Yamal's Contested Terrain: A Brief Introduction


Norman Chance

In northwest Siberia, oil and gas development has expanded dramatically over the past several decades. Stretching from the Ural Mountains in the west to Novosibirsk in the south, this region produces 78 percent of the Russia's oil and 84 percent of its natural gas; and it is expected to increase its petro-chemical industry significantly within the next decade.

The area is also inhabitated by seven indigenous Native populations as well as a much larger number of immigrant workers. The Yamal-Nenets and Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Regions, situated within the Tyumen Oblast [province], represent the center of this development, producing many billions of cubic meters of gas and millions of tons of oil annually. However, the ecological and social costs have also been tremendous as existing oil, gas, and other forms of industrial production pollute the surrounding air, water, and land to an almost unimaginable extent.

One rapidly developing area is the Nenets Autonomous Okrug [district], including Yamal Peninsula, a large parcel of land jutting out into the Kara Sea above the Arctic Circle. Today, the total population of the okrug is approximately one half million of which the indigenous Nenets and Khanty represent a little over thirty thousand. Yamal Peninsula's physical structure is unique with permafrost over 300 meters deep in some areas. Lakes and rivers are rich with fish, and on the tundra reside over 210,000 reindeer, the majority of them under the control of several state farms. The peninsula is also the location of Russia's largest known untapped gas reserves.

The earliest sedentary peoples of Yamal hunted caribou on the tundra, harpooned seals, walruses and beluga on the waters and ice of the Kara Sea, and caught white fish in hundreds of tundra rivers and lakes. About a 1000 years ago, the Nenets moved into the area. Eventually assimilating the earlier inhabitants, they followed a nomadic lifestyle based on reindeer breeding, as did a number of Khanty who also settled in the same general locality.

Arctic reindeer pastoralists, the Yamal Nenets and Khanty traveled great distances up and down the peninsula, moving from northern tundra pastures in summer to the more protected sub-Arctic taiga in winter. By 1900, a few families had amassed thousands of reindeer, but most herds were much smaller, ranging from several dozen to several hundred.

The culture and technology of the Nenets and Khanty were well adapted to the nomad pastoralist lifestyle of this arctic environment. Traditional social institutions based on clan membership allowed them to share animals and food, unite and divide herds, and use all nearby resources. Religion and other cultural beliefs stressed respect for the land and its resources. Sacred sites, found in key locations, were considered very holy; as were 'stick god' representations. Made of wood, they were brought by the Nenets from the winter shelter of the tiaga to the treeless pastures of the north in summer.

Beginning in the early 1930s, Yamal and other regions of the Russian north underwent a dramatic series of changes. Following Stalin's vision of socialist development, the Soviet government forced Nenets and Khanty reindeer breeders on to newly established collective farms (kolkhozy) while prosecuting the rich kulak owners. Boarding schools were also established, first for children of nomadic families, and later for those of settled villagers as well. Turning children over to state-run schools eventually led to serious adjustment problems for young people who, after ten or more years of Soviet education, retained little knowledge of their parent's subsistence economy, family life, and native language.

Three decades later, the collective farms were transformed again into state-owned "soviet farms."(sovkhozy). Deprived of their lands, subsistence rights, and reindeer, most Nenets of Yamal became hired workers in reindeer breeding state enterprises, although about 1750 indigenous residents, comprising 343 households, still have small private herds, living on the tundra and more southern tiaga largely separate from the collective economic system.

It should be noted, however, that prior to the discovery of huge gas deposits in Yamal, the region's economy had once again become stabilized. This included the establishment of sustainable fishing and hunting enterprises along with the reindeer breeding industry. Severe problems of tuberculosis among the young were also largely brought under control. And while boarding schools brought adjustment difficulties for parents as well as children, the latter did have the opportunity to continue their education beyond the primary level. Special incentives including financial support enabled indigenous students with demonstrated academic abilities to enter higher level educational institutes and universities as well.

A major problem facing the people and the government is how to assure a sustainable future forYamal's Nenets and Khanty peoples - culturally as well as environmentally. At present, the Yamal native people's association, Yamal Potomkan [Yamal for Future Generations], has limited experience and no legal base. The legislative status of the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug is also unclear, thereby further hindering legal improvements for Yamal's indigenous people. In such circumstances, questions about gas development can be addressed with little if any serious negotiations - or a few urban-based native elites, strongly influenced by regional bureaucrats and powerful industrial managers, could sign documents that fail to solve the problems of land, resources, and compensation in an equitable manner.

In the early 1980s, Bovanenkovo and several other major gas fields were discovered in the west-central sector of Yamal Peninsula making the region a prime target for future development. Given their immense potential, large numbers of non-native workers were soon drawn to newly constructed towns by offers of high wages and improved housing associated with the expanding petroleum industry. At this same time, a law was passed replacing national minority okrugs with autonomous ones, removing in the process all reference to native peoples. Election to these new administrative bodies was by equal suffrage, which meant that the indigenous population, by now a small minority, were excluded from any meaningful participation in the political decision-making process. As a result, when construction began on a railroad in southern Yamal that eventually destroyed 594,000 hectares of pasture and more than 24,000 reindeer, local indigenous leaders were unable to mount effective resistance.

While giving little attention to the needs of the Nenets, Khanty, and other indigenous peoples, the Yamal-Nenets Okrug administration did demand from regional and central government authorities compensation for the steadily expanding land utilized by the oil and gas ministries for railroad and pipeline construction. Their appeals, however, met with little success.

