Translation from RAIPON's journal "Mir korennykh narodov - zhivaya Arktika" No. 8, 2001.

The past and the present of the indigenous peoples of the Sea of Okhotsk
(Evens and Kamchadals)

L.N. Khakhovskaya, researcher
Laboratory of History and Archaeology, SVK Scientific Research Institute, Far Eastern Division of Russian Academy of Sciences

see also The obschina "Nevte"

Recently true enthusiasts of national revival have appeared among the indigenous peoples of the Sea of Okhotsk. One of them is Mikhail T. Yaschenko, a descendant of the well-known Khabarov clan. He and his associates try to recreate traditional economy on the native lands of their clan drawing on the inexhaustible experience of their an-cestors. Therefore they are interested both in the past and in the present of their peoples.

Clan membership and territory

The Evens, a distinctive north-eastern branch of the Tungus, have lived in the coast of the Sea of Okhotsk and adjacent inland regions since the 15-17th centuries. By the time of the Russians’ arrival the majority of the nomadic Evens occupied the area between the Upper Kolyma and the Sea of Okhotsk, while sedentary Evens lived on the shore between the mouths of the rivers Ulya and Tauy. From the second half of the 17th century they started migrating to the north-east, to sparsely populated areas. Settling in new places, the reindeer breeding Evens assimilated autochthonous Yukagirs, settled Koryaks, Yakuts, and Chuckchi. This mixing resulted in the formation of the Evens as an ethnic group different from the Evenks with whom they had previously formed a single ethnic group. Many Even clans and families included representatives of other ethnic groups who became their full members.

The extension of the Evens to the north-east was accompanied by the splitting of large clans into smaller groups and patronymic families (large patriarchal families), which lived at large distances from each other. Aiming to regulate this process, local authorities organized administrative numbered clans. In the second half of the 18th century there were 30 of these clans inhabiting the coast of the Sea of Okhotsk: 14 Uyagans (9 between the rivers Okhota and Tauy, and 5 near the River Gizhiga), 5 Dolgans, 3 Godnikans, 3 Kilars, and 2 Gorbikans.

Clan composition was never constant. Leading a nomadic life and often migrating, the Evens moved from one clan to another and lost ties of blood relationships. Therefore, before the revolution the Evens had been united into administrated clans mainly on a territorial basis rather than kinship. A clan was headed by an elder (tereste) who was appointed by the Tsarist administration, and was elected by the clansmen themselves. This position was often inherited.

In accordance with the Even tradition of the pre-Soviet period, nomads settled as a single territorial association consisting of several local groups. Each group, in turn, was divided into nomad camps. A nomad camp included two or three families. The local groups were the main economic cells of the Evens. They represented territorial, social-economic communities. Members of the communities (local groups) were bound by collective ownership of pastures, hunting and fishing grounds. Communities could include households with small or large numbers of reindeer.

Before the revolution, the Tauy territorial association of the Evens included three local groups, the Ola territorial association included five local groups, and Gizhiga one to six groups. Local groups were exogamous while territorial ones were endogamous, i. e. by tradition, members of different local groups belonging to the same territorial association could enter into a marriage.


Two subsistence patterns were typical for reindeer breeders. Some combined reindeer breeding, fishing, hunting, and gathering. Others based their livelihoods on reindeer breeding on the taiga, with other activities playing very secondary roles. On the basis of where they lived the Evens were divided into coastal inhabitants (nametkenel) and taiga ones (donretkenel). The coastal Evens migrated long distances every year: in spring from taiga to the sea coast for fishing, and back again in autumn with the winter spent tending herds and hunting.

Quite often reindeer breeders who had lost their reindeers became settled at the coast of the Sea of Okhotsk, and returned to a nomadic life when they got reindeers again.

The coast of the Sea of Okhotsk was always an area of mixing of different ethnic groups and the formation of Métis population. In the 18th-19th centuries the sedentary population was constantly mingling with Russian elements, Yakuts, reindeer-breeding Evens, and settled Koryaks. This resulted in the formation of the Russian-speaking group of the so-called Okhotsk Kamchadals. They were not reindeer breeders and were occupied with fishing, sea mammal hunting, dog breeding, and vegetable gardening.


