XIV group of interns
Spring - Summer, 2000


Fairytales and Truth in the lives of Indigenous Peoples of the Turukhansk District
Why Crime is on the Rise Among Indigenous People?
Welcome to My Village
“Krasny Iar” Is a Place Where the Udege Live
Workshop in the Mountain Altai
I am an Udege Designer
People of the Forest Villages

Fairytales and Truth in the lives of Indigenous Peoples of the Turukhansk District

In my homeland, the Turukhansk District of the Krasnoyarsk region, we call all of the governmental programs of economic, cultural and social revival of indigenous peoples “the wet-dreams of the bureaucrats”.

We are Keto, Selkoop and Evenk indigenous people. There are only 1266 of us out of 13 017 of the district population. The district territory is 214 000 km2. Our ancestors lived here from the times immemorial. Today the Keto population in the district is 754, the Selkoop – 333 and Evenk – 179. Some of us are trying to bring back the family, clan and individual traditional businesses. Just like in the old days. There are 21 such businesses in the district. But all and every one of them are hanging by the skin of their teeth.

The plethora of the “supporting”, “assisting”, “reviving” and “developing” programs is taking so much time of the authorities on all levels (federal, regional, district and local) that they have no time left to deal with the indigenous people of the district and their problems. There are so many different institutional program leaders and program managers that they got all confused and got the indigenous peoples confused. My people – Keto - call people like that “kimtol’s’” (the empty head) and have developed rather philosophical attitude to the entire thing.

I wont to give you just a couple of samples of our reality. Association of Indigenous Peoples of the Turukhansk district receives too many bitter letters from the indigenous people. Those people tell of their dying land, the dark future of their children, of having no rights in the land of their forefathers.

In the beginning of the XX century Keto were “civilized”. By then they already had for many centuries their own distinct culture, traditions, the way of life and the reindeer. The entire life of a Keto revolved around reindeer. The animal was transportation and connection between the Keto settlements. It was food and clothes. It provided skins for the homes. Above all it was a friend. In those days Keto called themselves “Ken’den’” (light people) and the neighboring peoples – “ilbyn’ den’” (people of the world). Respect, hard work and unity ruled the Keto settlements. With that my great grandparents Anna and Kharlampy Bal’din welcomed the Russians. They called the newcomers “kysn’”. Keto had no doubts that kysn’ are “khitan’ ket’ turo” ( true people).

And what have done to the indigenous peoples the “true people” and why? Why we are forced to beg for help constantly? Why we are only able to feed our family by hunting and fishing? Why we never know what kind of future awaits our children? Why for 20 years now Keto have no reindeer?

There is an old Keto belief that there are creatures who steal from people the joy of life and live by the people’s misfortunes.

Mr. Anatoly SPIRKIN,
Turukhansk District

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Why Crime ison the Rise Among Indigenous People?


Lately the crime is alarmingly high among the indigenous people of the Taimyr autonomous region. The percentage of convicted among the indigenous is constantly and rapidly on the rise.

In my opinion, the main two reasons for it are the devastating unemployment and difficult social and economic situation in the region and in the country. What is truly sad and bewildering is the fact that there is federal legislature regarding full employment of indigenous people and vocational training on the basis of the indigenous traditional activities.

The statistics show that all convicted indigenous were long time unemployed and all crimes were committed under the influence of alcohol. And the alcoholism is so widespread because there is no regulations that limit the sale of hard liquor in indigenous communities.

The life in an indigenous community is very hard. Theft, virtually unknown 50 years ago, is a common every day occurrence. People are loosing all reasons to live. That inevitably leads to the total and absolute devaluation of human life in general.

Taimyr Autonomous Region

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Welcome to My Village


I live in the village of Mezhegey, Tandin kozhuun, Tyva Republic. I remember a few years ago, when I was at my High School, we had everything – profitable sovkhoz, community house, salaries, normal standards of living, a hospital, good environmental situation and a lot of milk and meat. And everybody in our village really liked living and working there.