By 1987, without an environmental impact assessment, and largely bypassing the demands of the local administration and indigenous population, preliminary construction began in the Bovanenkovo gas field. Work was also begun on building a railroad and adjacent series of pipelines that would travel down the center of the peninsula and then west, across the Kara Sea basin at Baidaratskaya Bay, eventually reaching the industrial centers of eastern and western Europe. Recognizing that these efforts would seriously disrupt the Nenets and Khanty subsistence-based economy, the regional and Moscow-based gas ministries acknowledged that some compensation should be given to local native residents - although no specific amount was ever decided upon.

Two years later, after assessing the extremely high costs of the project, all activities aimed at the immediate "all-out-development" of Yamal were temporarily suspended. Other factors influencing this decision included opposition by the newly formed State Committee for Environmental Protection, along with protests by local administrative bodies, indigenous peoples, and various environmental organizations. These protests had been initiated when it became obvious that development of this new region - the last resource reserve of the Tyumen North - would be affected by the same ecologically destructive industrial methods as had been practiced in the nearby Urengoy, Zapolarny, and Medvezhy fields of the Pur-Tazov district.

Just to the south of Yamal in the Khanty-Mansi autonomous region, an earlier petroleum development had had a similar devastating impact on the Nenets and Khanty people living in that area. In some localities, as much as a third of summer pasture had been taken over by oil ministries for construction purposes, forcing greater overgrazing on the remaining tundra. Those engaged in commercial fishing on the Ob River basin had seen their waters seriously contaminated by pollutants flowing north from southern industrial centers. Funds designated by Moscow state planning agencies for improved housing, education, health services, and vocational retraining of the rural indigenous populous, were regularly siphoned off by local and regional administrations and then reallocated to larger towns and cities to be used for construction of administrative buildings, recreational centers, and the like. Special laws and decrees designed to protect the interest of the Nenets and Khany were also disregarded.

With the breakup the Soviet Union in 1991, and Russia facing an extremely difficult economic transition to a more capitalist-oriented economy, Yamal's role as a major national resource again received major attention. Unfortunately, a combination of factors including continuing problems of financing, outmoded technology, complex hydrologic and permafrost conditions, a difficult working environment, and the central government's demand for rapid construction, may well bring about a serious deterioration in the environment and equally significant economic and social problems for its indigenous peoples - a very high price to pay for a short-term economic effect.

In 1988, responding to earlier threats to their subsistence economy and cultural survival, the Nenets formed Yamal Potomkan ("Yamal for Future Generations"), an indigenous organization designed to work with legal and executive bodies in the region to improve their economic and social conditions as well as strengthen their political autonomy. However, with little experience and no recognized legal base, its political power is severely limited. The 1993 disbanding of the local Yamal-Nenets legislative council further hindered its political development. Now, other administrators are responsible for making major decisions over land and resource use. In most instances, these administrators, together with their higher level ministerial counterparts in Moscow, are committed to initiating full scale gas extraction in Yamal Peninsula at the earliest possible moment.

A new scientific feasibility study offering precise recommendations for sound environmental protection as well as addressing the interests of the region's Native people has been submitted to the government for consideration. Proposed recommendations include the utilization of special methods of construction in biologically sensitive localities; the building of houses, schools; and hospitals in Native settlements; the offering of increased social services; and the establishment of special protection areas enabling the indigneous population to continue reindeer herding and similar forms of traditional subsistence.

The region's gas ministry [Nadymgazprom], has also encouraged local residents to become direct participants in its economic development by obtaining shares in the nearby industrial enterprises. Whether this effort will turn potential adversaries into active supporters, remains to be seen. Certainly shares held by indigenous residents will be far too small in number to influence government policies in any meaningful way.

The most serious problem is where to find the funds to put these recommendations into effect. Even if they might be so inclined, the newly elected deputies of the State Duma are unable to exert much influence. Nor does the economic crisis in Russia appear to be subsiding. Under the circumstances, it is quite likely that Yamal's future gas production will be undertaken with minimal attention focused on the rights and needs of its indigenous population; or a few urban indigenous elites, strongly influenced by regional bureaucrats and powerful industrial managers, will sign documents that fail to solve the problems of the land, resources, and compensation in an equitable manner. If this turns out to be the case, Nenets and Khanty will continue to live under conditions of increasing turmoil and social depravation, while the natural resources from their land provide new wealth to those holding the reins of power.

Needless to say, future conflicts are not limited to the Nenets and Khanty. Competition over who should benefit from the land's oil and gas wealth has also resulted in a sharply escalating struggle between local and regional political bodies. In September and October of 1996, the Yamal-Nenets and Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug Dumas voted to ignore a presidential decree ordering them to hold elections for the regional Tyumen Oblast governnor simultaneously with their own elections. [The rest of Tyumen only has a small amount of oil and gas.]

By such action, the two areas, wishing to gain greater economic control over their local resources, effectively withdrew from the Tyumen Oblast, declaring themselves independent in the process. The electoral conflict was only resolved following negotiations between leaders of the two Dumas and Moscow's First Deputy Presidential Chief of Staff, Aleksandr Karakov. What are the long term prospects for the Nenets, Khanty, local and regional administrations in this region? Together, it constitutes the richest segment within all of Russia. If the okrugs were to split off from Tyumen, it would serve as an important precedent for renegotiating other internal Russian borders - including the possible division of Chechnya. Under the circumstances, considerable attention will be given to this continuing conflict in the months and years ahead.




