TASS, July 17. First practice classes were organized in Chukotka’s school of Young Sea Hunters. The classes were organized at ethnic villages - Inchoun and Uelen - on the Arctic Ocean. Kids between 9 and 13 years of age together with teachers learn how to hunt and butcher sea animals, how to cook national dishes and forecast the weather, the school’s teacher Evgeny SivSiv told TASS.
The Young Sea Hunter project continues for a few years. However, until now, the locals have organized classes and equipped children at their own expense. In April, the district authorities supported an application from the school organizers and allocated 1.2 million rubles ($17,000) for the program’s further development.
"We have been training children for quite a time, and this year we have received a subsidy - more than one million rubles to buy equipment, water-proof warm outfit for the kids, tents, dishes, instruments. The financing is for five years, but we have already bought everything necessary - we shall use everything carefully, so that to use it also in coming seasons," SivSiv said. "Our task is to teach children and teenagers the hunting skills of Chukotka’s low-numbered indigenous peoples and to preserve continuity of generations. This year, the weather is favorable and five days a week we have practice classes on the ocean coast next to teams of professional hunters."
Hunting sea animals in Chukotka is not for fun, it is a most important component of the indigenous peoples’ life. The animals’ meat and fat are traditional food for the Eskimos and Chukchi - the ancient sea hunters, the region’s official supervising indigenous peoples Valentina Dolganskaya told TASS.
"Professional sea hunters - residents of coastal villages, hunt grey, bowhead, beluga whales, walruses, ringed seal and bearded seal," she said. "Hunting bowhead whale, which is on the Red Data Book, is permitted only for Chukotka’s indigenous peoples and exclusively for personal consumption. All sea animal hunting at the national villages is for food of the indigenous peoples and for their everyday needs and ethnic crafts."
School on the edge of mainland
First pupils, who have joined the sea hunting school in 2020, were 15 children from Uelan and Inchoun villages, including two girls. The girls will make traditional knives for women, pekulya, which the locals use to butcher meat. They have cooked bearded seal and treated the dish to people who live in far-away villages.
"It’s my second year here, and my favorite class is shooting. Evgeny Borisovich (SivSiv) says I am doing well. My uncle is the region’s two-time champion in dog sledding, while I prefer hunting sea animals. I haven’t decided what I shall do later, but I think these skills would be handy. This is how our ancestors lived, and they survived only thanks to the ocean," the school’s student Ilya Poyagirdin, 10 years of age, told TASS.
SivSiv told us, teaching how to hunt whales is not the only objective of this educational project.
"We want our children to remember where they come from. Clearly, nowadays good clothes and footwear are not a problem, but girls should know how to skin, how to make something of this skin - this skill would be very useful. Here, in Chukotka, there are people who make of skin and fur fashionable outfits, and they have orders months to go," he said.
Before late August, the students will make equipment for hunters, will forecast weather, and will watch birds and animals. "We understand, not all of them in future will become professional hunters, but they all, living here, need to know how to survive in the Arctic conditions," the teacher said.
How to remember the origin
The students spend time in the coastal area, they shoot at targets, light fires, learn how to set up a tent, navigate the terrain and survive in extreme conditions, including when meeting a wild animal. They spend much time at workout facilities.
"When the boys were butchering a walrus, the seven year-olds begged to join us. But I understand - for safety reasons we cannot take small children. They should grow up first. The project’s term is five years, and later on, if we manage, we shall continue it. At the season’s end, we shall award the best, will give presents to them, and will expect them back next year. Clearly, young people from far-away villages prefer to move closer to cities, but we want them to keep memories about childhood, and to make sure they will survive on the mainland," SivSiv said.
Chukotka’s authorities have registered 68 NGOs, representing the North’s low-numbered indigenous peoples, where 60 are local communities, and nine of those are in sea animal hunting. Sea animal hunting and breeding deer are the only ethnic sectors in the region’s agriculture, where the indigenous peoples work. About 300 professional sea animal hunters live in the region.