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Returning to historical traditions: Taimyr’s youth teach children traditional skills

Activists develop a youth project aimed to revive popular traditional skills and cut the outflow of indigenous people into cities

KRASNOYARSK, February 16. /TASS/. Civil activists on the Taimyr Peninsula develop a youth project to revive popular traditional skills, like reindeer breeding, which are almost lost nowadays. The activists want to cut the outflow of indigenous people into cities. The project’s organizers told TASS how master classes in pitching tents, or ethnic holidays and jumps over sledges may help in keeping the northern people’s traditional living.

Shortage of human resources

Every third person living on the Taimyr Peninsula (about 10,000) belongs to the low-numbered indigenous peoples. Those are the Evenks, Dolgans, Nganasans, Nenets, and Ents, many of them are working in traditional reindeer breeding or other businesses. For example, for the Nganasans, hunting reindeer has been a traditional occupation. The Ngasans are the ancient and currently disappearing nation on Taimyr; it is Eurasia’s northernmost nation.

The modern civilization could not leave unaffected the northern peoples and their way of life. According to the 2010 census, only 747 Nganasans live on the Taimyr Peninsula. Many of them have assimilated in cities, and mostly the old remain in the tundra’s traditional settlements. Not a single Nganasan is involved in reindeer breeding, though in the mid-XIX century they were known as most skillful and wealthy reindeer breeders.

Disappearing traditional occupations are typical for the North’s other peoples. The envoy for the North’s low-numbered indigenous peoples in the Krasnoyarsk Region, Seven Palchik, said in a report, in five years, practically all the reindeer in the region may remain without professional herders. The people, living in 19 settlements, who used to be involved in reindeer breeding, now prefer doing some seasonal work and mostly (with the exception for those, paid from the budget) live on social allowances.

The indigenous youth prefer to leave the tundra to get education and not to return home afterwards, as they do not see their future outside cities. The Taimyr Ngasans Union non-governmental organization decided to offer a training project to teach them traditional occupations. The project has received a grant from the Norilsk Nickel Company.

"Experts say, in order to keep the traditional living and culture of small peoples, at least 35-40% of the indigenous population should be involved in traditional occupations," Norilsk Nickel’s head of charity programs at the Polar branch, Svetlana Rubashkina, told TASS. "Settling of this problem requires professional training, as well as teaching traditional skills in the modern conditions."

Nomadic living

Clearly, the youth demonstrates interest in traditions, in how people live in the tundra, a representative of the Taimyr Ngasans Union and the project’s director, Natalia Nekipelova, told TASS. This is why we decided to begin this project, she said.

The region organizes annual ethnic holidays, dubbed Bolshoi (big) Argish. Argish means "nomads camp." This notion means not only the occupation, but the philosophy of living in the tundra - the traditions, festivals, unwritten laws and rituals. This is what we want to teach the Taimyr youth - the traditions, rituals and necessary skills.

"We see the indigenous children ask more and more questions at the annual holiday," she said. "We want to use this to solve the problem of children’s returning home after they receive education… so that they could be involved in traditional occupations."

Closer to the roots

The project’s participants will learn skills of living in the tundra, in the form of games teachers will tell children about the tents, in which people in the North live, later on, the children will learn how to tents the tents, how to cut wood, hunt partridges, harness reindeer. Besides, the children will learn how to pack food sacks, to find a good place to stay overnight, how to place belongings onto sledges. The kids will compete in jumping over sledges and in belt weaving.

"For a series of master classes, we shall invite a well-known carpenter - a designer and artist Evgeny Porotov, educated in pedagogics and special arts," she continued.

The project’s organizers say addressing the roots will raise the Northern people’s self-identification, will improve attitudes towards their cultures. The young people will receive skills, necessary for living in the tundra and will overcome the fears of returning to nomads camps.