come out with a plan of activities and specific actions with sources of funding, but the territorial organization, represented by Indigenous Peoples Association President G. Volkova, has taken no steps to implement these proposals.  Now, our communities will reregister and will look for ways out of the situation on their own.

During the entire year of 2000, purpose-oriented work was carried out to organize ethnic communities with our financial participation in the Ulchi and the Nanaian Districts.  While in the Nanaian District no enterprise has as yet been created, in the Ulchi District certain success has been made.  Thus, the Beloglinka Ethnic Community, Ltd., has been established and registered.  From June to November, our two representatives were present in the village; unfortunately, not everything could be implemented in one year.

The Fishery Administration under the territorial Administration, in coordination with the territorial Indigenous Peoples Association, allocated to us the quota of 5 tons of European carp but not a single kilo of fall Siberian salmon for “normative consumption.”  Such a distribution is a testimony of that both the territorial organization and the territorial administrative structures have no idea about the fishing potentials on the Amur. They could just as well give quotas to fish for piranha and other resources that are not present in our reservoirs.  In spite of annual requests, the Administration allocates to the indigenous population the natural resources that cannot be harvested, and thus creates grounds to reproach the indigenous population for failing to develop the allocated biological resources.  At the same time, there appear grounds to accuse indigenous peoples of poaching.  This apparently is the political credo of our Administration.

*   *   *

A museum of indigenous peoples has been created at the Rodnik Interdistrict Center in Komsomolsk, and the Givana ethnic ensemble is working there.  After its participation in 1999 in the indigenous peoples arts festival in Moscow, the group “slowed down” and in 2000 was only going to villages in Komsomolsk District.  Numerous presentations in schools and kindergartens added popularity to the ensemble and helped the audiences broaden their horizons as far as the lands and peoples of the Far East are concerned.

*   *   *

The situation that has shaped on the Amur merits the attention of not only Khabarovsk Territory ecological services and Russian scientists and environmental-protection and ichthyology institutes, but also international organizations.  The Amur is a worldwide asset of our planet, and the processes that have been going on over the past five years merit close attention.  Since 1996, the river has been contaminated by phenol-containing substances in the winter and spring periods, which leads to mass poisoning of fish.  In 2000, in the Susanino—Tyr area, bottom fishes – cowfish, eel, and sheatfish – had the distinct smell of phenol.  The smelt/lancet fish that enters the river to spawn was also inedible in 1998-1999.

And again, another stroke of bad luck.  In September-November 2000, bottom fish were caught in the Nizhniye Khalby and Novoilyinovka area with clearly putrid damages, ulcers, and bruises.  Ichthyologists and the media in Khabarovsk Territory explain the phenomenon by bottom microbes and low level of water in the river in the summer period.

One way or another, the processes taking place in our river merit a more attentive approach by state authorities.

The Amur fishery reserves mean first of all life and the last resource of the indigenous peoples in the Amur area, but even these peoples are becoming inclined to think that it is necessary to suspend all industrial fishing for a certain period, or else, two years from now, it will be a dead river.

From the Anda newsletter of the Amur Indigenous NGO, 

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New Views


My internship at the L’auravetl’an Indigenous Information Center in Moscow has given me knowledge of many laws concerning indigenous peoples and their rights.  They are the Constitution of the Russian Federation, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Federal Laws “On guaranteeing the rights of the indigenous peoples of the Russian Federation” and “On the general principles of organizing the communities of the indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia, and the Far East of the Russian Federation,” the international Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the international Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, etc.  Reading draft Federal Conception of Ensuring and Protecting Human Rights and Freedoms, prepared by the Human Rights Commission under the President of the Russian Federation, one sees clearly that the state has finally realized that the state should be built on legal principles.  The individual is the highest value for the state.

Some bureaucrats wish people to have as little knowledge as possible about their rights.  This way it is more convenient to manipulate obedient, weak people with no opinion of their own.  And as a result, the standard of living of the population remains at a low level.  For this reason, little time was needed for the mansions of the so-called “new” rich people to grow.  The vulnerable strata of the population remain in poverty.

In Yakutsk, one can more or less feel civilization as far as culture, education, and health are concerned.  Our president, M. Nikolayev, does a lot for our republic, so that Yakutia would have a fitting look as a component of the Russian Federation.  But it is also necessary to pay attention to remote population centers and, most importantly, more strictly take to account the heads of Administrations who cannot correctly sort out the real problems.  It is considered fashionable and prestigious to be a head, and official duties are discharged after attending to personal benefits.  And this, as we see from what L’auravetl’an Information Center interns say, happens in many regions, where they have to come in touch with local authorities.  What is to be done in remote regions, you will ask?  There is only one answer: we ourselves need to know our rights and do so that attention is paid to us.

