English translation from the official periodical of RAIPON “Мир коренных народов - живая арктика” (Indigenous Peoples’ World - Living Arctic) No. 15, 2004

Indigenous peoples of the North: Results of the 2002 general census and political situation. Interpretation of 2002 census results

D. Bogoyavlenskiy and O. Murashko

Results of the 2002 general census

Statistical data, including census information, should be treated prudently1. It is important to understand their context, especially regarding to the peoples of the North. As a matter of fact, the populations’ census figures are not influenced by natural movement and interethnic processes alone. Administrative decisions and changes in the definition of ethnic groups at the time of the census, as well as simple inaccuracies or mistakes are significant in this respect. What is more, mistakes hardly noticeable with regard to larger peoples lead to considerable fluctuations in the dynamics of the total numbers of the numerically small indigenous Northerners.

Regretfully, there has so far been no information about the distribution of the Northern peoples by regions, but we cannot say for sure that such data are absent in the latest census.

What is the demographic situation facing the peoples of the North today, and to what extent has the population census reflected it?

Owing to the fact that in the USSR (and until lately in Russia) many documents have been used to register personal ethnicity (entries about ethnic affiliation made in passports, economic management registers in the rural areas as well as in the death and birth records, etc.) making it possible to calculate the total population number of individual peoples the way it is done with current calculations of the entire population, in other words, by adding the natural growth of population (the difference between birth rate and death rate) to their numbers according to the latest census, with due account of migration figures.

While not being allured by the accuracy of such calculations, let us have a look at the indices of natural movement of the Northern peoples covering the last 20 years.


Born alive


Natural growth

Infant death rate**





















Table 1. Natural movement of Russia ’s Northern peoples (per 1,000)*

        * the number of population worked out on the basis of the 1989 census was used to calculate the estimates
        ** per 1,000 born alive

So far the Northern peoples differ from others in their birthrate exceeding their deathrate, while the opposite is true among the majority of Russia ’s population. At the same time there was a profound decrease of natural growth due to a sharp reduction in fertility while the death rate remained practically unchanged. The dynamics of birthrate and deathrate among the Northern peoples in the 1990s is remeniscent of the situation in the 1970s – the period of demographic crisis for these peoples. The decrease of infant deathrate in recent years could be a little encouraging if its level were not compared with that of Russia ’s entire population (15.6 in 1999-2001) or the estimates for foreign indigenous Northerners (about 16 in Greenland in 1997-2001 and less than 7 am ong Alaskan aborigines in 2000).

The constancy of the general index of mortality can hardly be evidence of stable mortality2. It is doubtful that it remained like that while life expectancy in this country as a whole (an indicator of reverse mortality) was reduced from almost 70 years in 1988 to 64 in 1994 and 65 in 2001. However, even in the “good years” of 1988-1989, the life expectancy was 60 years3 among the Northern peoples or ten years less than in the country as a whole. For the sake of comparison, it could be noted that at the time life expectancy was about 65 years in Greenland and about 69 for the indigenous population of Alaska .

The above can be summed up in this way: the highest mortality is registered among the Northern peoples in a country with a shamefully high death rate (or, if you prefer, with a shamefully low life expectancy) – the highest death rate among the developed countries.

It would seem reasonable to suggest that, taking into consideration both this tendency and the reduced natural growth, the number of Northern peoples should have decreased or increased insignificantly as the 1979 census emphasized in a similar situation in the 1970s. However, according to the 2002 census, the total number of the Northern population has increased dramatically.

One can therefore conclude that assimilation processes have reversed, and now the peoples of the North assimilate other peoples. Local administration calls this process “restoration of ethnicity”.

It is possible to correctly sort out the modern ethnodemographic situation among the Northern peoples only by viewing it with regard to each people concerned and to separate territories of their settlement with due account for many socio-economic and administrative/political circumstances. The point is, that having united the Northern peoples into one group and using this term, it is often forgotten that these are very different peoples — even contrary to each other judging by a good deal of their characteristic features. Let’s consider one aspect of the demographic situation: namely, comparing separate peoples of the North in their natural growth during the last period and the growth of their total number according to the data of the last two population censuses of Russia’ population as a whole in 1989 and 20024, since the data by regions are not available so far. Let us call the difference between demographic changes and changes according to the census “non-demographic growth (loss)”.

Northern peoples

Census of population

Growth according to census

Natural growth

Difference (“non-demographic groth”)


























































Ulta (Orok)












































































































Table 2. Natural movement of the Northern peoples in 1989-2002. (Peoples are arranged by size of “non-demographic growth”)

We can see that on the whole the Northern peoples have grown by 5,000 due to “non-demographic” reasons. However, it can hardly apply to all the peoples, and their “non-demographic” growths or losses differ greatly.

