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The Native Peoples of the Russian Far North

30 September 1992

‘Northern minorities’ is an official term for 26 indigenous peoples who live in a vast northern and Arctic territory (58 per cent of the new Russia, mostly Siberia). These peoples include very different ethnic groups with different cultures and languages, but today, they all live in a situation best described as ‘ethnic catastrophe’.

The period covering the 16th-19th centuries was one of Russian colonization and annexation. From the 1920s onward, the official view in the USSR was that minority rights issues had been satisfactorily resolved through communism and the supposedly devolved administrative structure of the Soviet state. However, the rights of various nationalities existed more on paper than in practice. In the 1920s, schools were established in the North, Native languages were included in the curriculum, and 13 alphabets based on the Roman alphabet were developed for northern languages. However, in 1937, the Cyrillic alphabet was introduced and northern alphabets were outlawed. After World War II, the public policy became one of ‘Russification’ and the unity of the Soviet people. Northern peoples were forcibly settled in villages or relocated in mixed groups to new areas. By 1970, none of the 26 ethnic languages but one were any longer used at school. From the age of 2, children were required to attend boarding schools where they were punished for speaking their own languages. The natural resources of the North were exploited without concern for environmental damage. All protest was brutally suppressed.

This report contains recommendations on the political, economic and cultural rights of the northern minorities.

Please note that the terminology in the fields of minority rights and indigenous peoples’ rights has changed over time. MRG strives to reflect these changes as well as respect the right to self-identification on the part of minorities and indigenous peoples. At the same time, after over 50 years’ work, we know that our archive is of considerable interest to activists and researchers. Therefore, we make available as much of our back catalogue as possible, while being aware that the language used may not reflect current thinking on these issues.

Download the summary (PDF, English)


Nikolai Vakhtin