If we live in a rural area, why do we have to restrict ourselves within a certain framework: we cannot go to a place when we need to; for the lack of the Internet, we have no communication with the outside world…

I am concerned over the housing problem in our district.  The village has abandoned houses fit for living, and there are many people who desire to receive an apartment.  If those apartments were given to local inhabitants, who will not go anywhere from the land of their ancestors, many houses would be preserved.  In rural areas, by contrast, there is no housing.  Because of the remote location and the expensiveness of transportation, it is difficult to deliver construction materials there.  Without help from the local authorities, it is practically impossible for a village inhabitant to build a house on his own.

Elderly people, let alone the youth, cannot spend a normal vacation and recover their health.  Young people must study, but what is to be done if there is no money on travel expenses to school and food and clothing and if the parents are pensioners and cannot help.  Because of financial problems and the lack of jobs, the number of offenses grows.  A large portion of the young generation has lost faith in justice; now they do not have what the youth had before.  Before, there were Octobrists, pioneers, Komsomols [Young Communist Leaguers], and Communists – people were busy doing things, they were being educated in the spirit of patriotism, love for their country and their city or village.  All that was in that time the only right way, because no one could change the life – that is the inevitability of history.  Without history, there is no “future.”  Hope dies last.

Raise Fyodorova (Yukaghir)

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Land of My Ancestors


The Taimyr (Dolgan-Nenetz) Autonomous Okrug [district, region, area, or territory] celebrated its 70th anniversary on October 10, 2000.  Taimyr revived thanks to strong and smart, talented people, such as the Dolgan poet and progenitor of the Dolgan literature and written language, Ms. Ogdo (Yevdokiya Yegorovna) Aksyonova; the Nenetz author Lyubov Prokopyevna Nenyang/Komarova; the Dolgan author and translator of stories for children Nikolay Popov – he has translated the Bible into Dolgan; the Dolgan artist Boris Molchanov, etc.  Many did not live to see this significant anniversary.  Popular festivities and the International Day of Indigenous Peoples of the World were held to mark Taimyr’s 70 years.  Congratulations by the president of the Association of Indigenous Peoples of Taimyr, Ms. Agrafena Alekseyevna Mankhirova, opened the festivities.  Veteran workers, whose hands have revived Taimyr, received honorable diplomas.  The Week of the Culture of the Taimyr Indigenous Peoples residing on the territory under the jurisdiction of the Dudinka City Administration was held from October 22 until October 30.  All the ethnic cultural groups from all Taimyr districts took part.  At the festival, the Taimyrians displayed their profound knowledge of ethnic culture; they showed that the inhabitants of various regions had maintained their traditions, customs, and ethnic cuisine solicitously and that they were handing these treasures down to their descendants.  A Week of Culture was held in Norilsk, in the hall of the city House of Culture; the program included the best vocalists and dancers of visiting performers.  The participants received memorable souvenirs.  During such festivals, the happiness of meetings between peoples unites the inhabitants of all the regions; they share their impressions about life in new conditions; the word “happiness” is heard often; misfortunes and woes are forgotten.

The most remarkable festival for the inhabitants of Ust-Yenisey District is the spring festival called Reindeer Herder’s Day.  It is an open door into the world of Nenetz traditions, customs, and rites.  The festive day begins with traditional reindeer races.  Competitions among men and women are held in two rounds, and the male and female winners receive valuable prizes.  The next stage is competition in ethnic sports.  The program ended with awards to the participants and a festive concert prepared by students of a school for reindeer herders.

Inga Tapkina (Nenetz)

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Eyn'etkun, the Young Reindeer Ceremony


We, Ayon Island tundra reindeer-herder Chukchi, since olden times have had the traditional ceremonial festival of the young reindeer, Eyn’etkun, which usually is held in late August.  Every inhabitant of the Ayon tundra knows from childhood the rites of this celebration, the highlights of which I will try to describe in this article.

One day prior to the ceremony, the yaranga [tepee] is girded with a leather belt.  The same kind of belt is stretched inside the yaranga, between the poles, to hang drums and skins.  Shrubs with long roots are stocked in advance.  They must be beautiful, twiggy, with not a single dry branch.  These shrubs by all means need to be bought from the Earth in exchange for a tiny, greasy, dried piece of meat that is dried in advance in summer.  This meat is called “sacred,” and ahead of the ceremony it is dried and stored by hanging on poles in the yaranga.