The following originally appeared in volume 32(2), pp. 61-74 of Arctic Anthropology (1995). This article is based primarily on data collected by the authors in 1993 for a feasibility study of natural gas production and for a document assessing the environmental and social impacts of development of gas production on the Yamal Peninsula. The article provides data on the settling, structure, and dynamics of the Yamal population (both aboriginal and newcomers) and analyzes the current demographic situation on the Yamal Peninsula. In addition, issues related to the health status of both the native population and newcomers are considered, and a prognosis of a likely negative impact of industrial development of the Yamal Peninsula on the indigenous inhabitants of the Arctic - the Yamal Nenets and Khanty peoples - is given.

As early as the beginning of the 1980s there were rumblings of the unavoidable problems that would result from oil and gas development on the Yamal Peninsula (Pika 1982; Kharamzin 1983). By the end of the decade (1988-1990), the crisis in Yamal attracted attention in the former USSR and was examined in earnest - first by the State Expert Commission (SEC) of the USSR State Planning Commission (GOSPLAN) and later by the USSR State Committee on Conservation of Natural Environment (USSR GOSCOMPRIRODA).

The authors of this article participated in both of those studies as experts on problems faced by Yamal's indigeous population. Quite a number of scientific and general public-oriented publications, primarily in defense of the Yamal Peninsula and its native population, appeared. One of the most important of these for providing a better understanding of probms of the Yamal indigenous population is the article by B. Prokhorov (1988), "How to Save Yamal," published in the magazine Znaniye-sila. It was later translated into both English and Spanish and published by the International Working Group on Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) in its Newsletter (Prokhorov 1989). Social and demographic problems of the Yamal indigenous population were also considered in our report at an international conference on Environmental Measures Apt for Oil and Gas Development in Arctic Regions which took place in Nadym, mainly with the participation of representatives of a major U.S. oil company, AMOCO, in January, 1991. This report was published the following year as Pika (1992).

To our knowledge, the first Western publication to reveal the problems caused by oil and gas development of the Yamal Peninsula was the Wall Street Journal, which printed a short article in 1988 by correspondent Peter Gumbel under the headline "Save the Reindeer." It did not require much of a stretch of the imagination to conclude from that report that in order to save the reindeer one would also have to save the reindeer breeders (Gumbel 1988). To date, the most thorough analysis of the situation on the Yamal Peninsula and surrounding region has been made by British anthropologist P. Vitebsky and published in the journal Polar Record (Vitebsky 1990). The majority of reports and articles covering issues related to oil and gas development of Yamal have generally discussed the expediency, optimal variants, and technical issues related to building and siting major transport communications (a railway and gas pipelines) in remote regions or the possible negative impact of extractive industries on Yamal's environment and economy, especially on the traditional subsistence economy of the indigenous inhabitants, the Nenets and Khanty.

Problems of demography and health of Yamal's indigenous population have been considered to a lesser extent. They are, however, among the key aspects of survival of these unique ethnic groups under the unfavorable conditions of intensive industrial development. The problems of demography and health of the Yamal indigenous population cannot be isolated from other problems. It is this interaction that we will consider in the present work. Specifically we will address the prospects for the survival of nomadic way of life, improvements to the social and consumer infrastructure and housing in tundra villages, and the preservation of biological resources. We will also consider the continuing use of the natural environment and traditional subsistence foods by indigenous peoples, improvement to healthcare delivery, and the acculturation and assimilation of the Nenets and Khanty in a new demographic situation which makes them an ethnic minority in their own territory.

The Population in the Yamal District

The Yamal Peninsula, located in the extreme north of western Siberia, lies completely above the Arctic Circle in a zone of tundra and wooded tundra. The total land mass of Yamal is in excess of 122,000 square kilometers. The population of the Yamal district of the Yamalo-Nenetsky Autonomous Okrug of the Tyumen Province (oblast) can be subdivided by its ethnocultural, social, and economic characteristics into three main groups: (1) the indigenous or aboriginal, small peoples the Nenets and Khanty as well as individual representatives of other Northern peoples including the Selkup, Mansi, and others; (2) non-indigenous, mostly Russian-speakers (newcomers) many of whom were born in the region as well as the new permanent residents living in the population centers; and (3) temporary, non-permanent residents such as duty-shift workers. As of January 1, 1990 the population of the Yamal district totaled 15,592, including 7701 (49.4%) Nenets, 319 (2%) Khanty, 11 Mansi, and 6 Selkup; 4670 (30%) Russians; and 2885 (18.5%) other peoples originally from the various regions of the former USSR (Department of Statistics, the Yamalo-Nenetsky Autonomous Okrug).

The indigenous population of the Yamal region is not homogeneous, but can be subdivided into two groups: nomadic and settled. Nomadic reindeer herders of Yamal (about 900 households numbering up to 4500 people) constitute, along with nomads of the Gydansky Peninsula, one of the largest fragments of the once enormous circumpolar Eurasian nomadic world that extended from Scandinavia to Chukotka. Among the settled population the indigenous inhabitants of Yamal remain a minority amidst mostly Russian-speaking newcomers of various nationalities. The language of the Nenets belongs to the Samoyedic branch of the Ural-Altaic language family while that of the Khanty belongs to its Ugrian branch. Archaeological and ethnohistoric data indicate that the ancestors of the Khanty inhabited the West Siberian taiga and wooded tundra three to four thousand years ago. The newcomers of an earlier period (approximately ninth and tenth centuries A.D.), the Nenets, introduced reindeer breeding into the region (Chernetsov et al. 1953; Vasiljev 1979). Russian settlement of the tundra zone south of the Yamal Peninsula began in the seventeenth century, but the actual settling of a multinational, Russian-speaking population on the Yamal Peninsula proper did not occur until the 1930s. This influx of newcomers, however, became intensive only in the 1970s and 1980s, when large-scale geological surveys and oil and gas development were initiated in the West Siberian region.

