Two happy kids from an isolated Siberian tribe



This unit exposes the reader to the entity known as Siberia. It looks at the dangers faced by this indigenous group.

Where is Siberia located?

The region of Russia in Asia, stretching from the Ural Mountains to the Pacific Ocean is known as Siberia. The full term found in legal contexts and the name used in connection with indigenous peoples in Russia is “Indige­nous small-numbered peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation”. The Rus­sian Federation recognises forty ethnic groups as indigenous small-numbered peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East dwelling within its territory. Their tra­ditional territories cover roughly two-thirds of the Rus­sian Federation’s land area. In most of these territories, indigenous peoples only constitute minorities of a few per cent. The latest official population figures available are those given by the 2010 national census.  Accord­ing to the 2010 national census, the most numerous of the indigenous peoples are the Nenets with a population of 44,000, fol­lowed by the Evenks (38,000). The smallest group on record are the Kereks with only four members left. Ten of the 40 peoples have populations of over 10,000, while another ten have less than 1,000 members.

According to Johannes Rohr in his report for the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), the regions inhabited by indigenous peoples can be roughly divided into two – the extreme north and the forest tundra and taiga. These entities have their peculiarities. For instance, the first category have a harsh arctic climate, they keep reindeer and live a sedentary lifestyle. In the second category, reindeer herding is less pronounced. The most important source of food and income is fishing and hunting, including for fur animals, another important livelihood.

One of the threats to this group is that they are more likely to be affected by economic, political and social marginalisation. As a result of the concentration of eco­nomic power, public infrastructure and political institutions in urban centres, indig­enous peoples’ settlements are often cut off from public transport and communication.

On the legal front, indigenous small-numbered peo­ples in the Russian Federation are subject to federal, regional and local regulations – bills, decrees, by-laws and many others. However, these laws bind them but from observations, these legislations suffer from a lack of consistency and stability, greatly inhibiting effective protection of indigenous rights.

An assessment of the life of the indigenous peoples of Siberia reveals that they face a multitude of existential threats as do many others in the world. These threats endanger their physical and spiritual well-being, their livelihoods, cultures, languag­es, even their very existence as distinct groups. If not checked, some of these threats may get to the peak. The implication of this is that whatever traditional knowledge has not been passed on to younger generations will pass into oblivion. Nomadic reindeer herders may be giving up their unique way of life in places where pasture is no longer sufficient for their needs.


Course credits/Further Reading

Draft Guidelines on the Protection of Indigenous Peoples in Voluntary Isolation and in Initial Contact of the Amazon Basin and El Chaco, Report prepared by the Secretariat of the United Nations General Assembly, August, 2009.

Indigenous Peoples in Africa: The Forgotten Peoples, The African Commission’s work on Indigenous peoples in Africa, International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, Copenhagen: Denmark, 2006.

Nimatuj Velásquez and Ford Aileen, State of Indigenous Peoples Land, Territories and Resources (Ltr) in Latin America and the Caribbean: Survival:  

Rohr Johannes, Indigenous Peoples in the Russian Federation, Report 18, IWGIA, 2014.

”Rocky Road, How Legal Failings and Vested Interests behind Peru’s Purús Highway Threaten the Amazon and its People,” Global Witness,, May 2013. 

World Rainforest Movement, Monthly Bulletin, Issue 194, September 2013.


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