Having collected the shrubs and prior to placing them to the left of the yaranga, it is necessary to walk around the yaranga carrying these shrubs.  Then, turf is removed from the earth for the fire and is put on a board, placed on the right (from the entrance) at the wall inside the yaranga.  Also with an ax, a hillock is cut from the ground and is placed at the center pole in the yaranga.  Also near the fire, match idols/fire steels are placed.  All that is done by the woman, and the man makes arrows and drumsticks, puts bowstrings on the bows and raw hide on drums, and sharpens knives.  Such is the preparation for the ceremony.

In the early morning, before dawn, a reindeer herd is brought to the camp.  The women obtain fire from a match idol; the fire/ash is dropped on the dry moss and is carried to the turf for the fire.  Then, with a special bucket and mug (can, pot, or kettle) – the wares should not be those of daily use – people fetch water and place it near the shrubs, first covering it with a twig.  After that, the family dwelling in the yaranga put on their faces their clan symbol with charcoal powder.

At the first rays of the sun, all move their yarangas forward some 10-15 meters [30-50 feet], closer to the herd: the women carry the turf with the fire, and the men, bows and arrows.  Then, fat is cut into tiny pieced on a board and is thrown in all directions and into the fire, and all together, hollering in unison, throw turf and all together shoot bows in the direction of the herd.  That is the beginning of the ceremony.

Right after that, to the place where turf has fallen, they take the woman’s, the man’s, and the freight sledge and, if they have kids, the covered sledge.  They place them between the herd and the turf with the fire, facing the turf, and they place a travois with shrubs and amulets on the other side, with the front to the fire.  The shrubs are removed from the travois, and amulets are placed there.  The matches/fire steels are placed in front of the travois, and a bucket with water is put behind the sledges. After that, the men go to the herd to catch reindeer, and the women wait for them.

The first caught are a bull and a she-calf (tyrkylyn, neven), so that more newborns would come.  When these reindeer are slaughtered, the owner takes blood from the wound and sprinkles it around.  Then, a woman takes a dipper with water and four shrubs.  Having walked around the bodies of the reindeer following the direction of the Sun moving across the sky [clockwise] and stopping to the right of them, she pours water in a thin trickle, from hind legs to the lips, and then back, along the back.  The same procedure is followed with the calf and all the other slaughtered reindeer.  The shrubs are put under the heads and the buttocks of the slaughtered reindeer; that, according to beliefs, is done so that there is always water, grazing, and verdure.

A third reindeer is slaughtered next to the sledges.  The entire family paints its clan symbol with the blood of this reindeer on their faces, hands, high fur boots, women’s and men’s outer fur shirts, and sledges – so that nothing would break or tear.  In the same way, they paint the amulets and the match idols – so that those would protect the family from miseries.  The last smeared with this blood is the shrub tied with roots into a bundle and selected in advance.

Having done everything that is required in accordance with the rite, they skin and cut the carcass into pieces.  Again they obtain fire from a match idol and kindle a fire.  Blood gruel is cooked; it includes all the intestines, thoroughly cleaned, roots resembling potato, some water, fat, and blood.  The liver, lungs with throat, long back muscle, ribs, jaw, and all the parts of the left side of the carcass are roasted.

While the woman cooks, slaughtering continues.  One reindeer to the tundra, another to the ocean, the following ones to the neighbors, ancestors, the rookery, etc.  The last one is slaughtered behind the yaranga; it is skinned, disemboweled, and the content of the smaller stomach is taken out, and all this is poured out around the yaranga in small portions following the direction of the Sun movement.  During the ceremony, all movement is clockwise.

When the cooking is finished, all are invited as guests.  While the guests are on their way, the hostess puts a little of the food in the sacred dish after having cut fine slices of meat, and the host carries that toward the herd and throws the content around – a tribute to gods.

When the slaughtering is finished, all the carcasses are brought into the yaranga and put on the place prepared in advance; shrub twigs are spread out on the right from the entrance.  The skins and antlers are hung on a rope inside the yaranga.  At the bottom of the center pole, the shrub smeared with blood and the right front leg of the calf slaughtered at the fire are tied with a leather strap.  At the top, the head is hung, and all those objects are given to “drink” newly fetched sacred water.

Before she begins to cut the carcasses, the hostess cuts pieces of meat, liver, and fat from the bull.  Having cut them into tiny pieces, she puts them in all the nooks of the yaranga.  Then, she begins to beat the drum, and only then does she set down to cutting the carcasses and cooking the meat, and afterward, invites guests.

