FOR Yuri Veingo, a reindeer herder near here, the struggle to
survive the Russian Arctic's bitter, dark winter has been reduced
to a 26-mile commute.
The 26-year-old Mr. Veingo spends most of his time tending his
herd in the tundra, living in a chum - a tepee-like structure with
a wooden frame covered by reindeer skin.
Although the chum is similar to the dwellings of his ancestors,
life in the tundra for Mr. Veingo isn't the constant battle against
the elements that it was for his forebears.
Every few days he is able to obtain provisions relatively
easily, hopping on his Russian-built snowmobile for the roughly
13-mile ride to Gornoknyazevsk, an isolated settlement comprising a
few wooden shacks that Veingo can nonetheless describe as
Dressed in a traditional costume of reindeer skins, he says life
is getting progressively easier.
"We just got a Japanese generator for our chum, so we now have
electricity. We've also got a radio," said Veingo, an ethnic
Khanty, one of several indigenous groups in the region, known as
the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Area.
While Veingo doesn't seem to mind the intrusions of technology
into his traditional lifestyle, there are some who say the modern
conveniences are harbingers of changes that could wipe out the
indigenous people of the Arctic area.
"Many small nations of Russia are on the verge of biological
extinction," Yevdokia Gayer, deputy chairwoman of the Russian State
Committee for the Social and Economic Development of the North,
told the Tass news agency.
In all, there are more than 60 small ethnic minorities in Russia
totaling about 450,000 people, according to Ms. Gayer. In
connection with 1993 having been declared the International Year of
Indigenous People by the United Nations, Gayer's committee is
paying particular attention to the protection of the cultures of
Russia's indigenous people.
But achieving a harmonious balance between the hunter-gatherer
traditions of the local inhabitants and economic development has
become increasingly difficult, Gayer and others say. The problem in
the Yamal-Nenets region is especially acute because of the presence
of oil and gas reserves on land historically used by the Nenets,
Khanty, and Mansi tribes as fishing grounds or as grazing land for
The oil and gas deposits, discovered about 30 years ago, have
been largely undeveloped to date. But with the collapse of the
centralized communist economic system, and the subsequent drop in
support from Moscow, the pressure on local officials to tap into
the reserves is growing. The revenue derived from oil and gas could
go a long way toward financing regional economic development.
Even though there has not been widescale development of regional
natural resources, significant environmental damage has been done
over the past few decades, says Alexander Vladykin, vice mayor of
Salekhard, the capital of the Yamal-Nenets area. …