Names and self-designations of peoples of the Sea of Okhotsk, the Evens and people of the mixed origin are rather complicated and intricate. Documents of the 17th-18th centuries refered to Evens as “Tungus” and “Lamuts” (the Evenk word lamu means sea). The ethnonym “Lamuts” was used to indicate both reindeer-breeding peoples and sedentary ones and identified their residence area at the coast of the Sea of Okhotsk while the Evenks and the Evens as a whole were called “Tungus”.

In the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century the name “Tungus” was still officially applied to the Evens of the Sea of Okhotsk. “Lamuts”, a semi-offical name, was usually applied to the Evens of the Lower Kolyma River and Chukotka at that time. Sometimes both names were used simultaneously. Confusion with names of the Lamuts and Tungus persisted in the north-east at the beginning of the Soviet era. Thus, a wrong notion of two Tungus peoples in the north-east appeared: the Tungus proper (Evenks) and the north-eastern Tungus (Evens).

Studies carried out during the 1920s and ‘30s showed that north-eastern Tungus (also known as Lamuts) lived in this region. Some of the people living near Okhotsk called themselves the “Evens” (including variations like Eben, Evun, etc.). Since early studies by Soviet ethnographers were carried out in this very region the current official name of the Even peoples stems from the self-designation “Even” at the beginning of the 1930s. This ethnonym is translated in different ways: local, of this place, coming down from mountains, etc.

The reindeer breeding Evens from the coast of the Sea of Okhotsk called themselves “Oroch”. In the 1950s and ‘60s Evens of the elder generation continued considering themselves as the “Orochi”, while middle-aged and young people accepted the official ethnic name, Evens. Russian old residents had called Evens of Olskiy and Northern Even districts the “Orochi”, but eventually everyone came to use the official name.

Sedentary coastal inhabitants also had several ethnic names. The Evens called old residents of Yamsk, Gizhiga, and Nayahan “Kheekael” (Koryaks), while those of Tauy were known as “Nyoka” (Yakuts). These names are deeply rooted in history as the inhabitants of these settlements are, in fact, the descendants of mixed marriages between alien people and Koryaks or Yakuts.

Until recently, the Evens called sedentary inhabitants of the villages Ola and Arman “mene” (i.e. “sedentary”). Ola and Arman dwellers as well as Tauy people of mixed origin called themselves “Kamchadals” to accentuate their descent from Russians. The self-designation “Kamchadals” became firmly established among the Métis population of the Okhotsk region, from Tauy to the Gizhiginskaya Guba. This dates from a period when Okhotskiy Kray was a part of Kamchatskaya Guberniya (Kamchatka Province). Gizhiga residents called themselves “Gizhigintsy” (Gizhigins) distinguishing themselves from Russian newcomers and accentuating their autochthonous origin.

The process of the formation of an ethnically mixed population in the Okhotsk region quickened especially during the Soviet period and couldn’t pass unnoticed by local authorities. From the end of the 1920s to the middle of the ‘80s, the Métis population had been officially considered as Kamchadals, as indicated in their passports. However, the ethnonym wasn’t included in official lists of indigenous peoples. Therefore, during the Perestroyka, it was recommended that Kamchadals reclassify themselves as Evens, Koryaks, or Itelmens. Administrative arbitrariness had strange results: in the north-east coast of the Sea of Okhotsk the Itelmens suddenly appeared though they had never lived there before.

History of the Khabarovs

Khabarov was a widespread surname along the Sea of Okhotsk coast and has been known for more than one hundred years. The Khabarovs were a part of the 2nd administrative Dolgan (Dolganskiy) clan. Before the revolution, the clansmen who lived in Olskiy district possessed the largest reindeer herds, hunting and fishing in the taiga of Ola and Kolyma regions, and in particular, at the Siglan.

