The Nenets, 1913
|44,857 (2010 Census)|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Nenets, Russian, Komi|
|Shamanism, † Eastern Orthodox Christianity|
(Russian Orthodox Church)
|Related ethnic groups|
|Enets, Nganasans, Selkups|
The Nenets (Nenets: ненэй ненэче, nenəj nenəče, Russian: ненцы, nentsy), also known as Samoyed, are a Samoyedic ethnic group native to northern arctic Russia. According to the latest census in 2010, there are 44,857 Nenets in the Russian Federation, most of them living in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug and Nenets Autonomous Okrug. They speak either the Tundra or Forest Nenets languages, which are mutually unintelligible.
The literal morphs samo and yed in Russian convey the meaning "self-eater", which is considered derogatory. Therefore, the name Samoyed quickly went out of usage in the 20th century. The people are known as the Nenets, which means "man".
In old Russian documents the term Samoyed was often applied indiscriminately to different peoples of Northern Russia who speak related Uralic languages: Nenets, Nganasans, Enets, Selkups (speakers of Samoyedic languages). Currently, the term "Samoyedic peoples" applies to the whole group of these different peoples. It is the general term that includes the Nenets, Enets, Selkup, and Nganasan peoples.
The Nenets language is on the Samoyedic branch of the Uralic language family, with two major dialects, Forest Nenets and Tundra Nenets. Between 26,500 and 27,000 people in Siberia speak the language. Ethnologue says that in Siberia, most young people are still fluent in Nenets, whereas in European Russia, they tend to speak Russian. Overall, the majority of native speakers are from older generations. UNESCO classifies Nenets as an endangered language. Some believe that the use of Russian and Komi is due to inter-ethnic marriages.
History and way of life
There are two distinct groups of Nenets sensu stricto, based on their economy: the Tundra Nenets (living far to the north) and the Khandeyar or Forest Nenets. A distinct third group of Nenets (Yaran people) has emerged as a result of intermarriages between Nenets and Izhma Komi people.
They ended up between the Kanin and Taymyr peninsulas, around the Ob and Yenisey rivers, with only a few of them settling into small communities like Kolva. Their main subsistence comes from hunting and reindeer herding. Using reindeer as a draft animal throughout the year enables them to cover great distances. Large-scale reindeer herding emerged in the 18th century. They bred the Samoyed dog to help herd their reindeer and pull their sleds, and European explorers later used these dogs for polar expeditions, because they were well adapted to the arctic conditions. Tundra wolves can cause considerable economic loss, as they prey on the reindeer herds which are the livelihood of some Nenets families. Along with reindeer meat, fish is a major component in the Nenets' diet. Nenets housing is conical yurt (mya).
After the Russian Revolution, their culture suffered due to Soviet collectivisation policy. The government of the Soviet Union tried to force the nomadic Samoyeds to settle down permanently. They were forced to settle in villages and their children were educated in state boarding schools, which resulted in erosion of their cultural identity. Many, especially in the Nenets Autonomous Okrug lost their mother tongue and became assimilated. Since the 1930s, a few Nenets have come to express themselves through professionalized cultural media. For instance, Tyko Vylka and Konstantin Pankov became well-known painters. Anna Nerkagi is one of the most celebrated Nenets writers. Yuri Vella, though living as a reindeer herder, has become the first writer in the Forest Nenets language.
Environmental damage to the Nenets' ancestral land is significant due to industrialisation of their land, colonization and climate change. Because of the expansive gas and oil industry, reindeer pastures are shrinking, and some regions, such as the Yamal Peninsula are overgrazed, further endangering the Nenets way of life. The effects of global warming and climate change on nomadic Nenets reindeer herders have been documented, as certain lands they need to cross to follow migration patterns are only accessible during winter. Earlier spring melts compounded by delayed autumn freeze, affect the ability of reindeer and herders to traverse the frozen tundra. Arkhangelsk-based Leonid Zubov has documented how this restricts Nenets people's access to medical facilities, causing them to wait until the next snow season for medical attention.
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-  (Ukrainian)
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- Aging in the Nenets community
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- BBC Living with Nomads 2/3 Siberia