Population Distribution in the Yamal District

The Yamal district (raion) is divided administratively into six village councils (formerly soviets) with 14 rural population centers. The largest villages are the regional center Yarsale and the workers' settlement of Mys Kamenny, servicing local transport lines and freight traffic for gas prospecting surveys. There are also the small trading posts: Marre-sale, Pors-yaha, and Ust-Yuribei. As shown in Table 1, the permanent Russian and Russian-speaking population is primarily concentrated in Mys Kamenny and Yarsale, but there are also many newcomers in the centers of village councils which are the sites of the main farmsteads of reindeer breeding sovkhozes, state-owned fish processing plants, and other agricultural enterprises. The Nenets are scattered throughout Yamal, while the Khanty reside mainly in the Panayevsky village council in the southern part of the region. The majority of Khanty in this area are reindeer herders leading a nomadic way of life, as do the Nenets. Within the Salemalsky village council, the majority of the Khanty are settled fishermen and hunters.

Official population figures for the on-farm population of individual villages of the Yamal district are misleading in that they include not only individuals actually resident there, but also nomads whose residence permits are registered for those villages but who in reality do not reside there, and as a rule have no dwellings in those villages. On January 1, 1992 the nomadic population of the Yamal district was 4423 or 51.7% of the total number of the indigenous population. The majority of nomads have their residence permits registered in the centers of reindeer breeding sovkhozes - the villages of Yarsale, Panayevsk, Se-yakha, and the settlements of these village councils.

There are also two large villages in the territory of the Yamal district - Harasaway and Sabetta (or Sabetta-yaha). A considerable proportion of population of these villages are duty-shift workers whose official residence permits are registered outside the Tyumen region in Russia or in other C.I.S. Republics. These workers remain in Yamal only for the period of their work shifts, and thus are not taken into account either among those why reside temporarily or among permanent residents (though many of them have worked like this for years). The constant number of such people, allegedly nonexistent on the Yamal Peninsula, can be estimated at a few thousand.

Demographic Structure of the Yamal Population

Structurally, the Yamal population - indigenous and newcomers - is an aggregate of two groups greatly dissimilar in all their characteristics. The age and sex pyramid of the non-indigenous population has an anomalous shape. Such a configuration is the consequence of out-migration of major segments of the newcomer population. Both the elderly and teenagers (15-19 years old) are poorly represented among the newcomers because of this out-migration.

The elderly, once retired, head for the southern regions with milder climates, while the young leave in order to continue their educations, learn professions, or do their national service. The majority of new migrants to Yamal are aged 20-35. As a consequence, the 25-34 age group of able-bodied population is particularly notable for its numbers . Although the birthrate among them is not high, the numerical strength of this age group also explains the relatively wide base (children) of the pyramid. Among the newcomers, there are also more men than women.

The age and sex pyramid of the indigenous population Fig. 3 testifies to the normal age and sex distribution of the settled and nomadic native population as a whole. The wide foundation is evidence of a high birthrate, while the low pointed top reflects a small proportion of elderly as a result of high mortality rates. The smaller number of males than females is due to higher mortality among the former. The age and sex structure of the nomadic population has its own peculiarities. It is notable for a higher proportion of preschool aged children and a lower proportion of older children and adolescents since, during the period of their studies, they live at boarding schools in villages and visit their parents in summer only.

As a whole, it is possible to state that the age and sex distribution of the newcomer population is largely the result of migratory processes, while that of the indigenous population is almost exclusively influenced by natural movement. It should be noted, however, that the population has a high potential for growth. There are also considerable differences between the marital and family structures of newcomer and indigenous populations.

The average household size among the newcoming residents of Yamal is not large - less than three persons. There are many single persons, mainly unmarried males of working age. Household size and marital structure among the indigenous population differs both within the group and from that of the newcomers. Both the nomads and settled natives have larger households than those of the newcomers - about five persons on the average.

Nomads are distinguished by particularly large households. The average size of a nomadic household is about six persons compared with 4.5 persons among villagers. The large size of nomadic households is due both to a high birthrate and to the prevalence of complex multigenerational families in which a marital pair with children continues to roam with parents and other relatives. Because housekeeping is impossible in the tundra without a spouse, there are practically no households composed of incomplete families or single individuals among the nomadic population.

There are virtually no ethnically mixed families either. (By this we mean mixed with non-indigenous people, since Nenets/Khanty marriages are common.) From the surveys of the mid-1980s we know of only one such family, headed by a Russian man who has adopted the life-style of a genuine tundra reindeer herder. About 10% of Yamal's settled indigenous population are part of ethnically mixed families. Among villagers there are also many incomplete families, primarily mothers with children as a consequence of out-of-wedlock births, but also resulting from break-ups of ethnically mixed families (a husband/lover from among the newcomers returning to the mainland) or widowhood. Females of all ages represent the largest share of single natives in the villages; however, there are single males as well. On the whole, the family and marital structure of the village population has been disrupted to a great extent, and is less favorable for reproduction of population than that of the nomads.