After that, preparations for the following day are made: all the meat of the reindeer slaughtered behind the yaranga is cooked with bones.  This ends day one of the ceremony.

Day two begins this way.  From each piece of the cooked meat a small slice is cut and is sliced up further.  Blood gruel is cooked, rendered fat is shaken up, and meat paste and greens porridge are made.  Then, a reindeer figure and a dog figure are made of fat and green mass.  All the prepared items are laid out on sacred plates and are covered with pieces of meat and leg bone marrow.  Men and children walk around the yaranga with shouts and go to the place of slaughter of the day before.  There, they repeat the slaughter rite but this time with the reindeer and the dog figurines.  Then, the cut pieces and blood gruel are thrown in all directions, and only after that do they set to eating themselves.  Having drunk tea and eaten meat, those who wait for the return of the host shut the door and the smoke flap tight.  When he returns, the host and the hostess take drums and walk around the fire trying to waken it with fanning movements of the drums.  Then, they stand around the fire, beat the drums, and sing their favorite songs; after them, the guests do the same.

Day three is called the “milk” day.  All the men go to the herd bringing along the milk bag.  They catch the she-deer whose calves were slaughtered in the ceremony and milk them.  The women meanwhile tidy up the yaranga, that is, put the meat away into pits and hang the meat for winter ceremonies outdoors to dry.  Bones are pounded with hammers and are boiled for several hours, and the rest of the bones are burned in the fire of day one of the ceremony.  Reindeer hoofs and lips are roasted on the same fire and are then boiled.

Such is the tundra ceremony.  There is also the coastal ceremony, practiced by the Chukchi living next to the sea and the tundra.  They hold it in a slightly different manner.

There are also other ceremonies:

“Hello, forest” is held when the herd is taken to the forest.

Ul’vev (winter ceremony) is translated as “calm, quiet, or tranquillity”; it means “we have migrated to the forest, the summer camp is behind us, it is fall, calm and paradise have set in.”  It is held in late November or early December.

Corralling is a spring ceremony of sorting the reindeer by sex and age groups in preparation for fawning.

Kil’vey is the birth of the first calf.

“Hello, tundra” is held after the migration to the tundra in late May – early June.

Ul’vev (summer ceremony) is held at the end of the summer camping, in late July – early August.

Valentina Kalinina (Chukchi)

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Nenetz Shamanism


Since the most ancient times, humankind has striven to give a meaning to the world around, penetrate the essence of natural phenomena, and understand its own self.  People were excited by the stellar sky and the bright sun, the boisterous weather, birth, and death.  Every tribe had its own response to these complicated questions.  Peoples of the North saw the world as made up of many vertical levels, inhabited by spirits.  Facing many worlds and forces, people needed to comprehend their own actions, that is, animate them.  The most challenging was, not rivalry with the outside world, where the man acted as an active force, but struggle within (against illnesses, grief, or fear), where man turned out to be powerless.  The intermediary between the man and his alter ego was the shaman (tadibe), a superperson, superspirit.  The shaman is not only an intermediary, but also a prophet.  With all their ills, people would go to him.  He is both a philosopher, a thinker and a curer.  The shaman’s task is to fight evil spirits or pay them off with sacrifices.

Both the terms and the traditions of shamanism go back to very ancient times.  In essence, it was the shaman who in the course of his rites revealed to ordinary people the concept of soul, explained the state of life and death, created colorful pictures of the universe, going seven layers underground and seven spheres into the sky.  It is he who remains the best expert in the ethnic traditions and the surrounding natural world.

To become a real shaman, it is necessary to learn and be tested for 20 years.  The first signs of special recognition are often revealed as early as at birth: a pellicle would be seen on the top of the head of the baby symbolizing the drum skin; such a sign could be a birthmark, given to a shaman by spirits in childhood instead of the drum.  Growing up, the chosen one would begin to notice things that are beyond the others.  In adolescence, he would experience the so-called shaman illness: now he would begin to chant, now he would sleep for days or walk without noticing anyone.  The chosen one could get rid of the psychic suffering and be initiated as shaman only under the tutorship of an adult shaman.  The apprenticeship lasted for several years.  In the beginning, when going into a trance, a young shaman would use only a belt and garters from high boots.  In seven years, a drum was made for him, but one without metal pendants.  Several years later, he received permission from the teacher to make the pendants, and if the gift stayed with him, only ten years from then would he acquire the title of “full” shaman.  Nenetz shamans differ by the direction of their sacred ways: (1) shaman “whose spirits live in the sky”; (2) shaman “whose spirits live underground”; and (3) shaman taking the spirits of the dead along the ice road to the land of the dead.  The first one (vydutana) cured the sick and prophesied the future.  It was this one who was able to work wonders: strangle himself with ropes, pierce himself with the steering pole, and catch bullets remaining in the end intact.  He would go into a trance in the sacred portion of the chum (tepee), talking to the upper-world spirits: the khekhe.

