English translation from the official periodical of RAIPON “Мир коренных народов - живая арктика” (Indigenous Peoples’ World - Living Arctic) No. 11-12, 2002

Reader’s letter

Hello, “Living Arctic”!

This is in response to your request of sharing a story of our village, our school, and our people with you. We wanted to make our remote northern village known in other parts of our country. We do have something to share and to talk about. Our village’s fate is possibly quite similar in its history and traditions to that of other indigenous villages in the North. Se-Yakha has its own history like any other big or small town or village. We hope that it will be interesting for you and your readers to learn about us.

E.V. Chemyakina, Editor of the school newspaper “Tusovka”

At the ends of the earth

The North is a mysterious land of snow and frosts. A small village with a sonorous name of Se-Yakha is lost in the boundless splendor of the tundra. It is translated from the Nenets as “the river’s song”. Se-Yakha is on the river of the same name. This little river’s deep water fails to get warmed thoroughly during the short, though, at times, hot northern summer. This land has become the motherland, a beloved little corner of Russia not only for the Nenets (the indigenous people) but also for people of all nationalities from the entire former Soviet Union.

Se-Yakha can be found on Russia’s 60-year old map with no indication of many big northern towns of today. The village’s history started in the 1930s, only then, seventy years ago, one could hardly call Se-Yakha a village or a settlement for it was in fact a trading post – a trading, supply and delivery station for procured produce. Now, one can have an idea of what this area looked like some seventy years ago through sheer imagination provided it is based on old inhabitants’ recollections…

Winter. A polar night. The Gulf of Ob, even in the grip of ice, looking menacing and unfriendly; the mouth of the Se-Yakha River and the endless tundra beyond; and the hills nearby with small wooden dwellings in between, shriveled up in the cold northern wind raging in the ravine. That was the very place the future village originated in. The settlement consisted of five structures – a warehouse, a store and three dwelling houses. In 1933, a post office was added to them (its building has survived until now).

Today, if you approach Se-Yakha by helicopter you will not see just a few structures but a well-proportioned layout, though small as it is, of already shabby houses (because of long use), not unlike in many remote villages in the North. Right in the midst of them there will be a modern green-and-red building of a new school dominating the residential area. Welcome to Se-Yakha of 2002!

Many towns in this country would be envious of our beautiful school. All favorable conditions for acquiring knowledge the modern man needs have been created for the children coming over here from the tundra by helicopter every year in September. Nenets children who used to huddle together in a choom all their life are provided with spacious rooms of the boarding school; hot nourishing meals always await them in the dining-hall while attentive educators help them do their homework and arrange various extracurricular activities for them.

There is an excellent gym hall as well as a library, a dining hall, an assembly hall, and a computer classroom equipped with the latest PCs in our school. Children can visit a psychologist and have a consultations about personal problems; there is also a speech therapist’s consulting room known to have practiced successfully. The young Se-Yakhans come to their large, light classrooms to study history, English, chemistry, biology and other subjects offered in the school curriculum. The native language and literature of northern peoples are also taught – the favorite subjects of indigenous schoolchildren whose number is an overwhelming majority there. 438 pupils out of the total of 529 are Nenets.

Upbringing and education at the Se-Yakha boarding school are based on ethnic traditions and specific features of culture. Experienced teachers fond of their profession guide the kids through the country of knowledge. For example, the teacher of geography and fundamentals of market economy, Oleg Petrovich Gorbunov, was the winner at the pedagogy contest in Salekhard, becoming the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug’s Teacher of 2002. Soon, Oleg Petrovich will be defending the Area’s honor at the upcoming All-Russia Contest.

The system of self-governance is well developed at school, thanks to which children get prepared for independent lives in society. There is a Republic of Boys and Girls (RBAG) headed by a president annually elected by general secret ballot. Important matters are looked into at the Presidential Council; the Ministries of Finance, Educational Labor, Culture, Mass Media, and Law and Order deal with the Republic’s affairs. The Finance Ministry is preoccupied with distribution of the school currency – “Yamalchiks”, which children can use to buy various goods at the school store.

A school video studio is functioning actively, its programs transmitted every Sunday in the nearby villages. The spot television reports broadcast by the school station not only help the villagers know more about boarding school life but also give them a chance to see their fellow villagers and hear the news from enterprises.

A good many possibilities have been offered to our schoolchildren interested in journalism. The newspaper “Tusovka” (“The Jamboree”) has a staff consisting of senior pupils who showi a great fondness for this interesting work. The newspaper makes it possible for the schoolchildren to develop their creative abilities and since the RBAG is a model of a society “Tusovka” is assumed to be the Republic’s information center.

The Se-Yakha school is a small country where childhood reigns.

That is how it is today…

But let us return to the past where we have left the newly built settlement.

1934 was the beginning of the development of collective farms (kolkhozes) in the northern parts of Yamal. In 1939 “the wind of change” reached this remote corner of Russia. The kolkhoz named “Krasnyi Yamal” was formed in Se-Yakha. Kolkhoz members lived in their chums — some settlement that was, we would say! Chairman Neliko Khosievich Okotetto was elected at a general meeting; the reindeer herders entrusted him with such an important and serious post. Leonid Malovich Okotetto became chairman of the village council. They both had to shoulder an extremely heavy task of building the settlement.

At that time the local school was already opened for the children of tundra inhabitants. The school, established in 1935, did not bear much resemblance to the modern one. Let us enter its building. Until 1987, it was a school for children receiving primary education only. You would have to walk along a narrow, dark corridor. Classrooms would be on your left a dining room and teachers’ living rooms heated by small temporary iron stoves on your right; homemade paraffin lamps covered with one-liter glass jars threw a dim light in the classrooms.

