Future of Indigenous Peoples in N-W Russia

The situation of all indigenous peoples in the Russian territories of the Barents Region is very similar. They are a minority in the areas where they live, they have been losing their own language and there have been attempts to revive the language and culture during the past ten years. Russians have been living in their areas for several centuries, but the indigenous people have had contacts also with each other. Since the 1930s there has been a huge flow of Russians and other nationalities of the former Soviet Union to the indigenous people’s area because of industrialisation. Often these newcomers did not have any knowledge or respect for the local culture. Russians in these areas can be divided into two groups, to the descendants of those Russians, who have lived in the area since the 11th century, and are often called Pomors, and to the group of newcomers of this century. It has been discussed whether some of these Pomor groups could be considered as indigenous people (Pomors in Kola Peninsula and Pomors in Nenets Autonomous Okrug).

All indigenous peoples of the Russian territories of the Barents Region share the same problems. They are all concerned about their cultural identity, first of all about the number of native language speakers which decreased rapidly during the Soviet era. During the past ten years, there have been various attempts to revive the use of language at schools, in the literature and the mass media. It has been a difficult task in an environment where the Russians form the major ethnic group and the Russian language is the most common language in everyday use. There are some good results, especially among the Komi, but special attention is still needed in order to revive the use of the native language. All indigenous peoples have also a lower level of education and they live mostly in rural areas. Sami and Nenets have some other proems as well. Their ethnic identity is very much connected to their traditional livelihoods, fishing, hunting and especially reindeer herding. There are some serious problems in reindeer herding because of the industrial use of natural resources and transition to the market economy.

Source: The Economic Geography and Structure of the Russian Territories of the Barents Region, Arctic Centre Reports 31.

See also article Indigenous peoples of the Russian North by Winfried K. Dallmann, Norwegian Polar Institute, Tromsø

Read more: Barents Indigenous Peoples' Office