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According to the 2010 national census, there are 15,908 Chukchi in the Russian Federation. Chukchi are ethnically close to Koryak and speak one of the Chukotic languages. The Chukchi literary language was created in 1931 using the Cyrillic script. Chukchi live primarily in the Chukchi Republic, formerly the Chukchi Autonomous Okrug (AOk) in the north-eastern part of Magadan Oblast and in adjacent areas and in the Koryak AOk.

Historical context

Indigenous to Siberia, the Chukchi first came into contact with Russians in the seventeenth century. Historically their way of life was based on the hunting of sea mammals and reindeer husbandry. They were forcibly collectivized by the Soviet state in the 1930s, and subsequent industrial development increased pressures to assimilate. In September 1990, the Chukchi Autonomous Okrug (AOk) Soviet proclaimed autonomy and in March 1991 decided to separate from Magadan Oblast. In May 1993, the Russian Constitutional Court supported the right to secede.

Current issues

The Chukchi confront problems of linguistic assimilation through industrial and urban development in Chukotka. Chukchi leaders have called for the creation of national parks in the Chukchi republic in order for traditional reindeer herding to be preserved. According to a study on indigenous reindeer husbandry, submitted for the 11th Session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in 2012, reindeer herders in the Sakha Republic face numerous financial difficulties. Around 75 per cent of reindeer pastures in the Sakha Republic are located in the forests; since forestry is managed on the federal level, all the reindeer herders have to register their pastures and pay rental fees that are very high in some regions.

Chukchis are the subject of many derogatory Russian jokes, due to their association with a remote and rural culture. In April 2014, three representatives of the Chukchi people filed a civil claim to the Zamoskvoretsky Moscow City Court against the editors of the Big Russian Explanatory Dictionary, who referred to a ‘chukcha’ in one of their definitions as to a ‘naive and narrow-minded person’. Subsequently, their claim was dismissed.

Updated December 2020