Pert Yaptik’s speech in the 54th reindeer herders’ day in Yar-Sale.The Yamal peninsula

Dear people, my Yamal Nenets people! Dear reindeer herders!

Listen, what I am going to say. Mostly I am speaking to you, young people who are living now on the tundra. As for me I am living on the tundra 70 years, and by myself I am 70 years old.


Now officials say that we will have less reindeer. Of course the number of reindeer is going down. In old times, one hundred years ago we did not have so much reindeer as we have now. At the same time we have on the neighborhood Russian culture and people and we cannot live without them.

Mostly for us, reindeer herders, who live on the tundra it is important to keep our work with reindeer, but at the same time it is important for tundra young dwellers to get good education and to be able to follow the Russians way of life.

You all understand by yourself that this life nowadays on the modern Arctic tundra is severe and tough. I agree that before reindeer herders used to live not in the same way as now.But now we have all these difficulties with reindeer, we lost many of them during icing one year ago.

Even if people say that in old time our life was better, because tundra people used to live independent and only from their reindeer and fishing on the tundra rivers and lakes. However nowadays we do not live any more like in old times. In old times reindeer were for the tundra people the only way for living. Therefore every morning reindeer herders used to check their herds, they could not begin any other work before checking reindeer. In old time for all Nenets herders reindeer had the prerogative above all other things, but nowadays it is very different. I look to my young relatives, and to other young reindeer herders. They are so different from us, elders. For example in the morning, instead of going to the reindeer, they prefer to start their day from checking their snow scooters. After they travel everywhere on the tundra, but they do not go first to check their reindeer. They changed their life values, and for them reindeer is only movable property, but not any more the only source of life on the tundra.

Even private reindeer herders cease to value so much their reindeer and they work less with them. And after all they are complaining that they have just one reindeer left.

I noticed the same even with my own family members. Listen, in 1970-80’s I used to work as a brigadier in the brigade number 4 in the Novyi Port enterprise. I used to teach to my herders in the same way as old people used to teach me how to work with reindeer, and they used to respect me and listen to me. Every day I used to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning and I used to get up all my workers. After the morning tea I used to go to my herders to check them again, if everybody awoke. After I used to take my skies to go to the herd. When it was necessary we used to move our reindeer to a new place on the tundra. We usually moved them every two days.

Nowadays, I noticed that it is not like it used to be in old times. Our reindeer herders, as soon as they move their reindeer from the tundra to the winter pasture, they travel immediately to the settlement, where they forget about their reindeer. Listen, I am talking not only about the state reindeer herders but also private reindeer herders are the same now. There is a question, who will look after reindeer? Of course, because of such quality of work our reindeer died last year.

And do you remember that reindeer herders ever used to have so much reindeer before? During soviet time people usually had very little number of reindeer. Maybe you still remember in the years 1986-87 I was kicked out from the soviet reindeer herding enterprise, because officials used to say that I have too many reindeer. However,  in the reality I was not so much rich at all.

Nevertheless you know by yourself, that during icing we lost so much reindeer for nothing. For example, I used to have 1500 reindeer and now I have only little reindeer left. Not only me who lost reindeer, but everyone here. However, I do not put my head down, because I am in the same situation like many of you here. I said to my children: “Even we lost our reindeer, we will manage to grow them again, and you have your parents as a strong support. You have strong hands, good heads, so you are able to grow your reindeer again!” Look, just now people just realized what they lost with their reindeer. However, maybe this lesson would teach them to take care about their reindeer and to carry their herding work more seriously.

Do you remember I used to mention about Gazprom workers who are working now on our land? We have to learn as well how to collaborate with them, because we do not have any other choice, but to live with this. It is good that we have so much gas now in our Yamal peninsula. It would give us a new life. Look, now we are living in 2015, in the XXI century. Nevertheless, in the next century the life would be even change more than we have now. Look to our young people and even to middle age ones who are sitting in the tents and playing only their mobile telephones, instead of working with reindeer. Now you lose your reindeer, but try to avoid this in the future and you have to teach you children what to do in such situations. Because if such terrible (ice) years happens again, we would lose all our reindeer completely.

This railway people and other Gazprom workers are on the tundra. Look between Mys-Kamennyi and Novyi Port huge pipelines have been extended. These pipelines go also across my pastures. I am never complaining, I never asked anything from official people and I always say to my children that if they have to get food they need to get it by themselves, like by fishing in the nearest lake, but not to cadge from somebody, especially from the official people. Of course our officials try to help us. They try to attend such meetings like our Reindeer herders day today. But again you should speak your problems by yourself, and we have to speak our problems with our officials. I was talking about these pipeline workers. People used to say that they destroy our land. They pollute it. However, tundra people become also by themselves a bit lazy. People when they move to a new place to do not clean their old camping places. They leave on the tundra all their garbage, empty bottles, tins and old cloths. I  always clean my old camping places. Maybe it is complicated in the winter, but in the summer you can make a hole in the ground and to dig all your garbage there.

If we always complain to Russians, it would not help us to live together with them. They say that the Nenets way of life would disappear in the future. However I believe that it would never happen. Look, there are some young people who do not know properly how to live like Nenets and they do not know how to follow the Russians way of life. Listen, We Nenets should know how to live these both ways of life. We should be good educated, but also  we have to know how to be good skilled in the work with reindeer. Especially it is important for our young reindeer herders  to learn how to make a simple sled, how to make a lasso.

As for me, I made recently three sleds. Even other reindeer herders were surprised: “How fast you are, you just started it in the morning and now it is already ready”. In old times young reindeer herders used to sit near the good carpenter, looking to his work, and shavings, learning by this way the knowledge about sledges making craft. Now it is changed: the young reindeer herders prefer to enjoy their new telephones, and they have no  interest in other work. Young people are watching DVD players all night until 3-5 o’clock in the morning. It is an example from my camp. When we old people wake up in the morning, they just go to sleep like after a hard work. They still have to learn how to plan their life and how to organize their work with reindeer, what they need to do tomorrow, and in a day after tomorrow. And we have to help them and teach them these. Everybody is saying now that we Nenets are disappearing. But it would never happen, if we not change ourselves and our young people’s attitude about the life on the tundra. That is enough!

Translated from Nenets by Roza Laptander

One thought on “Pert Yaptik’s speech in the 54th reindeer herders’ day in Yar-Sale.The Yamal peninsula

  1. Stephan Dudeck

    What a wonderful speech! It’s full of remarks worth to reflect on for us anthropologists – about the role of the state, new technologies (like snowmobiles and mobile phones) ,old technologies (like the tent and the sledge), about skills and knowledge and the coexistence of different and ethnically marked lifestyles. I wonder how spontaneously the speech appeared? Did the old men think about if for a long time at home? Was he invited to give the speech? Did he have some written notes? Was it translated for the mostly Russian speaking public (as I suppose)? How was the immediate reaction, if there was one at all at this official event that is the “day of the reindeer herder”. Is a public speech of an elder in the Nenets language an exceptional happening at these official and public occasion or does it happen regularly? I would be happy if you Roza could provide a little bit background information, or do you plan to write an article about it? I guess it would be worth to do it!

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