The Khant and Mansi are distinguished by the size of such growth among separate peoples, their aggregate “non-demographic” growth exceeding the total growth of all the Northern peoples as a whole. Since these peoples experienced a “non-demographic” loss in the past three decades (from the 1959 census to the 1989 census), the existence of large groups of metis population can be assumed. Under conditions where a lot of effort is underway in the Khanty-Mansi Okrug against the background of the current oil boom to foster material support of indigenous peoples, the work of public indigenous organizations is becoming more active, and the growth of ethnic self-consciousness can in fact take shape and a greater prestige is likely to be conferred on indigenous ethnicity.

A similar situation observed among Russia ’s Saami, for whom contacts with their foreign fellow-tribesmen dramatically expanded after the fall of the iron curtain, could well serve as a catalyst for an upsurge in their ethnic self-consciousness. And at the same time, the Saami’s birthrate is the lowest among the Northern peoples and their natural growth – to be more exact – their natural loss of population is also the lowest.

The Selkup have a similar situation with their “non-demographic” growth, though in this case, while acknowledging the undoubted existence of numerous metis groups, the possibility of an increase in self-consciousness of a territorially and ethnically scattered people is questionable.

The profound numerical growth of the Itelmens is also difficult to explain: it can be assumed, as a hypothesis, that there has been a change of ethnicity among frontier groups, previously assigned to Koryak, but their calculated loss is not enough, either.

The sharp changes in the number of the Ket and Tofa are also very doubtful. There is no justification for this, in our opinion. It is more likely that these are further mistakes made during the census itself or the processing of its results.

The same can be said about the unprecedented “loss” of the Nganasan – a direct consequence of the fact that during the 1989 census their total number was overestimated (see above).

As to the Evenk, their “non-demographic” growth can be, in our opinion, similarly explained as their mixing up again with the Evens, bearing in mind that their growth almost equals the Even’s loss.

The fantastic growth of such peoples as the Ulta (Orok) and Enets can in fact be “the restoration of ethnicity”. Both were registered before the 1989 census as other peoples.

A similar situation occurs among the Enets. During all the censuses they were counted as a part of the Nenets and only the 1989 census registered them as a separate people. One should assume that the increase in their numbers – as impossible as that among the Orok – from a demographic point of view reflects the formation of ethnic self-consciousness of this numerically small Northern people.

The “non-demographic” growth of the Yukagir, going on for over 40 years according to the data of the population censuses, is absolutely inexplicable.

As to other peoples of the North, there has been a non-demographic loss, as during previous censuses. The fact that the Chukchi, Koryak, Chuvan, Eskimo and Aleut are among the peoples “on the decline” is alarming.

Once you digress from possible mistakes and overestimation, there is every reason to believe that we are facing absolutely new tendencies in ethnic processes among indigenous peoples of the North. “Non-demographic” growth has never ever been registered in the postwar period at once among so many indigenous numerically small peoples of the North5.

It should be emphasized once again, however, that this growth cannot be a yardstick to measure the demographic situation and in no way does it reflect any improvement of it. The situation among the peoples of the North should still be considered as a crisis, and the level of their mortality disastrously high, even when compared to the extremely negative all-Russian background.

Political situation

The “non-demographic” growth accentuated by demographer D.D. Bogoyavlenskiy assumingly could have been caused by the hopes emerging among the Northern indigenous peoples during the last five years.

Starting in 1999, three federal laws dealing with the rights of indigenous peoples have been adopted, namely: “On Guarantees of Rights of Indigenous Numerically Small Peoples of the Russian Federation”, “On General Principles of Organization of Communities of Indigenous Numerically Small Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation”, and “On Territories of Traditional Nature Use of Indigenous Numerically Small Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation”. These laws guarantee the protection of the primordial habitat and traditional lifestyle of indigenous numerically small peoples, the right to organize communities with tax benefits for traditional nature use, gratuitous use of land of traditional habitation and economic activities, participation of indigenous numerically small peoples in co-governance of natural resources on territories of their traditional habitation and economic activities.

But the practical implementation of the RF government’s policy prevailing since 2001 has showed with sufficient evidence that the RF government has failed to execute these federal laws adopted in 1999-2001.

According to the information collected by regional associations of RAIPON, 246 communities have been legally registered during the past three years of the established federal law, though there are more than 700 villages with concentrated indigenous population in Russia .

In some administrative units of RF there is not a single registered community, while in others there are dozens and even hundreds of them, like in the Khanty-Mansi Okrug, though their majority still remain unregistered according to the existing legislation. It has not yet been determined which state body should be responsible for the registration of communities or the issuing of law-making standards with regard to their concessional taxation. The consequent legal instruments concerning communities are intentionally intricate. Hence, in some regions it is assumed that communities should be registered in state legal bodies, while in others it is believed to be the matter of tax inspectorates. In some regions communities are exempt from taxation and free from charges, while other communities are facing exorbitant claims in connection with taxes, and communities are forced to go into liquidation.