Let us bow down in memory of the first schoolteachers, in admiration of their courage, diligence and enthusiasm. They were the first. There was a wonderful family: the Belovs, Ivan Dmitrievich and Nadezhda Aleksandrovna (only their names have been saved within living memory of the local old-timers).

The years passed by, and the settlement was growing. It was a tough job to build houses in the severe conditions of the sinister, icy North. Have a look around – not a single tree; there are no walls abundantly provided by Mother Nature in the taiga, and no thick forests. Timber was shipped up here by tugboat and it was quite a sweat to lift the materials painstakingly from the cargo hold with the help of a hand crane. Then, dogs, man’s ancient assistants, would be brought to the pier to carry the materials to the site where a house would soon be built.

It is interesting that only the newcomers lived in these houses at first for the Nenets refused vehemently to abandon their chums; they could not understand what the village was needed for and did not want to part with their predecessors’ centuries-old lifestyle. Similarly, the tundra inhabitants heavy-heartedly gave their children to attend school classes. Reindeer herders were literally forced to yield to progress, to change their life and see farther than their own chum anticipating the future.

In 1961-1962, the kolkhoz “Krasnyy Yamal” and the kolkhoz named after Lenin united to form a sovkhoz (a state farm) “Yamal’skiy”. Geramnur Khabirovich Kadyrov remained its director for twenty years, to be replaced by Rafis Salimovich Askarov, whose efforts have accounted for further development and consolidation of the sovkhoz ever since. For example, from 1963 the sovkhoz has been engaged in Arctic fox breeding. A fur farm is equipped for this purpose.

By and large, the development of this northern village has been connected with geological prospecting in the north of Yamal. The tundra inhabitants came across a phenomenon hard to understand and, therefore, frightening – the earth was burning! All of a sudden hills would blow up. It would have inspired sacred fear among the Nenets but the new times have changed them and they started to ask scientists rather than gods and sorcerers for information about the burning question. That is how natural gas was discovered. When the gas deposits were tapped the territory adjacent to the village started to be used as base by many organizations of Gazprom (a hydrocarbon extraction company). Gas prospecting went on with participation of Se-Yakhans – employees of the Circumpolar Geological Surveying and Prospecting Expedition, resulting in the discovery of one of the biggest gas deposits - Bovanenkovskoye. Communication via air routes connecting the village with many northern towns has become more brisk.

We do not really feel up to recollecting the time when news would reach us only in the summer, with the arrival of steam ships, when we lived with paraffin lamps while billions of electric lights were shining all across the country. But how great the Se-Yakhans’ joy was when the roar of a crawling tractor broke the silence of the village! It happened in 1963. In 1967, electricity came to the village houses, and running water was available in the 1970s. Municipal services became a fact of life in 1990, dozens of years later than in the “Mainland”, as the local residents call the rest of the country.

The school was transformed along with the village itself. It used to face its own hard times. In spite of the difficult conditions of work in the newly fitted out settlement, schoolteachers happened to find time for discussions and studies to eliminate illiteracy among adult tundra inhabitants. These classes used to take place in a teashop not far from the school. There were also traveling teachers who would move from place to place along with the “Red Chum” all across the tundra and teach the tundra inhabitants, adults and children alike, how to read and write. The “Red Chum” existed for ten years – from 1943 to 1953.

The new school building was only built in 1956. Until that time the school remained a primary institution. The transfer to an eight-year schooling system began in 1967 and the first graduation took place in 1972. There were only five school leavers. Then, in 1977, a decision was taken to turn the Se-Yakha boarding school into a secondary school. Many school leavers threw in their lot with it, coming back to their native school after graduation from teachers’ training colleges and institutes. The latest twenty years make up the period of turning the school into what it has become now – a cultural center of the village.

The Se-Yakha boarding school principals were Vyacheslav Lyanzberg, Robert Vladimirovich Lee, Victor Ivanovich Kharlamov, and Vladimir Dmitrievich Karpov. They have left the village for the far-away towns but, undoubtedly, their memory will continue to cherish the image of a small school at the ends of the Earth. Mikhail Mikhaylovich Romanov has been the school’s principal for the last decade.

Our journey has come to an end taking us back to nowadays. The construction of a new modern hospital is now underway, and soon we will join the world wide web. Life is marching on, and the village is still developing and expanding.

Someone who knows the whole history of the village, since he is its creator, has taken us through the past and present of Se-Yakha - the head of administration, Nikolai Lachevich Okotetto, who was, still a youngster way back in 1955, became deputy chairman of the kolkhoz at the age of 18, and from March 3, 1961 (Nikolai Lachevich mentioned this date smoothly) until now has smoothly fulfilled the duties of the village council’s chairman (only the name of his position has changed). We came to an end of our traveling in time at his office. I can see a volume of verses by the famous Nenets poet, Leonid Laptsui on the desk of Leonid Lachevich with a bookmark put between the pages. Yes, we shall wind up our journey to the back of beyond with these lines:


A Remote Village

Se-Yakha, a village on the bank of the Ob,
The great river’s baby breast-fed by the Mom,
All covered in white by the piercing storm,
While clouds above chase the lights of the North.

Its roots are deep down hemmed in by the ice,
Its armor of ice is well made by the frosts,
Snow clouds get thicker and the wind’s playing dice
And sinister blizzards make darkness so coarse.

Though when the wide river’s high water for joy
Would lick off the crust with a bustling wave,
The thawed out village is well seen on its soil,
A cordial host for the spring swans to mate.

Se-Yakha has straightened its shoulders today,
Its hunters’ keen ear having heard the good news,
So facing the land rover its speech is sedate
And greeting the guests it’s to share its views.

A hunter has met a geologist warmly,
And oil’s rushing out once freed from obscurity.
All dressed in blue fox fur, so rich, so homely,
Se-Yakha is nursed by the waves like a beauty.