Now the sovkhoz is no more. The village is dying and looks like there is no one to help. . Only those who can pay cash can buy coal to heat their houses. And even then they need to find a truck to bring it over. Because of that, many started to install homemade electrical heaters. But the electricity in the village is turned on only at night and only for a couple of hours.

The authority closed the hospital down because, as they say, there is no money in the district budget. In case of an emergency it is impossible to get any medical help. One can find someone with a car to drive the sick to the neighboring village where there is a hospital, but the money is needed anyway to pay for the gas. No money – no help.

We have the High School and a vocational school where they teach bookkeeping and driving. But the teachers’ salaries are regularly delayed for 4-5 months.

You would not believe how beautiful is the nature around our village. But the district has no money to keep forest rangers and the ancient taiga is burning regularly. Last summer so many wild animals died in the fires. Many of them ran to the village, panicking, trying to save themselves. I think that if the neglect on part of the authorities will continue soon we will nothing left of our beautiful taiga. And it is so beautiful, our nature, that some foreigners say that Tyva is the second Switzerland.

Our community house is big and very nice. We used to have various performers to come with concerts, even theater troupes and puppet shows, and had dances at night. Now only the dances are left. And even those are seldom. Good thing is that we have a post office and a telephone.

I am full of sorrow that my village is dying.

Ms. Alanmaa SENGI,
Tyva Republic

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"Krasny Iar" Is a Place Where the Udege Live


I want to talk about the alcohol and the drug abuse among our people. In the Udege ethnic community Krasny Iar (Primorsky Region) the good and trusting people are many. And precisely because of them being so trusting, many had lost all hope for the future.

At the present, the most profitable business is sale of alcohol, especially the cheapest one, which is of a very low quality. Our young already are closely familiar with the “grass”. It grows right in the area and people are making a lot of money with it. In the last few years many people died because of the booze and the grass and majority of the dead are very young.

What made them choose that horrible way of life? Why we, who are living near them, could not or did not help them? Why we are continuing to watch it so passively and helplessly?

In Krasny Iar the word “kolymit” (to make a quick buck) is one of the most popular. That means to make just enough money to get a bottle of the cheapest vodka. Are not we ourselves create all opportunities for the alcohol and drug abuse? Every adult in our village knows this problem of our children.

In our village everybody is visible. How much longer will we watch our children going down the road to drinking and drug-taken hell? We need to do something. We must give people an opportunity to find a way out. But how?! In Krasny Iar there are no jobs and nothing to do.

But in spite of it all I want to hope that the children of my home-village will stop drinking themselves to death. People, please do not become indifferent to each other and do not loose hope in tomorrow!

Primorsky region

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The Veps (an indigenous people of the Russian Northwest) writing was developed at the beginning of the XX century. It was due to the first strong wave of the Veps cultural revival during the 30th. Veps had their own linguists, writers, published school textbooks, etc. There were some discussions whether Veps language should be written with Latin or Cyrillic alphabet, but it was obvious that many sounds of the language could be expressed only with Latin letters. Using the Russian alphabet could lead to distortion of the Veps spoken language. Thus, the Latin was chosen.

1937 put an end to the first revival. Everything was forbidden, including cultural and ethnic issues and expressions. It was the beginning of the 50 year long silence.

The second wave of the Veps revival began at the end of the 1980th when the Veps got an opportunity to state loudly and openly that they are a people. Mostly due to the efforts of Ms. Zinaida Strogalschikova, who lead a group of the veps activists from the Society of the Veps Culture to write an official letter to the Council of Ministers of the Russian Federation.

Last year the Society celebrated the ten-year anniversary. The result of the past ten years is truly impressive – on the initiative of the Society in Karelia republic was established Ethnic Cultures Center; the Petrozavodsk Finno-Ugric school where Finnish, Karel and Veps children can study their own languages; there are Veps language classes in all country schools where Veps live; there is Veps language newspaper “Kodima”. The newspaper is the connecting link for Veps population of Vologda, Leningrad and Karelia regions. It is very often the only link between the Veps country communities and the outside world.