The second one communicated with the spirit of the Lower World – Nga – as well as the master of waters, Id’Erv.  He would cure the sick, find lost reindeer, and help at childbirth.  He would go into a trance only at night, at the dim firelight.  For his rite, he would use the ax, the attraction of which transmitted the will of spirits.  The sambana also communicated with the lower-world spirits, used the ax, and went into a trance at the dim light of fire, sitting in the chum at the entrance, on bare ground.  In the rite, he had to look at the piece of soil placed on the ax blade and name all ground, air, and water beings.  He did not cure, nor did he prophesy.  By establishing a magic link with the earth and the underground, he took the spirits of the dead in the direction of sunset and locked them there with special talk.  The division of the tadebya into the “light” and the “dark” ones, the “sky” and the “underground” ones does not at all mean that some brought good and others, evil.  All the shamans aspired one thing: to ensure the wellbeing of their fellow tribesmen.  In this respect, the “dark” shaman faced the more difficult task: to protect the people from evil spirits by confronting these spirits face to face.  Only in one case would the shaman turn into an evil maker, when he had to fight the enemies of his clan/tribe.  It was then that he turned into an evil sorcerer sending illnesses and spoil to people.  Typically and logically, many Nenetz “riots” have been headed by shamans.  For this reason, the Bolshevist power severely persecuted them in the 20th century.  That is true about the shamans of all the peoples of the North, not only Nenetz ones.

The universe, as a rule, was seen as three worlds: the Upper World, the Middle World, and the Lower World, situated in an enormous oval sphere.  What did each one of these worlds look like, you will ask?  Myths and legends tell about it.  The Nenetz and others saw the Middle World as a flat disk floating in the ocean.  According to the view contained in myths, in the beginning there was only water, and two brothers lived in the world: the younger, good brother lived above, and the elder, evil one, below.  The younger brother’s helper was the loon (other sources say that it was the otter); it dove, picked up mud from the bottom and spit it out on the water.  Ground began growing from the mud, and that was how land appeared.  The younger brother became the owner spirit of the Upper World, and the elder brother, the owner spirit of the Lower World.  The mountains, rivers, and lakes appeared as a result of the struggle between the mammoth and an enormous serpent.  And people and animals were made by the brothers out of clay.  The Middle World, the world of the people, is inhabited, in the view of northern peoples, by various spirits.  It was believed that the owner spirits of the Middle World are benevolent toward people.  Yet, apart from them, there are also evil spirits on earth: they are the spirits of the people who died unnaturally and did not find their way to the world of the dead.  They can steal one of the life powers of a man, and then the man may die.  Only a shaman could save the man in this case.  The shaman would use deceit or power, or his helper and guardian spirits would settle the case amicably with the evil spirits.  The shaman would fly to the Upper World if a child was ill, if the camp faced a disaster, or if the owner spirits of the Middle World were powerless to help people be successful in hunting and fishing.  The entrance to the Upper World was located under the North Star.  Many peoples of the North believed that one could walk to there going in the direction of sunrise on a rainbow or even a sunray.  Khanty shamans could enter it with the smoke of the fire.  To go to the Lower World, one could use crevices and caves in the mountains or a whirlpool.  On its different levels lived the owner spirits of the Lower World and the evil deities that created the world and fell in, as well as the spirits of illnesses and death.  The underground Lower World was most often the world of ancestors – people went there after having lived on earth.  Shamans knew well the way to the Lower World and showed the way to the souls of the deceased.  Nenetz shamans went there on a reindeer team.  According to ancient beliefs, the souls of the people, once in the world of the dead, lived there for several generations and then, through the tree of the universe (or the world river) went to the Upper World.