Demographic Processes in the Yamal District

Beginning in the 1930s, the population of the Yamal district has been constantly on the rise. The growth of the population was especially rapid in the 1970s and 1980s - the period of intensive activities focused on prospecting and industrial development of the Yamal gas fields. (see table 2)

Data from the most recent population census (1989) indicate that the majority of people permanently residing in Yamal continue to be the Nenets and Khanty, but in fact there are many more newcomers who live and work in the Yamal district than is shown by the statistics. We refer to the temporary workers living in Kharasaway and Sabetta villages mentioned above as well as various geological survey teams and other prospecting expeditions, transportation services with temporarily employed personnel, and all sorts of unregistered migrants.

As stated earlier, the increase in the nonindigenous population of Yamal is basically due to employment related migration, while that of the indigenous population is almost exclusively the result of natural increase. Our calculations are based on official data of state statistics, but as it was discovered during our initial field observations, there was a certain failure to take adequate account of deaths and births. This applies especially to the nomads. Several dozens of children born in previous years are registered annually with birth dates missing. Such newborn children fail to be statistically registered. Deaths, especially among children, are obviously undercounted as well. We tried, therefore, along with official information, wherever possible, to give our own estimates. The rates of growth of indigenous and newcoming population differ considerably.

The greatest rate of growth of newcoming population (we should reiterate that it resulted from migration only) was recorded in the 1970s and the first half of the 1980s. In the 1976-1986 interval, 800 to 1300 persons came to the Yamal district and 300 to 900 left the region annually. From 1987 to the present, more people left the territory than came to stay. This is due-to economic and social problems of industrial development of Yamal, uncertain prospects for development of the territory, industrial enterprises and its social infrastructure, and the general crisis in the nation.

Demographic processes among the newcomer population of Yamal are characterized by both a low and decreasing birthrate and a heightened deathrate compared with that of the entire Tyumen region as well as the country as a whole. The former may be explained in part by the decisions of many families to postpone childbearing until better times, such as their return to central and southern regions of Russia and Siberia. Marriage and divorce rates of this non-indigenous population are also high as a consequence of its peculiar age and sex structure.

Among the indigenous peoples, a sharp decline in the rate of population growth was recorded during the 1970s. This decade coincided with the period of greatest growth of the newcomer population. This dynamic is also illustrated by overall rates of births and deaths for Yamal. During this period, a slowdown not only in growth rates, but also an actual decline in the populations of some Northern peoples was registered by the All-Union Population Census of 1979.

It was due in large part to an extremely high death rate among the peoples of the North with a particularly high number of violent deaths (accidents, murders, suicides). This can be traced to both social disorganization and alcoholism (Pika and Bogoyavlensky 1991). The average life expectancy among Northern peoples in the Tyumen region was 49 years (43 for males and 54 for females) in 1978-1979, or 20 years less than analogous estimates for the entire population of the region. During the same period, marriage and birthrates among the indigenous population also declined. The latter is, in part, due to the introduction of family planning in the form of abortion and contraception (Pika and Bogoyavlensky 1988).

A certain drop in the number of births among the nomads of Yamal was due to structural changes - he reduced number of the generation of women of child-bearing age. All of this, along with the high death rate, caused a sharp decrease in the natural growth. The demographic situation among the indigenous peoples of the Tyumen Region, and in Yamal in particular, started to change at the end of the 1970s. Birthrates began to increase, and slightly later, the death rates began to fall.

An especially sharp increase in birthrates was recorded in the early and mid-1980s. This was due to both structural changes as large generations born in the 1960s entered their childbearing years, and to measures of the demographic policy and assistance to families with children taken by the government of the USSR in the early 1980s. This had a special impact on the birthrates among the Northern Peoples. The natural growth of indigenous population of Yamal increased dramatically just as well.

In 1985-1987, tough measures were introduced in the USSR to curb sales of alcoholic drinks, and a state sponsored anti-alcohol propaganda campaign was launched. The anti-alcohol policy was carried out mainly by bureaucratic and administrative means, the curtailing of retail sales of alcohol as its major instrument. In some regions of the North, the sales of alcoholic beverages were banned outright. This led to a sharp decrease in the number of deaths, especially poisoning and trauma related deaths (18th class of diseases and causes of death according to the International Statistical Classification of Diseases, Trauma and Causes of Death, 8th Revision, 1965).

This was the number one cause of premature mortality in Tyumen Province and constituted more than half of all deaths among the indigenous population. With the decrease of mortality, the average life expectancy also increased. It was almost 60 years for the indigenous population in 1988-1989, but the gap between the indicators for the indigenous and the entire population of the Tyumen region remains large - approximately 10 years.

Infant mortality among the Nenets and Khanty of Yamal has continued to fall, but is still far greater than among the non-indigenous population of the region, or the population of the whole Tyumen region as well as that of Russia. (One should bear in mind that the official estimates of infant mortality in the Yamal district are somewhat lower than their actual levels as noted above.)

We predict that a drop in births should be expected for the 1990s, as the numerically small generation born during the population crisis of the 1970s enters reproductive age. A further increase in the use of family planning measures should also be expected. The decline of mortality rates recorded after 1985 has already flattened out and the deathrate is very likely to increase again due to the growth in consumption of alcohol and alcohol substitutes (which the Nenets and Khanty discovered during the Prohibition period of 1985-1987). The current economic depression and deterioration of ecological, social, and everyday life conditions will also have a deleterious effect on the health of the Yamal population. The nomadic population of Yamal is facing its own social and demographic problems. The nomadic reindeer breeding and hunting population makes up the basis of the demographic and ethnocultural viability of the indigenous population of Yamal.