During the three years since the federal law on Territories of Traditional Nature Use (TTNU; adopted in May 2001) went into effect, not a single TTNU under federal administration has been formed, while the majority of land incorporating TTNUs is land of federal subordination. All the applications to establish TTNUs have been met with the RF government’s refusal. In some regions, regional governments have formed TTNUs under regional adminstration. For example, there are about 500 in the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug; traditionally they are still called “lineage-based kinship areas” covering about 26 percent of the Okrug’s territory, but more than 40 percent of these lineage-based kinship areas have already been leased to oil companies on long-term contracts. There are seven of them in the Nenets Autonomous Okrug. They are large-scale reindeer breeding units formed on the basis of defunct sovkhozes (Soviet state-operated farms), whose grazing areas cover about 60 percent of the Okrug’s territory. And these TTNUs are threatened by a gradual leasing handover to oil companies. The RF government has already sold licenses for oil and gas production in sectors included in the TTNUs. The RF government holds that the establishment of regional TTNUs is illegal. The tax assessment authority demands TTNU rental payment from communities. On one hand, it is legally fair in accordance with the new RF Land Code, but on the other, it contradicts the federal law “On Payment for Land” in accordance with which Northern indigenous peoples are relieved from payment for land. The intentional confusion in the laws creates uncertainty among indigenous peoples about their future, and leads to closing down their communities.

There is not a single TTNU in the Far East with the exception of the Khabarovskiy Territory , where the RF government also questions the legality of TTNU establishment.

The RF Ministry of Defense holds that the right given to indigenous numerically small peoples to substitute service in the armed forces with alternative work in some traditional spheres of activity (the Federal law “On Guarantees of Rights of Numerically Small Indigenous Peoples of the Russian Federation ” was adopted in 1999) is illegal. Even after the confirmation of this right by the Federal Law on the Service in the Armed Forces carried into effect in February 2004, this right is violated everywhere. The local authorities do not know what should be considered to be “traditional types of activity”.

The authorities in the regions where the rights of indigenous peoples are violated or not implemented explain their actions by the fact that they have not received any elucidation from the RF government as to how to execute these laws.

The ecological environment of indigenous peoples’ habitation is systematically disturbed.

Offshore oil production operations started in 1996 in Sakhalin have already deteriorated the quality of the environment in traditional settlement areas of indigenous peoples, the quality of marine bioresources known to be the indigenous peoples’ main food.

RAIPON has repeatedly approached the RF government with letters about the unacceptability of worsening the ecological situation in the seas of the Far East . RAIPON has become one of the claimants mounting a lawsuit against the RF government for defense of the habitat of gray whales in the Sea of Okhotsk .

At present, RAIPON is receiving information about the full-scale realization of the state program of offshore oil and gas production in the Far East – a program which has not been submitted to public evaluation until now, as well as about the pipeline construction project from Sakhalin all across the Khabarovskiy and Primorskiy territories and over the border, and about oil and gas production projects and oil pipelines construction in Chukotka and Buryatia. These projects will have and already have an inevitable impact on the territories of traditional habitation and economic activities of 14 indigenous numerically small peoples of the Far East (the Chukchi, Even, Evenk, Koryak, Itelmen, Kamchadal, Nivkhi, Nanai, Negidal, Orok, Orochi, Alyutor, Ulchi, Udege). Nonetheless, these projects have not been discussed with indigenous representatives, and the opinion of the local population and indigenous inhabitants has not been taken into account during the projects’ realization.

In March 2003 a letter came from the president of the Sakhalin Association of Indigenous Peoples about the beginning of prospecting operations in the Piltunskiy Bay , which is an area where traditional fishing takes place. RAIPON reacted to this letter by sending an inquiry to the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR). It has become known from the MNR’s answer that the oil company, a branch of Exxon, carried out prospecting operations not only without coming to any agreement with the local indigenous peoples, but even prior to getting a positive conclusion of an environmental expert evaluation. Nonetheless, MNR justifies the company’s actions and informs RAIPON that prospecting has been carried out without any infringements (“Mir korennykh narodov – Zhivaya Arktika”, No. 13).

The construction of a gas pipeline along the western seashore of Kamchatka is a serious violation of rights of Kamchatkan indigenous peoples. The gas pipeline construction commenced in 1999 without environmental expert evaluations, public hearings or agreements with indigenous peoples’ organizations. The construction went on in 2003. The gas pipeline goes from the north to the south all across the upper reaches of spawning rivers and hunting grounds which used to be traditional areas of nature use by indigenous peoples. By constructing this gas pipeline, which is expected to provide Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy with gas (but so far has not done so), the administration of the Kamchatkan Region with the silent consent of the RF government has violated every standard with regard to observation of the rules of environmental safety, conducting environmental expert evaluations and the rights of the population to information.