One of the peculiarities of the shamanism was the state of trance, ecstasy of the shaman during the rite, thanks to which he, in the views of the Nenetz, communicated with spirits and visited other worlds.  Some shamans possessed the gift of hypnosis.  Having hypnotized the audience, they showed “miracles”: pierced themselves with a knife or a lance or made others strangle them with a rope.  This way they showed their shamanic power.  The shamans could communicate with spirits only while in a trance, not all the time.  Going into a trance could be public (traditional) and private, personal.  The former rites were timed to the beginning or end of the herding or hunting cycle and were held mainly in spring or fall.  The latter rites were requested by individuals to treat their sick, look for the missing, or give thanks.  Going into a trance usually occurred in the chum with the fire burning.  The shaman would put on special attire and sit on white reindeer skin behind the fire.  The invitees and all those wishing to be present would enter the chum.  At the entrance, there would be a dish with smoking reindeer wool, juniper twig, and swan down.  This smoke was for the general “cleansing.”  Next to the shaman, his assistant would sit.  The purpose of going into a trance was, as a rule, known to everyone.  Then, the drum skin would be heated over the fire for the sound to be more profound.  Taking the drum in his left hand and the special drumstick in the right, the shaman would begin to quietly beat the drum at even intervals.  Gradually, the sound would grow louder and the beat would become more rapid.  That continued until the shaman would find himself in a state of excitement.  Little by little, the drum sound would quiet down and the shaman would begin to chant.  Sometimes, he would rise and move briskly around the fire or would suddenly fall and lie without moving for a while – it was believed that his soul temporarily abandoned the body and traveled elsewhere.  During the rite (and sometimes afterward) the shaman would describe his journey to other worlds (the Upper World or the Lower World).  The shaman would talk to spirits, ask them questions relevant to the purpose of the rite, make requests, and relate to those present the spirits’ responses.  All that was extremely impressive.  The mandatory attributes of the rite are the drum, the drumstick, the image of the helper spirits, the mask or fringe, the staff, rattles, and binders – symbols of shamanic roads in the universe – and, sometimes, string musical instruments.  Such was the full shaman regalia – only a very strong and experienced shaman, who has gone through the three stages of initiation, could put it on.  The regalia and all the shamanic attributes had to be “given life” after making – they received the life force of the shaman ancestors relative to the world tree and the mistress of the universe.  It was believed that by putting on all the clothes, the shaman acquires additional, all-seeing power and that helps him penetrate the worlds inaccessible to the man and communicate with spirits.  I full ritual regalia, the shaman looked ornate and amazed the profane.  Not surprisingly, for two or three centuries the explorers of Siberia described in detail shaman’s attire and all things relating to the exterior of the shamanic cult.  The exoticism of going into a trance, the shaman’s ecstatic behavior, and bizarre clothing created the atmosphere of mystery and anxiety and awe of the greatness of the personality of the psychic of the universe.  Every detail in the shaman’s costume – a pendant or a stripe – possesses mystic power.  However, the main ritual object is considered to be the penzer (drum) with the drumstick.  It symbolized the stature of the shaman and his power and links him with the spirit world.  A shaman must be an actor.  To make the penzer sing, one needs an active imagination and keen wit.  If you breathe life into the drum, it will speak your heart.  The penzer in the shaman’s hands is a continuation of his living and sensitive hand creating a unique ring.  In the hands of the shaman, the penzer comes alive.  The tight sound of the skin becomes resonant, the wood sings at the touch of the magic drumstick.  This is a song of the master who has created a sounding miracle, the voice of the shaman’s heart.  Together with the drum, the drumstick, the cloak, and the headdress, the staff helped the shaman to reincarnate.  With its help, cosmic communication and transition into different worlds occurred.  The staffs may be of various types.  Some may replace the drum and bear cosmic symbols.  Others serve as a weapon in the fight against evil spirits or a peculiar means of transportation for the shaman in the spheres of the various worlds.  In essence, every shaman’s staff was a replica of the world tree.  And the five or seven crossbars on it linked to the parallel worlds of the universe.  The staff – world tree model – enabled the shaman to unite the sacral world and the day-to-day one.  The fellow tribesmen could always tell from the staff the power of the shaman, his abilities, and the spirits protecting him.  The costume protected the shaman from evil forces.  So, in such a costume, the shaman was strong and invulnerable.

The role of the shamans is culture making.  Traveling in the various spheres of the World Above and the World Below, they pictured the world.  The shamans communicated with gods in the language that they themselves have invented.  The gods were taken to the spiritual height to which their creators – the tadibe – were able to rise.  Speaking on behalf of gods, the shamans took the liberty of making spiritual revelations.  A failure often cost the shaman his life.  The way of the tadibe is constant creative work within the framework of traditions with permanent emotional stress.  Gods were within the shamans’ reach; peculiar and dramatic relations formed between them at times.  Gods could take offense at the shaman, or the other way around.  A tadibe could change his helper spirits or punish them.  Every shaman had his own spiritual arsenal, and he often had to fight the spirits of hostile shamans.  In the daily life, shamans differed little from the other people – they practiced reindeer herding, hunting, and fishing.  At the same time, for the trance rites they were entitled to a payment (from a pair of mittens to a reindeer).  The Nenetz also had female shamans, but that was rare.