The social division between villagers and nomads in the North is rather flexible. It is changing constantly under the influence of various circumstances, including, for example, USSR government measures to settle the nomadic population into villages. A reverse phenomenon is less common, as some villagers returned to the tundra. These latter individuals were primarily those nomads who settled briefly, but failed to find jobs in the villages, or those who became reindeer owners as a result of some special circumstances such as inheritance. Increases in the nomadic population of Yamal are mainly due to natural growth. It remains uncertain which group of the indigenous population - settled or nomadic - has a higher deathrate. Although it is obvious that infant mortality is higher in the tundra, regional doctors usually speak about a better health status and physical development among the nomads as well as fewer traumas and violent deaths among them.

As became evident during our field investigations in various regions of the North, including Yamal, deaths caused by accidents, poisoning, and traumas among nomads are far more frequent during their short stays at villages (Pika, Bogoyavlensky, and Terentjeva 1991). Although the deathrate among the nomads remains great, it is precisely among these nomadic families where the birthrate is the highest. This helps the Nenets and Khanty of Yamal not only maintain their numbers in the face of such a high deathrate, but even to increase their population.

Such an extensive and strained process of reproduction of population offers various economic, social, and psychological challenges to the indigenous people of Yamal. The demographic situation of the indigenous population of Yamal can be described as potentially unstable, despite seemingly favorable indices of population growth. One already tangible problem facing the nomadic population, which is sure to become more acute under the conditions of industrial development, is that of the population's high growth rate juxtaposed with a shrinking basis for tradi tional economic pursuits and occupations.

Do the herdsmen themselves wish to roam or not, and how do they themselves assess the conditions of their life? In 1991, the State Statistics Committee of Russia conducted a survey of public opinion among minority peoples of the North regarding some aspects of their lives. More than 2% of the indigenous population in various regions of the North were questioned, including those in the Yamalo-Nenetsky Okrug (ethnic district). Despite the fact that the opinions of those questioned do not fully reflect the opinions of all the indigenous peoples of the area, and may overrepresent the opinions of villagers, we tried to emphasize those questions which exposed the greatest difference in opinions throughout the whole array of interviewed indigenous Northerners.

Differences in attitudes towards the way of life in the traditionally reindeer herding regions of the West Siberian North are quite evident as compared with other Northern regions of Russia. Almost half of the questioned in the Yamal-Nenets area (49.7%) believed nomadism as a daily way of life to be possible and only 2% felt no necessity in nomadism. At the same time analogous answers in the other Northern regions of Russia made up 27.5 and 6.9% respectively. Due to a lesser degradation of traditional economies in Yamal as compared with other regions of the North, a considerable proportion of Yamal families produce enough meat (30.4% compared with 18% in all other regions, exceeded among the indigenous people of the Taimyr Okrug, 33.8%) and fish (44.4% compared with 34.3% in other Northern regions, except the Koryak Autonomous Okrug in Kamchatka which is rich in salmon, 78.4%) for themselves.

The intensification of industrial development of Yamal obviously does not correspond to the socioeconomic needs of indigenous people interested in maintaining nomadic reindeer herding and would, in particular, diminish their abilities to provide themselves with subsistence food. The provision of house amenities in the okrug was much worse on the average than for all the peoples of the North. Only 66.6% of the houses occupied by those interviewed had electricity (88.8% in the entire region), 14.7% have water supply (21.3% in the region), 1.5% are supplied with a sewage system (16.2%),23.5% have central heating (34.5%) and hot water supply is provided to 3.6% (10.9%).

The state of international relations within the territory is appraised by the residents of the Yamal-Nenets area somewhat less favorably compared with the average appraisal in the Russian North: despite the fact that more than one-third (35.8% compared with an average of 31.8% of the entire survey) of the respondents considered these relations to be friendly and only 8.8% reported that they are tense (compared with 5.0%). On the whole, as illustrated by the survey, a major section of the indigenous population, both by word of mouth and by their economic behavior, was in favor of developing nomadic reindeer herding based on private ownership of reindeer.

In the few years since relative freedom to operate a private business has been permitted in Russia, nomads of Yamal have increased sharply the number of reindeer in private ownership. At the same time there has been practically no change in the number of sovkhoz reindeer. The number of nomads and their economic units have also increased. Taking into account the following factors:

(1) the obvious inclination among the Nenets and Khanty of Yamal toward private ownership of reindeer and nomadism;

(2) the projected favorable social and economic situation resulting from disposal of sovkhoz property (privatization);

(3) the allotment of patrimonial grazing and hunting lands back to the indigenous people of Yamal;

(4) the reduction of wage-paying jobs recently started in management and village services-oriented infrastructure; and

(5) deterioration of store-bought food provision and supplies, then a tangible number of Nenets and Khanty would be likely to return to traditional economic strategies. Consequently, a further growth of nomadic population in the forthcoming years should be expected.

Plans for industrial development of the Yamal Peninsula may, however, change this appraisal of the situation and alter the above forecast in the opposite direction. Rapid, large-scale, and poorly planned industrial development, insufficiently considered from the social point of view and ignoring the interests of the nomadic population of reindeer herders in Yamal, may virtually lead to a crisis of reindeer breeding, the destruction of a nomadic way of life and subsequently to the degradation of the entire ethnic group.