The economic power of the Khabarov clan was so widely recognized that the 2nd Dolgan clan was often called the Khabarov clan in archival documents and literature of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century, while a common meeting place of intermarried administrative clans at the Siglan (Dellyanskiy, the 2nd Dolganskiy, the 1st and 2nd Uyaganskiy) was called the “Khabarov’ encampment”.

In 1880 Dolgan clansmen headed by a senior man Ivan Vasilievich Khabarov were parishioners of the Annunciation Church in Yamsk. Wealthy reindeer owners donated generously to the needs of the church. At the end of the 19th century the senior man of the 2nd Dolgan clan, Prokopiy Khabarov, and his relatives built two chapels, the first one at the mouth of the River Siglan (in memory of Saint Innokentiy), and the second one in Izba village. The chapels were decorated with icons bought in Moscow at their expense.

The Khabarovs’ winter pastures were situated in the upper and middle stretches of the River Kolyma, while summer coastal ones were in the Koni peninsula, in the valleys of the rivers Ola, Lankovaya, and Siglan. In the second half of the 19th century one part of the Khabarovs migrated with their herds to the north, beyond the Great Kolyma Range. Therefore “Tungus of the Khabarov clan”, who became permanent parishioners of the Church of the Saviour in Gizhiga in the end of the 19th – beginning of the 20th century, are often mentioned in archival documents of the church. Afterwards the Khabarovs of Gizhiga separated from the majority of their kinsmen and became a part of the so-called “Rassokhin” group of the Evens, who led a nomadic life separately in remote parts of taiga until the end of the 1950s.

During the early Soviet era the main part of the Khabarov clan together with the clans of Amamichi (the 1st Dolganskiy clan) and Zybiny (the 3rd Dolganskiy clan) still led a nomad’s life near the villages of Ola and Yamsk. At that time nomadic Evens were distinguished not on a clan basis but on a territorial one, according to the locality they belong to. In Olskiy District, the former 2nd Dolganskiy clan together with Otdelniy (Separated) Dellyanskiy and the 2nd Uyaganskiy clans were attributed to the Siglan and Magadan groups on that basis.

The Khabarovs were attributed to the Siglan group of the Evens of Ola. In the 1930s they lost their reindeer as well as their power and influence. Active members of the Siglan nomadic soviet even deprived some representatives of the Khabarov clan of their electoral rights they had as former kulaks. Descendants of the Khabarovs worked at the kolkhoz named in honor of the XXIIth Congress of the CPSU which united the Evens of the Siglan and Magadan territorial groups.

The Khabarovs today

One of the descendants of the Khabarov clan is Mikhail Terentievich Yaschenko, a lawyer, rights activist, and public figure, well-known in the Magadan Oblast. The history of the large Yaschenko family reflects events and processes of the past century which took place at the coast of the Sea of Okhotsk. Mikhail Terentievich’s grandfather, Grigoriy Vasilievich Khabarov, was born in 1889. He belonged to “the Tungus of the 2nd Dolganskiy clan”. According to the record No. 3 in a register of births at the Ola Epiphany Church, Khabarov Grigoriy Vasilievich, 25, an Orthodox, contracted matrimony with a “Tungus girl of the 1st Uyaganskiy clan”, Babtzeva Agafiya Ivanovna, 18, also an Orthodox. The wedding ceremony was conducted by Innokentiy Popov, a parish priest of Ola.

Four years later, another record about the Khabarov family with two children, Maria (3 years old), and Vasiliy (1 year old) was made in a confession inventory of the same church. The whole family belonged to the 2nd Dolganskiy clan.

In the first years of the Soviet era, registration of the indigenous population was carried out at the coast of the Sea of Okhotsk. In documents of the Ola regional executive committee of 1926, Grigoriy Vasilievich Khabarov, his wife and their children were registered as nomadic Evens of the 2nd Dolganskiy clan, tending herds, hunting and fishing in the region of the River Siglan. By that time Khabarov had already had four children, two daughters and two sons.

Documents of the Ola regional executive committee of February 1929 also mention that G.V. Khabarov led a nomad’s life at Siglan district. He had already had five children.

