Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
According to the 2010 national census, there are 37,843 Evenk in the Russian Federation. Evenk are composed of a number of groups that cover a vast area (approximately a quarter of Siberia). Formerly possessing a national autonomy, the Evenk Autonomous Okrug, they now form part of Krasnoyarsk Krai following a merger in 2007.
Evenk are one of the most geographically dispersed ethnic groups in Russia: up to half of Russia’s Evenk population lives in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia). There is also a significant Evenk population (approximately 30,000) in the People’s Republic of China.
Evenk are thought to be descendants of a fusion between Tungus and Yukagir cultures. They came under Russian influence from the seventeenth century. Traditional reindeer husbandry and hunting economies declined over the twentieth century as enforced processes of sedentarization, collectivisation and industrialization took place. Evenk were awarded an Autonomous Okrug (AOk) in Krasnoyarsk Krai in December 1930. In the 1980s a plan to construct a dam on the Lower Tunguska river, which would have flooded most of the Evenk AOk, was aborted after protests by Evenk groups, Russian environmental groups and the Association of the Peoples of the North.
In 2005 the populations of the Taimyr Autonomous Okrug (AOk), the Evenk AOk and Krasnoyarsk Krai voted in favour of the unification of the three regions in a referendum. The unification took place in January 2007.
Notwithstanding the fact that Evenk groups are geographically dispersed, they face similar difficulties in different parts of the country. One of the main problems is unemployment: the high costs of guns and the difficulties in obtaining a hunting license make it extremely difficult for Evenk to maintain themselves and their families through their traditional livelihoods. The absence of good infrastructure and modern medical centres has resulted in high levels of alcoholism and low life expectancy. As for the Evenk language, its situation remains precarious: a lack of financial assistance and teaching materials threaten the future development of the language.
Evenk leader Sergey Nikiforov, who opposed gold mining in Evenk ancestral territories, was sentenced in September 2015 to five years in a penal colony for allegedly accepting a bribe. He had led the protests of the Evenk community against gold mining in the Amur region, denouncing its harmful effects on the environmental conditions which are necessary for their traditional reindeer herding as well as the health of the local population.
Updated December 2020
Minorities and indigenous peoples in
- Sakha (Yakuts)
- Kabards and Balkars
- Karachay and Cherkess
- Khants and Mansi
- Meskhetians or Meskhetian Turks
- Russian or Volga Germans
- Ukrainians, Belarusians and Kazakhs