Yukagir Indigenous people is one of the oldest peoples in the North-Eastern Asia. Long time ago they lived on a huge territory from lake Baikal to the Arctic ocean. By the time of the first encounter with Russians Yukagir had twelve tribes with the combined number of people up to 9 000. The selfname of Yukagir is “Odul” or “Vadul” - which means “mighty”.

In present days Yukagir live in Yakut-Sakha republic and Chukchi Autonomous region of the Russian Federation. The total number of Yukagir is 1113 people.

Most of the Yukagirs speak mainly Yakut and Russian language.

Alongside the Russian orthodox believes Yukagir still practice shamanism. The dominant cults are the cults of the ancestral spirits, the spirits of Fire, Sun, Hunt, Earth, Water and other deities. The spirits can act as protectors and as enemies of people. The highest is the cult of Sun. The Sun is the highest judge in all disputes. The spirits of the dead go to “Aibidzi” where they are continually watching people and help them. Every clan had a shaman “Alma”. After death every shaman was treated as a deity. The body of the dead shaman was cut to small pieces and kept by the clan members as holly objects.

The main traditional activity is nomadic and semi-nomadic hunting of wild deer, moose, ram, sable as well as fishing. Reindeer is bred mostly for transportation, as well as dogs.

The head of every clan was an elder - “Ligey Shomorokh”. His word was the last in all aspects of life. The actual leaders in hunt were the best hunters - “Khangitche”, in war - the war chief “Tonbaia Shomorokh” (the mighty man). Women and teenagers had equal voices with men. The internal life of the community was under the control of the older women mothers. Their decisions in those matters were indisputable.

In the beginning of every summer all clans gather together for the common celebration “Sakhadzibe”, where all the common for Yukagir questions were discussed.

In Yakut-Sakha republic there are three nomadic extended family communities. They are “Tchaila” in Nizhnekolymsk district, “Teki Odulok” in Verkhnekolymsk district and “Ianugail” in Ust’-Iansk district.

The head of “Ianugail” is I.I. Tomsky. The community’s main activities are deer hunting and fishing.

“Tchaila” is the biggest of the three. Its head is S. I. Kurilov. They have 4000 domesticated reindeers, 200 horses, 20 cows. The community is also hunting the wild deers and polar foxes. There is also a shop where traditional skin and fur garments are made.

The head of “Teki Odulok” is N. I. Shalugin. Their base is the village of Nelemnoe. This community is in the most difficult situation. Due to the “creative interpretation” of various perestroika and privatization laws by the local and district administration and so-called businessmen the community has lost all reindeers, cows and even part of its land. All they have left are about 50 horses. They have no money to by supplies for hunting and fishing. 80% of all adult population is de-facto unemployed.

Decline of the traditional economic activities, horrible environmental situation of Yukagir’s traditional lands and waters, absence of local and federal laws and executive mechanisms protecting Indigenous peoples - all resulted in dreadful situation of Yukagir communities. Average life span for men is 45 years, for women - 54 years. The child mortality is the highest in Yakut-Sakha republic.

The highest forum for Yukagir is the all-people gathering “Suktuul”.

Oleg Gorokhov,
Yukagir, IIC