Snowchange Oral History: Nutendli Chukchi Obshchina

Map section

Section of map of Nutendli community land use. View a full version of of the map. Credit: © Tero Mustonen, Snowchange Cooperative[/caption]

The Nutendli Chukchi obshchina A clan- or kin-based Indigenous community enterprise as defined by Russian Indigenous legislation has reindeer herding areas on the Eastern bank of the Kolyma river. The Nutendli community formed when they split from the Turvaurgin community in 1989, and the process was completed in the early 1990s. In 1992, 1,107 reindeer were given to Nutendli from the sovkhoz, or the state-owned farm, to start their herd. Today over 2,000 reindeer form the economic base of the community.

The community is led by Vyacheslav Kemlil, son of Grandmother Akulina Kemlil and Grandfather Jegor Nutendli, the Elders of the community. Other relatives such as Zoja Nikolajevna Tokareva, sister of Akulina, belong to the community.

From 2005 to 2008, Nutendli had one brigade with three yaranga A tent-like traditional home for Indigenous peoples of Russia. The first brigade is led by Vitaly Kemlil, brother of Vyacheslav. By 2010, a second reindeer herding brigade had been established. In addition to herding, subsistence fishing and some hunting form the basis of Nutendli livelihoods. The Nutendli reindeer belong to the khargin breed, which is a stock of reindeer with a special national status.

Reindeer herdPhotograph of a Nutendli reindeer herd. Photo credit: © Tero Mustonen, Snowchange Cooperative

The work that Nutendli has undertaken with the Snowchange Cooperative follows the same lines as with Turvaurgin. One of the exceptions is the nomadic school that Nutendli established in 2002. Several donor organizations, such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Save the Children Iceland, the Snowchange Cooperative, and others have worked to support the school over the years because it is a unique attempt to preserve the Chukchi culture and way of life.

At the nomadic school, local elders teach the younger generation, with help from a teacher provided by the regional administration. Other costs of the school are provided by the obshchina rather than from the Sakha or Russian governments. The approach to learning in Nutendli is unique. Every child has his or her own reindeer, and their parents help the children take care of them. During the summer, children take part in reindeer herding and other traditional activities such as fishing. In winter, the students remain with their families, rather than being sent to residential schools in towns. In this way, the herding groups remain socially intact throughout the year, and the children participate in all the activities of the group. This practical approach enables them to learn about their own culture and language in action.

Group photoPhotograph of Nutendli children. Photo credit: © Tero Mustonen, Snowchange Cooperative

Vyacheslav Kemlil, the leader of Nutendli, says he wants to teach children all aspects of reindeer herding, as well as the Chukchi language. He says that it is easy to become a herder, but that one must also learn about nature, and from other elders with more experience. He wants his children's generation to be well educated and capable of living the traditional way of life. He and others interviewed believe that preservation of knowledge, culture, and way of life are essential for the community to survive amidst the societal, economic, and climate changes they face.

Traditional Songs of the Nutendli

Nutendli community members are well-known traditional singers. Listen here for Vyacreslav Kemlils performance "Tundra Awakens in the Spring."