Villages are not prepared to accept reindeer herders. A worsening of the state of the Yamal reindeer breeding, a reduction in the number of nomads, their settlement in poorly equipped villages devoid of jobs and housing may, in fact, create multiple social problems. Even now, the suicide rate among the indigenous population of the Tyumen region exceeds three to four times the corresponding indicator for the non-indigenous population. (For 1988-1989 the number of suicides among the indigenous population of the Tyumen region was 86 and the number of murders was 22 per 100,000 compared to the mean Russian indicators of 21 and 7 respectively.) Therefore, the special economic, demographic, and ethno-cultural situation of the indigenous population and of the nomads in particular should be fully taken into account in the development and operation of the Bovanenkovsky and Kharasaveysky gas fields. Special programs of infrastructure development and improvement of living conditions in tundra villages and for the nomads, with mandatory and rightful participation of and priority selection by the people themselves should become an integral part of the industrial development.

Medical Care and Health Problems Among the Indigenous Population of Yamal

Within Yamal, there are five medical establishments with 240 ward beds (reported at the beginning of 1989). This includes the district general hospital at Yarsale as well as hospitals in the villages of Mys Kamenny, Novy Port, Panayevsk, and Salemal. They employ 44 physicians and 189 midlevel medical personnel. The mid-level medical staffing (121 persons) and the availability of hospital beds (154 beds) per 10,000 of population equals or exceeds those for Russia as a whole and exceeds those for Tyumen Province. The ratio of doctors (28 per 10,000 people) is, however, notably lower than in the region and the nation.

On the whole, the quantitative level of health care in the North of Western Siberia is not too low, though not overabundant. Despite that, the efficiency of medical services provided to the indigenous population and that population's health status are much lower than those of the newcomers residing in the same territory (Sedov 1988; Rugin n.d.). This could be confirmed by comparison of rates of mortality and average life expectancy among the indigenous and non-indigenous populations of the Tyumen Province. (Data are not available to calculate the life tables at the district level and such calculations themselves would be incorrect due to very few aggregates at hand.) The average life expectancy among the indigenous population is almost nine years shorter and the standardized index of mortality is 1.8 times higher than that of the non-indigenous population. Apart from demographic health indicators, we can judge specific problems of the indigenous population's medical care and health by comparing such indicators as morbidity, susceptibility to disease, hospitalization and mortality for the indigenous population and newcomers.

Morbidity indicators are none other than patients initially applying for medical treatment. The number of sick calls among indigenous people is naturally low since many of them live on the tundra or in remote villages where there are few or no physicians. Sickliness (susceptibility to disease) |indicators are also based upon sick calls, but in this case due to previously revealed diseases. The r ate of repeated sick calls among the indigenous population is higher than that of initial ones, as they see doctors more often than newcomers. Accordingly, relative indicators of hospitalized morbidity and mortality due to disease are higher among the indigenous population of Yamal.

The above information points to the fact that measures dealing with the early diagnosis of disease, particularly tuberculosis (annual compulsory mass roentgenofluorography and prophylactic medical examination), among the indigenous population are not effective enough, and that public health services as a whole are not oriented toward disease prevention. Physicians meet with and begin providing health care to sick Nenets and Khanty at later, more complicated stages of disease. The medical treatment of chronic patients and those with advanced forms of complicated infectious diseases (such as tuberculosis) is inhibited by material, organizational, and sociocultural problems (hard drinking in TB dispensaries, for instance).

As a consequence, patients are treated less efficiently and their treatment fails more often than otherwise. The intensive industrial development and the high rate of growth in the numbers of temporary residents from outside the region may lead to a situation where the district's health care system, hardly effective as far as the indigenous population is concerned, would pay even less attention to the natives. Since medical institutions are located in large settlements with higher proportions of non-indigenous population, the entire system of medical care is oriented to the average Russian person. A massive influx of gas-field workers would simply overflow medical establishments whose capacity and efficiency leave much to be desired even for the present population.

It must be assumed that under the conditions of industrial development it will be difficult to qualitatively improve medical services provided to the aborigines of Yamal and to have these services change both conceptually and organizationally, to make health care for the Nenets and Khanty (especially in remote villages) predominantly preventive and to maintain a modern level of technical equipment and retain well-qualified physicians.

Possible Negative Impacts of Oil and Gas Development

Prevention of a threatened ethnocide - he irreversible destruction of the ethnic and cultural identity of aboriginal peoples - and to avoid the destabilization of their demographic processes and deterioration of health while industrially developing ethnic territories is the purpose of these technical and economic forecasts. Until recently, however, in the former USSR and in Russia the threat to the ethnic identity of minority peoples and ethnic groups was not taken into account while carrying out major industrial projects within the territories of their habitation.

It should also be emphasized that ethno-cultural and demographic issues with respect to minority peoples have not been adequately taken into account, either in the past or at present, in the feasibility reports of major projects (including the environmental impact evaluation (EIE) documents, a compulsory section in the technical and economic documentation of any major industrial project. Nor have they been considered during negotiations between representatives of the region's industries and administrators for material and financial compensations for environmental damages and social losses, as the possibilities of a direct economic evaluation of the inflicted damage are limited in this sphere.

In our evaluation of the demographic situation among the indigenous peoples of the North and the general social and economic situation emerging in Yamal, we adhered to a principled position that the recording and analysis of these aspects were necessary. Once Yamal's industrial development was underway, the issue would not be so much the damage inflicted upon, or possible compensations to, the indigenous population, but the very real threat to their survival and preservation. Following our analysis of the current sociodemographic situation and health care (as well as socioeconomic factors affecting them) it may be assumed that the aggregate impact of the forthcoming oil and gas development will entail several unfavorable changes (detailed below) in the lives of the Nenets and Khanty of Yamal.

