The Yamal Peninsula in northwestern Siberia is one of the few remaining places on earth where a nomadic people retain a traditional culture. Here in the tundra, the Nenets-one of the few indigenous minorities of the Russian North-follow a lifestyle shaped by the seasonal migrations of the reindeer they herd. For decades under Soviet rule, they weathered harsh policies designed to subjugate them. How the Nenets successfully resisted indoctrination from a powerful totalitarian state and how today they face new challenges to the survival of their culture-these are the subjects of this compelling and lavishly illustrated book.The authors-one the head of a team of Russian ethnographers who have spent many seasons on the peninsula, the other an American attorney specializing in issues affecting the Arctic-introduce the rich culture of the Nenets. They recount how Soviet authorities attempted to restructure the native economy, by organizing herders into collectives and redistributing reindeer and pasture lands, as well as to eradicate the native belief system, by killing shamans and destroying sacred sites. Over the past century, the Nenets have also witnessed the piecemeal destruction of their fragile environment and the forced settlement of part of their population. To understand how this society has survived against all odds, the authors consider the unique strengths of the culture and the characteristics of the outside forces confronting it.Today, the Yamal is known for a new reason: it is the site of one of the world's largest natural gas deposits. The authors discuss the dangers Russian and Western developers present to the Nenets people and recommend policies for land use which will help to preserve this remarkable culture.For information on the documentaries about life-both human and animal-above the Arctic Circle that Andrei V. Golovnev and Gail Osherenko have made, visit www.filmsfromthenorth.com.
Andrei V. Golovonev is Senior Field Anthropologist at the Institute of History and Archeology, Russian Academy of Sciences in Ekaterinburg and an award-winning ethnographic film maker. Gail Osherenko is an Associate of the Institute of Arctic Studies and the Environmental Studies Program at Dartmouth College. She is coeditor, with Oran R. Young, of Polar Politics: Creating International Environmental Regimes, also from Cornell.