The Dolgan identity began to emerge during the 19th and early 20th centuries, under the influence of three groups who migrated to the Krasnoyarsk area from the Lena River and Olenyok River region: Evenks, Yakuts, Enets, and so-called Tundra peasants (Зату́ндренные крестья́не Zatúndrennye krest’jáne, literally "tundranized peasants").
Originally, the Dolgans were nomadic hunters and reindeer herders. However, they were prevented from following a nomadic lifestyle during the Soviet era and required to form kolkhozy (rural collectives) that – in addition to their traditional activities – engaged in reindeer breeding, fishing, dairy farming and market gardening. In 1983, the anthropologist Shirin Akiner claimed: "Dolgans enjoy full Soviet citizenship. They are found in all occupations, though the majority are peasants and collective farm workers. Their standard of housing is comparable to that of other national groups in the Soviet Union."