Family Structure, Marriage, Age and Sex

The arrival and settlement of several tens of thousands of migrant workers, in most cases single unmarried young men, into the Yamal district (within the next five to seven years, 150 to 200 thousand migrants of this type may pass through Yamal due to regular labor turnover) will lead to growth in the number of ethnically mixed marriages, unmarried cohabitation of indigenous women with newcomers, and out-of-wedlock births. Its direct consequence will be the deterioration of marital-family and intergenerational relations among the indigenous population. An increased number of native men will fail to create families of their own and will remain single. Simultaneously, the number of children born to young Nenets and Khanty girls out of wedlock will increase dramatically and a considerable number of children belonging to the generation born in the 1990s will grow up in incomplete families and without knowledge of their fathers. (The negative social consequences of this both for the individual and the society are well known.)

The destabilization of the family-marital structure, primarily among the young people, will likely lead to a decrease of living standards and quality of life for all the population of the tundra villages, and deteriorating physical and psychological health of the indigenous population. For example, the increased number of incomplete families (mainly single women with children) due to the fast break-up of marriages and extramarital contacts and cohabitation with newcomers will become a factor leading to alcoholism and other socially deviant behavior, and will, in turn, lead to a rise in violent deaths.

The consequences of altering the peculiarities and proportions of age-and sex and family structures among the settled and nomadic groups of the indigenous population formed during the dozens of years of sustained development can hardly be predicted (but is unlikely to be positive). This may result from a reduction of reindeer breeding which may, in turn, force many nomads (it is thus far unclear if it would be the young or the elderly) to abandon the nomadic way of life and settle down in villages where already there is a shortage of jobs and housing for the permanent Nenets and Khanty residents. Such settling of nomads will sharply increase the number of villagers and will make the stresses on the poorly developed social and domestic infrastructure and limited housing space even more profound. The outflow of people from the tundra may also unfavorably influence nomadic housekeeping practices and the work of reindeer herders.

Hand in hand with the above developments, problems of adaptation are sure to emerge, especially among nomads trying to get used to a settled life. Interpersonal and intergenerational conflicts among the indigenous population will become more acute. A situation of competition and conflict between individual groups within communities over waiting lists for accommodation and the distribution of goods and privileges may well come about. As a result, the socio-cultural stress situation will become even more acute.

Reproduction and Health

A drop in birthrate should be expected both due to structural changes (lower marriage rates, increased number of incomplete families and singles) and as a consequence of cultural assimilation and acculturation, and acceptance of birth control methods (especially abortions) resulting from the erosion of traditional cultural values favoring large families. Yamal's indigenous population's birthrate is very likely to decline in the 1990s even without the influence of industrial development, given the changes in the age structure of the indigenous population. Any additional impact which reduces the birthrate under the conditions of high mortality and poor health will have extremely negative consequences for the reproduction of Nenets and Khanty.

No doubt, an increase in deathrates due to accidents, poisoning, and traumas should be expected since, in the situation of considerable and unregulated influx of migrant workers to Yamal, alcoholic drinks (and various technical liquids containing alcohol, which are consumed in increasing volumes by the local population as substitutes of alcoholic drinks) will spread uncontrollably among the indigenous village residents and throughout the tundra, as the newcomers trade alcohol for furs, fish, meat, etc. Therefore, an increase in mortality is possible because of diseases caused by prolonged alcohol abuse. An increase in the number of suicides should also be expected. Deterioration of the general ecological situation (anthropogenic soil disturbance, pollution of water, air, vegetation, commercial fisheries and animals) and as a result of this, a further growth (at least not a decrease) of an already heightened deathrate can be predicted.

Assimilation processes will intensify, since more and more indigenous people from ethnically mixed families will be able to choose a non-indigenous nationality when given his/her passport or declare during the population census that he/she belongs to a non-indigenous nationality. At present, according to our estimation, 14 to 20% of those born to interethnic families do so in the Yamalo-Nenetsky Autonomous Okrug. In their totality, all these developments - the lowering of birthrates, growth of mortality rates, and intensification of acculturation and assimilation‹may lead to a substantial deterioration of the general demographic situation, reduced growth rates and even an absolute diminution in their numbers and, as a result, to their irrevocable degradation as an aboriginal group.

To soften a possible negative impact of the oil and gas development of Yamal and at the same time not only safeguard the indigenous population's survival but also to help them improve their life in accordance with their own aspirations and expectations and permit them to make use of the advantages of the territory's industrial development, may require severe social, environmental, and technological limitations on industrial development activities.

Programs of social protection and development for villagers and nomadic groups are also required to improve the social and domesic infrastructure, to provide additional housing, assistance to families, pensioners and children, to raise the efficiency of health care, social security, schools and to develop a national culture. Such programs should be controlled by the communities themselves and must be carried out with the active participation of indigenous people.

While accomplishing these tasks it is essential to identify the possibility of applying in Russia in general, and in Yamal in particular, the various (and on the whole positive) legal and practical socioeconomic and environmental experiences of other arctic countries (Berger 1977), such as the Alaska Natives Land Claims Settlement Act of 1971, and the Inuvialuit Final Agreement of 1984 in Canada, as well as later agreements which take into account international legal standards securing the rights of indigenous peoples. For example, ILO Convention #169 of 1989 and the Draft of the Universal Declaration of Indigenous Peoples' Rights prepared in the Subcommission on Minorities' rights of the United Nations Social and Economic Council, and other documents.) All this could make oil and gas development of Yamal practical, despite great difficulties and the danger of a sudden impact of some unforeseen factor, but all the same with a certain definite hope for ethnic survival and a fair solution to the problems facing the indigenous population.


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