The most important achievement was establishment of the Veps Ethnic Territory – a self-governing administrative area in Karelia republic. Without a doubt the main credit goes to Ms Zinaida Strogalschikova.

During the last ten years in Karelia have been published school textbooks, books of poetry and fairytales, and also children Bible in the Veps language.

During the last two years the Society received several grants from the Barentz Region Secretariat. In my opinion, one of the most interesting and useful was the Veps Summer Camp for the Children of Rybreka Village. The Camp Counselors were the old people who spoke with the children only in Veps, taught them how to cook the Veps food, how to fish and hunt. The children loved it and the Society is planning to repeat the camp the next year.

But despite all this the wave of revival seems to be wearing down. Who will start the third wave? I think it us – the young people, for whom it matters which way our people will go. And nobody will help us, but us.

Mr. Nikolay FOMIN,
Karelia Republic

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Workshop in the Mountain Altai


A workshop on the rights of indigenous peoples took place in the city of Gorno-Altaisk, Spring 2000. It was organized by an educational NGO “Telekey” (The World). The participants were district administrators, NGOs, scientists and journalists. The speaker of the Altai republic parliament Mr. D. I. Tabaev was also present. The workshop dealt with the issues of definition of “indigenous peoples” and the “small-numbered indigenous peoples” and related legal standards.

The workshop once again stressed the vital importance of the promotion and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples. The participants received complete compilation of the international, national and local relevant legal documents.

It was emphasized that creation of the Altai Indigenous Information Center, based on the L’auravetl’an IIC model and connected to the latter, is the most pressing issue. Especially that four indigenous peoples of the republic (Tchelkantzy, Kumandintzy, Tubalary and Telengity) just were added to the official federal roster of the small-numbered indigenous peoples.

Ms. Nadezhda SURKASHEVA,
Altai republic

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I am an Udege Designer


I want to tell you about myself, about my desire to do what I have been studying for a long time. The Primorsky Association of Indigenous Peoples was paying for my studies. In 1998 I graduated from Vladivostok State University, majoring in clothing designing. During the entire study I was focusing on the traditional Udege clothing.

In 1994 I participated in a contest for young designers called “At the Threshold of the Century”. I presented a line where I used the traditional Udege themes and materials (furs and skins, silks and fish skin). Also for the costume history course I made a traditional Udege shaman doll.

In 1996 for a fashion show “Yupitaza” in Vladivostok I presented a ready-to-wear line made entirely from fish skin.

In 1998 I graduated with honors. My graduating line was based on the traditional Udege shaman clothes. Only traditional accessories and materials were used. The line was very well received and the University took it for its own fashion collection.

During my entire studies I was dreaming to go back to my home community of Krasny Iar and make the Udege traditional garments. At the present in Krasny Iar no one can really make a simple skirt, let alone anything more complicated.

My dream is to set up in my community a small traditional art house where I could teach young talented people to make our Udege clothes so people can wear them again. And also to have there a wood carving shop, animal and fish skin work, and also teach them classical drawing and painting techniques (I’ve been taught at the University for 5 years how to teach that).

There is plenty of fish skin in our area and it is free. We could produce the quality garments that no one will be ashamed to wear and to show to the world now forgotten but beautiful traditions of our forefathers. Plus many other problems could be solved by such a shop – unemployment, young people would have a reason to stay or return home, pride of being an Udege will return to my community and the community will not die.

We are a small people. But we are strong. The older people are surprised why many other young people and I want to come back to our home communities. But all we need is a chance. I could live anywhere in the world, but I believe that my roots are here, my people helped my studying and I want to give back to my people everything I can. Why should I live in a city and not in my village where I am needed? It is a main problem for many young Udege who, after completing their studies, are forced to stay in big cities.