To carry out Socialist reorganizations among the reindeer breeding Evens the authorities needed information about where nomads were concentrated. Studies were conducted by K.Ya. Luks at the end of the 1920s. As is evident from his report of 6 October 1928, before the revolution the Evens of the 2nd Dolganskiy clan were concentrated near the River Siglan. Therefore the family of G.V. Khabarov was included in the Siglanskiy nomadic soviet. In a family register of this soviet of 1930 there is a record about Grigoriy Vasilievich Khabarov’s family mentioning that he had 16 riding reindeers, 1 yurta, and that he bagged 15 squirrel skins and 2 ermines.

Children of the eldest G.V. Khabarov’s daughter, Maria Grigorievna - among them Mikhail Terentievich Yaschenko - consider themselves hereditary Orochi since their ancestors belonged to nomadic reindeer breeding Evens. Indeed, on Mikhail Terentievich’s birth certificate his mother’s nationality is indicated as Orochel (in a copy as Orochi). However, the nationality of her children is indicated in their passports as Even. Mikhail Terentievich’s daughter, Irina Mikhailovna, had been registered as Kamchadal until 1985; then she accepted the ethnonym Even because the alternative name, Itelmen, is absolutely alien to her.

Thus, the Yaschenko-Khabarov family is a typical family of descendants of indigenous residents of the Sea of Okhotsk coast, descended from reindeer breeding Evens of the 2nd Dolganskiy clan which inhabited the valley of the River Siglan. Today members of this clan are going to return to the traditional occupations of their ancestors, to revive traditional Even culture.

Mikhail T. Yaschenko is involved in a great deal of work protecting the rights of indigenous peoples and old residents of our region. Last year, the Magadan municipal public organization “Kadar” (rock in Even) was established on his initiative. The activity of Kadar is directed at legal and informational support of representatives of indigenous peoples; ensuring their participation in ecological assessments of economic projects; participation in land allotment and land use for traditional subsistence activities of indigenous peoples, and many other aspects related to the revival and preservation of the material and spiritual culture of the indigenous residents of the Sea of Okhotsk.

One of the main activities of the new public organization is work with the so-called “old residents” of the region. First of all, it is necessary to determine legislatively who the old residents are, who has a right to be categorized as an old resident, and what rights and privileges they can have. Today M. T. Yaschenko’s efforts are focused on this hard but necessary work. Kadar has its own press organ, the bulletin “Voice of the Aboriginal”, which contains a lot of important and useful information.

M.T. Yaschenko and his relatives established the first clan community of the indigenous peoples of the North named “Nevte” (spring in Even). The charter of the clan community was accepted at a general meeting on 29 September 2000. The clan community was registered by the Magadan Oblast Department of Justice on 16 November 2000. The clan community Nevte is a juridical “person”; its activity is based on principles of independence and self-government, and is guided by the federal laws “On common principles of organization of communities of indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation” and “On the guarantees of rights of the indigenous peoples of the Russian Federation”.

The aim of the clan community Nevte is revival and development of original economy, culture, and language of the indigenous inhabitants of the coast of the Sea of Okhotsk, ensuring their social defense, and satisfying their material and spiritual demands.

The clan community is going to carry out traditional subsistence activities, including fishing and fish-processing, hunting fur-bearing animals and sea mammals, furs and sea foods processing, gathering of wild herbs, dressing of skins and sewing of traditional clothes, manufacturing of traditional utensils and implements, and other activities. According to the clan charter, the community can include not only kinsmen but also those who belong to indigenous peoples or old residents and involved in traditional occupations.

Therefore, both the clan community and organization Kadar are open for everyone who would like to work on the land of their ancestors and to contribute to the prosperity of our region. The two also aspire to a broad cooperation with the state authorities, public and political movements, sharing the aims and goals of newly established organizations concerned with the protection of Northern indigenous peoples’ rights.

According to Irina Yaschenko, the chairman of the clan community, partner relationships with the administration of Olskiy District are developing today. This is good to hear because we have a common aim – to secure the sustainable development of indigenous peoples’ residence areas, and consequently the social and economic stability of our population.