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Indigenous Peoples of Russia

The InternationalDayof the World’s Indigenous Peoples was first established by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1994 to protect and draw awareness to the rights of the world’s indigenous population, and it is now observe every year on August 8.
Indigenous people speak a vast majority of the world’s estimated 7,000 languages and represent over 5,000 different cultures. Still, they are often overlooked.


Unfortunately, it is no different in Russia, where there are over 100 identified ethnic groups: 41 of them are legally recognized as “minor indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia, and the Far East”, 24 are larger ethnic groups that are identified as national identities or titular nations, while the rest are still currently striving to get recognition. The indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East are the only groups that are legally protected as Indigenous peoples, while the titular nations inhabit independent states or autonomous areas within the Russian territory, but do not have specific protection under the law. 


In order to be officially listed among the minor indigenous peoples of Russia, a population has to meet specific requirements, including consisting of less than 50,000 people, inhabiting certain remote areas of the country, maintain a traditional way of life and occupations and identifying as a distinct ethnic group.
The smallest Indigenous groups are the Enets (350 people) and the Oroks (450 people), while the largest are the Nenets and Evenkis, with around 30,000 members each. Of the 41 peoples, ten have fewer than 1,000 members and eleven live beyond the Arctic Circle. At least 16 of these peoples have such small populations that they are considered to be endangered and at least eleven have been already declared extinct. Though Russia’s Indigenous peoples only make up 0.2% of the total population, for a total of 250,000 people, they occupy about 2/3 of Russia’s territory. 


The Indigenous peoples of Russia are so varied and diverse that it would be almost impossible to give an accurate overview of their cultures. However, they do have some characteristics in common: many are nomadic or seminomadic, practice animism, and have lifestyles based on hunting, gathering, fishing, and reindeer herding. The languages of the Indigenous groups of Russia are numerous, but most of them belong to one of three main ethno-linguistic groups: Uralic, Altaic, and Paleo-Siberian. Unfortunately, it is estimated that 18 out of 151 languages spoken in Russia are currently in danger of disappearing, not having more than 20 elder native speakers left. This is happening because ethnic groups are increasingly adopting more dominant languages to ensure economic integration, teaching the children Russian instead of their native indigenous tongue. 


However, over the last few years, authorities have made more effort to recognize the importance of indigenous languages and have created the Fund for Preservation and research of Russia’s Native Languages, which is currently working on new ideas for learning and teaching minor languages. It is fundamental that Russia’s indigenous languages do not disappear, as they are an unreplaceable part of the identity of ethnic groups and help preserve the unique cultural heritage and centuries-old ways of thinking of this extraordinarily varied country.


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