In 2002-2003, the MNR issued licenses for gold prospecting on the river Tymlat, for offshore oil and gas prospecting along the eastern coastline of Kamchatka (Koryak Autonomous Okrug), opened for bidding and nominated winners to receive licenses for the development of the Shanuchskiy copper and nickel deposits and the Asachinskiy gold mines (Kamchatka). All these development sites are located on the territories of traditional habitation and economic activities of Kamchatkan indigenous peoples who were never consulted.

Felling of Far Eastern forests with participation of transnational companies not only destroys the environment of several Far Eastern regions, but also undermines the foundation of traditional nature use of more than 30,000 representatives of indigenous peoples engaged in hunting, gathering and fishing there.

Information about the experience gained by the organizations of indigenous peoples residing in the forests of the Bikin river basin is published in issue No. 4 of the journal “Mir korennykh narodov – Zhivaya Arktika”.

In 2001, the administration of the Primorskiy Territory opened for bidding on woodcutting and leased for 25 years to the “Terneyles” Company a section of primordial forests in the Samarga river basin which earlier, in 1992, had been reserved for the establishment of an ethnic territory for the local Udege people, who conduct a traditional lifestyle there. The community of the Samarga Udege lodged a complaint, being convinced that the leasing deal was illegal. At the same time, timber cutting companies started assaulting the virgin forests of the Udege in the Bikin area. The administration of the Primorskiy Territory is looking into the question of closing or reducing the territory of the nature reserve established in 1998 in order to expand industrial felling in this area (“Mir korennykh narodov – Zhivaya Arktika”, No. 13).

In Buryatia, long before the ecological expert assessment, the contractors of the Yukos Company began operations connected with the construction of the Angarsk-Datsin oil pipeline. The protests of the indigenous and local population did not reach the Government. The referendum of residents of the Zakamenskiy District inhabited by Evenk people was fixed for December 2002, but the authorities foiled the plans (“Mir korennykh narodov – Zhivaya Arktika”, No. 13).

RAIPON has repeatedly called the attention of the RF president, RF government, and the RF Federal Assembly to these violations, and suggested ways to solve the problems by setting up a federal body focused on indigenous peoples and adopting necessary changes in and supplements to the existing legislation. All the proposals made by RAIPON , despite the favorable disposition of the RF president and RF Federal Assembly, have been blocked by the RF government as economically inexpedient (“Mir korennykh narodov – Zhivaya Arktika”, No. 14). Nonetheless, RAIPON remains active, monitoring all violations of law, appealing to the RF president, the RF Federal Assembly and the RF Procurator-General, as well as engaging in legal education of indigenous peoples and lawmaking activities (“Mir korennykh narodov – Zhivaya Arktika”, Nos. 13, 14).

However, an active public organization is hardly enough to solve the above problems. They will not be solved until a special body is established within the framework of the RF government, authorized to deal with the affairs of indigenous numerically small peoples and bearing responsibility for the implementation of federal legislation. The last reorganization of the RF government, which took place in March 2004, has shown that the authority and responsibility for the problems of indigenous peoples have been dispersed again across the departments of various ministries. In other words, the state power has not yet demonstrated any willpower to solve problems of indigenous peoples.

In case such a policy of state power continues, the reduction of the number of communities of indigenous numerically small peoples might be followed by a reduction of the number of the population identifying itself as indigenous numerically small peoples of the North. Thus, the next census might discover a sharp reduction of the number of indigenous numerically small peoples of the North caused by political rather than demographic reasons.

1 Even regarding the country’s total population there is a tangible disparity in the figures of Census 2002 and the current records amounting to 1,800,000, while the results of the census in the Chechen Republic are, mildly speaking, dubious. However, there are no other data, and there will not be any until the next census.

2 More accurate measurements are required, such as the average life expectancy, but it is impossible to calculate them until the detailed data of the 2002 census have been published.

3 D.D. Bogoyavlenskiy: Demographic problems of numerically small peoples of the North // Russia ’s population. The Second Annual Demographic Report. Ed. A.G. Vishnevskiy. M., Eurasia , 1994.

4 The state statistical institutions whose data have been used in these calculations elaborate information covering indigenous Northerners not for the country’s entire territory but only for the regions of the Far North or the regions inhabited by the Northern peoples. Therefore, a failure is likely to happen when trying to take adequate account of such peoples residing in the regions of habitation, which are not considered to be regions of the Far North (Nanai, Udege, Tofalar).

5 Constant “non-demographic” growth was witnessed, as already noted, among the Yukagirs. There were cases of such a growth among the Dolgans. But the most profound growth of this kind happened among the Evenks and Evens in Sakha (Yakutia) in 1979-1989.