Disappearing Culture: Indigenous Tribes in the Noril’sk Region of Siberia

Early in the Soviet era, the government paid little attention to the indigenous tribes of Siberia and did not take into account whether their policies for modernization would have a negative effect on the native peoples. Collectivization and the push for industrialization directly affected the tribes’ economic activity, traditional lifestyle, and the environment in which they lived.  Industrialization took place across the Soviet Union, however I have chosen to focus on the city of Noril’sk, located in Krasnoyarsk Krai in northern Siberia, between the Yenisei River and the Taimyr Peninsula. Four main indigenous groups converge in the area of Noril’sk; these groups are the Dolgan, the Nenets, the Nganasan, and the Evenk people. As a result of Soviet collectivization and industrialization policies of the mid-twentieth century, the traditional culture of these indigenous groups altered or faded considerably.

Here is a map showing the geographical location of Noril’sk:

A key component of analyzing these policies and their effects on these four tribes is to consider the sustainability of these policies with regards to both the environment and the tribes’ traditional ways of life. I would like to clarify that I am defining sustainability as “long-term cultural, economic and environmental health and vitality….together with the importance of linking our social, financial and environmental well-being.” This definition comes from the organization Sustainable Seattle.[1] I argue that Soviet policy towards the indigenous tribes of Siberia in the twentieth century did not promote long-term cultural, economic or environmental vitality, and were therefore unsustainable and unsupportive for the indigenous clans of the region.

Below is a map showing the  location of Evenk, Dolgan, Nenet and Nganasan territory relative to Noril’sk and to each other:

Source: Slezkine, Arctic Mirrors.

Source: Slezkine, Arctic Mirrors.

The map above shows that Noril’sk serves as a sort of epicenter for these four groups: the Dolgans, Nenets, Nganasans, and Evenks. To learn more about a specific group please click the hyperlinks for further reading. Not only are these four clans close in proximity, but also—like many Siberian tribes—each clan has historically depended on reindeer hunting or herding for their economic livelihood. This does not mean these groups are all the same; they descend from different Eurasian or East Asian ethnic groups and each speak their own native language, among other differences. That being said, each clan experienced similar difficulties adjusting their traditional lifestyles during collectivization and industrialization. There are many ways in which the Soviet Union altered the lives of tribal people in Siberia; collectivization and industrialization are simply the two policies I have chosen to analyze.

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Disappearing Culture: Native Tribes of Northwestern Siberia

You can find a brief section of my upcoming paper at the following link:

Disappearing Culture

In this section I address governmental policy towards indigenous groups in 19th Century as well as Soviet policy in the 20th Century. These topics will fall in the middle of my final product so bear in mind that more information will come before and after these pages.

Disappearing Cultures of Northern Siberia

I was happy to discover that sources on my research topic were plentiful in both the scholarly and the cyber world. The websites were typically more recently published than some of my scholarly sources, but there are some exceptions. The web sites are, as expected, more interactive and interesting to read than many of the scholarly sources simply because most have color photos. Most of my online sources were produced by organizations aiming to raise awareness for these groups, rather than scholars doing research like my print sources.

I’ve learned that each type of source has its use. For instance, scholarly journal articles are typically much more focused in scope and so to search for and use them your research questions must also be more narrowed. Books are daunting sources because they hold so much information, but again, if you narrow your scope you can limit yourselves to chapters within books, rather than read the entire thing. It is my website sources that have surprised me the most. After 3 years in college I had ultimately written off websites as being of any use in a formal research paper, but this project has changed my mind. Of course, a bibliography should not be built entirely upon websites, but as long as the site is credible it can be a great source for background information and media, as well as a springboard for other sources, whether cyber or in-print.

This project has certainly taught me to broaden my research parameters to include multiple types of sources. It has also showed me the benefits of breaking a large project into chunks and completing smaller tasks along the way. That is not a new discovery, but it is something that I often forget in my busy day-to-day life. I’ve also discovered just how useful certain online tools can be (the Evernote clipper tool is a great example.) Even though Evernote itself hasn’t been groundbreaking in this research process, the clipper tool has been refreshingly useful. Blogging on my paper topic has also helped me develop my ideas and think about my project in new ways.

Moving forward, I am going to focus on answering three questions: how did the lives of these tribes people change as a result of Soviet policy? How did they try to adapt to these changes? Were their adaptions successful?

I realize that these questions can may still change as I finish my research, however I believe they get at the heart of what it means for a culture to “disappear.” In order to answer these questions, I will need to understand tribal life before these Soviet policies, exactly how these Soviet policies affected the traditional way of life, and how these cultures have fared since. I believe all of my sources cover these aspects and more, but I will being by focusing on journal articles that have clearly stated theses and arguments to help me get on my way.

Below is a link to my updated annotated bibliography:

Annotated Bibliography with Web Sites