When our Association will not only support our education but also will create employment opportunities for us in our own communities? I appeal to our leaders to help us before we are forced to beg for help. That is hurting our pride. Our people made you leaders and our people needs your support and care. I am grateful for your help in my education, but do not let me now wither spiritually and professionally. I want to work as an Udege designer. I want to create and be useful.

Primorsky region

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People of the Forest Villages


Veps is an indigenous people of the Northwest of the Russian Federation. The Veps people live in three subjects of the federation – Vologda and Leningrad oblasts and the Karelia republic. There are 12 500 Veps all together. Traditionally they are fishermen, hunters and small farmers. Almost up to the twentieth century the most of Veps were pagans. It resulted in a definite pagan nuances in the Veps Christianity.

Linguistically there are three groups – the Northern, the Middle and the Southern dialects. However, the differences are not that great and all Veps understand each other. The Northern dialect is spoken at the Onega lake area. The Middle (the richest of the three) is spoken around Oiat’ and Svir’ rivers and at the Beloe Ozero (lake) area. The Southern, the least known one, is in the Boksitogor district of the Leningrad oblast.

The language itself belongs to the Ural-Yukagir family, the Baltic-Finnish group. Many linguists call the Veps language the “Sanskrit” of the Baltic-Finnish group, because it still uses many of the most ancient linguistic forms and words.

The known Veps history started about 2 000 years ago when Veps moved from the Ladoga lake area to their present areas of habitat in Karelia, Leningrad and Vologda oblasts and forced out the Sami who lived there before. Today, the Veps territory is many times smaller than it was hundreds, or even tens, of years ago. Veps live at the Southern part of Karelia republic, in the North East of the Leningrad oblast and the North West of the Vologda oblast.

Before the Bolshevik Revolution the Veps territory was one and their communities were close connected. The Soviets divided the country anew and the Veps communities found itself to be separated by large distances in three different administrative areas. The roads between the villages now badly maintained by the authorities gradually became no more. And since they were the only links - the world of the Veps was shattered.

But there were some things positive. The Karelia republic had, beside the Soviet, its own laws and even the constitution. And its leaders were mostly Finns and Karels who paid very close and positive attention to the inter-ethnic issues. In Karelia Veps could speak their own ;language freely everywhere and did have their ethnic background officially accepted and acknowledged.

Things were different in the Vologda and Leningrad oblasts. Especially the Vologda authorities paid no attention to the small group of ethnically different people who lived in the North West of the oblast. My home-village of Piazhozero (and other neighboring Veps villages) lost whatever little governmental care it had when the administrative border was moved and the communities found themselves in Vologda oblast instead of the Leningrad.

The next heavy blow for Veps was elimination of the furthest communities as “fiscally unsound” in the 1950s. Most of them were in the Vologda oblast (Shimozero, Klenozero, Nazhmozero, Siargozero and many others). At the time there were about 10 000 people living in the area. In a split second the buzzing cultural center-area of a small people was turned into a dark unpopulated wild forest. Only three villages remained – Kuia, Pondala and Piazhozero.

My community of Piazhozero stayed only because people refused to move regardless all pressure and threats from the authorities. Old people tell the tales of the orders to gather things and farm-animals and move to where it was commanded. One can only imagine what it felt like. The entire village was gathered together and for many hours the people were subjects of an incredible fear-pressure. They already were close to giving up, when one old lady got up and said: ” People, if you go – you’ll be cursing this day for the rest of your lives. You’ll never be able to live on other people’s land. This land is ours, our fathers lived here, this is our people’s land. It needs us as we need it.” After that nothing could make the people leave. Piazhozero survived.

Up to the late 1980s the Vologda oblast authorities refused acknowledged the Veps as a people. In the official records they were registered as Russians. In schools children were strictly forbidden to speak the Veps and maybe for that very reason seldom one can meet a Veps child now who speaks its own language. And that is incredibly painful because the future of any people is its children.

Mr. Nikolai FOMIN
Vologda oblast.

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