Shamanism existed not only among the peoples of Siberia but also among many peoples of the world.  Most researchers view shamanism as an early form of religion, preceding such developed religions as Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam.  However, some researchers believe that shamanism has nothing to do with religion and is a phenomenon similar to sorcery and fortune-telling.  Of interest is also the figure of the shaman, considered as recently as in the 1700s a trickster, a magician.  But that, of course, is not so.  Most shamans believed in the possibility to penetrate the worlds beyond, learn people’s fates, and even influence them.  Their training (described above) helped shamans in many cases really help people.  The shamanism as it was in the early 1900s has not lasted out, but many elements continue to live on still today.

Vitaliy Laptander (Nenetz)

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Greens in Russia


About 2,000 workers operate under the Greenpeace flag in more than 40 countries.  In 1989, an office of this organization opened in Russia.  The budget of the environmentalist organization amounts to more than $100 million, most of which are private contributions from 4 million protectionist people.  Other sources are foundations not linked with governments or commercial structures and the sale of memorabilia.  Greenpeace owns six boats and one helicopter.  The national offices in individual countries work independently, and that is also true about Russia, where the office is staffed with about 30 people.  Mr. Vladimir Alekseyevich Chuprov coordinates the forest program.  My conversation with him began with the topic of the all-Russia referendum initiated by the Greens after the government reorganization, when environmental structures were subordinated to the agencies that must develop natural resources.

“In support of the referendum, we have collected 2.5 million signatures throughout the country, but the Central Electoral Commission did not recognize 600,000 signatures and did not give its go-ahead to the referendum.  In some regions, we have gone to court to defend the signatures; for instance, in Voronezh and the Maritime Territory, we expect to win back 43,000 signatures.  In late December 2000, the State Duma approved in first reading the draft law allowing the importation of spent nuclear fuel (in other words, nuclear waste).  It is planned for dumping in Tomsk and Chelyabinsk Oblasts, Krasnoyarsk Territory, on Kamchatka, and the Kuril Islands and would be brought from South Korea, Sweden, Germany, and the United States.  The main argument supported by the deputies is that $10 billion are offered for this 10-year project.  However, the lion’s share of the funds would be spent on the construction of nuclear-waste-storage and related facilities, and there would be no profit.”

Mr. Chuprov is also a member of the Committee to Save the Pechora.  The Committee works in the Komi Republic; in all the population centers along the Middle and Upper Pechora, they have activists, and on-going ties with the population are kept alive.  The Committee began its work 10 years ago when it organized a regional referendum against the construction of a nuclear power plant on the Udora; last year, the moratorium on the construction expired, and the situation, in the opinion of Mr. Chuprov, is again aggravating.  Struggle is going on in Izhma District, Komi Republic, to preserve traditional nature management [of the more than 15,000 Izhma Komi, approximately 7,000-8,000 are reindeer herders. – Translator’s note].  Mr. Aleksey Semyonovich Kanev, who lives in the village of Lasta, has come out against the development of oil on the territory of the Sebys Reserve.  On his own, he has begun publishing newspapers and accumulated debts, as he had to travel often, including to courts.  At present, a lawsuit is being prepared to find out whether or not an environmental impact assessment was held when work on the oil deposit was beginning.

“The man is going voluntarily through privations, but even in his village many do not understand him and believe that he is after personal gain.  Leaflets have been printed criticizing the opponents of oil development and containing groundless and filthy charges, but people believe the printed word.  Therefore, it is necessary to win over more people to your side, work much with journalists, and tell more about your activities in the press.”

Pavel Simpelev (Komi)

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Millenium on the Amur


We have entered a new century and a new millennium.  How and in what situation did the Amur aborigines meet the new times?  What has remained in the past, and what is continuing to this day as a thin thread tying the old and the new generations of the Nanai?  What did we, the young, not take from our past life?  What load will have to be shouldered by the indigenous inhabitants of the Amur land?  This question will have to be faced by every Nanai family in the new century.

According to the 1989 population census, the Nanai and other indigenes in Khabarovsk Territory numbered 30,825 persons [as written; the actual census figure is 23,484 persons. – Translator’s note].  This is far from a homogeneous mass of people.  Among us, there are well-known culture personalities, teachers, physicians, lawyers, and blue-collar workers.  But at the same time, we have one common acute social problem: very low birth rate and high death rate.  In Komsomolsk, there live 1,825 indigenes, but in 1998, not a singly baby representing indigenous peoples of the Far East was born in the Central District of the city.  In 1999, only two were born.  One was breast-fed until the age of six months, and one was breast-fed until the age of one year.  In 2000, four indigenous children were born.  The low birth rate, in my opinion, is a result of the failure of our state to duly stimulate the social sphere of the ethnic groups inhabiting the Far East in general, taking from the natural reserves of Khabarovsk Territory all that earns enormous profits: things like timber, which is exported abroad, furs, fish, etc.  And our people, not of its own free will, but as a consequence of the policy pursued by the territorial Administration, has abandoned the traditional way of life and has given up hunting and fishing.  The language given to us by nature itself is being lost, and with it gone, the life-giving band tying us to our ancestors from whom we have inherited this land would be cut.  Not every Nanai, unlike his grandfather and great-grandfather in their time, is able to survive in the taiga today.

How is your life, fellow human being?  Will you be happy in the new millennium?  Will you be able to go with the times, or will you pass away under the beating of the drum of the old medicine woman?  We, representatives of indigenous peoples who still have love for our severe land and the mighty Amur River, that has nurtured generations of the Nanai, will try to find a response to these questions.  We will remember about it.  We will love, and that means that we will live.

Galina Zaksor
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The Multiethnic Turukhansk Land


In the period of modernization in Russian society, multiethnic relations, overcoming crises, are one of the most important and significant types of social relations.  Ethnic factors are present in all social, political, economic, and spiritual processes taking place in multiethnic regions of Russia, one of which is Turukhansk District, Krasnoyarsk Territory.

The presence of the conflict potential is confirmed also by the dependence on the head of the district Administration, fairly strongly rooted in the mass conscience of the people.  Therefore, it is necessary to work out ways to preserve interethnic harmony.  In Turukhansk District, no mechanism of collaboration with ethnic organizations in general has been worked out; the local authorities have not considered it necessary to pay attention to this.  On the regional level, it is necessary to establish the following mechanism of collaboration with ethno-cultural centers:

-        a council for ethnic affairs under the head of the district Administration (the same entity may also function as the regional branch of the assembly of the peoples of Russia);

-        participation of representatives of ethnic organizations in roundtables and in the Legislative Assembly of Krasnoyarsk Territory; and

-        joint drafting of programs; joint operation in the implementation of all documents relating to ethnic and interethnic problems.

The main of the above mechanisms, and an efficient one, is the council for ethnic affairs, a consultative, advisory entity and one giving recommendations but also one led by the head of the district Administration.  It must include the chairperson of the ethno-cultural center, representatives of educational societies, researchers, and heads of the committees and administrations whose sphere of activity deals with interethnic relations and problems of ethnic policy.

The preservation of the ethnic cultures of the peoples in Turukhansk District, the development of the ethnic system of education and further prospects of development, the training of educators for schools of the district, etc., would undoubtedly contribute to the harmonization of interethnic relations and consolidation of collaboration between the authorities and ethnic organizations.

The main task of the council is the development of a scientifically founded ethnic policy; the creation of a research and methodology council, including researchers, sociologists, economists, philologists, and historians; and the study of ethnohistory, way of life, and culture of the ethnic groups – the Ket, the Selkup, and the Evenk – living in Turukhansk District.

Open discussion of the problems of ethnogeny, ethnohistory of the peoples, and ethnic culture would help people overcome negative ethnic stereotypes.

The council for ethnic affairs under the head of district Administration must approve a Program of the Implementation of the Model of Regional Ethnic Policy for 2001-2003.  In it, the main areas should remain the preservation and development of ethnic cultures of the peoples in Turukhansk District; measures to develop the ethnic system of education; interethnic cultural collaboration; a system of measures to satisfy the spiritual demands of the peoples by developing the mass media; and the scientific support of the program.

It is necessary to timely react to the ethnic programs appearing in all spheres of life of the indigenous population of the district to implement them in close interaction with the head of Administration.

Every people has the right to exist, and its ethnic, cultural, historical, religious, and linguistic identity must be respected.  No people may become the target of genocide by any other people, the target of extermination or persecution; no one has the right to create for a people conditions of life that would undermine its development as a single, integrated ethnos.

G. Nikolayeva
Writer of textbooks for Ket schools

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