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9 Aug, 2007 01:06

Indigenous peoples day

With the spread of globalization, native communities across the world are struggling to maintain their own unique languages and customs. And those living across Russia are no different.

But efforts to prevent their various cultures from dying out are paying off.

Thursday marks The International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples. It was established by the United Nations in 1994 as a celebration of some of the world's oldest traditions and cultures. Russia has more than 100 indigenous minorities which are trying to pass on their heritage to younger generations

A standard definition of an indigenous person is one who naturally belongs to a particular region or land. This implies a close link between a person's cultural identity and his relationship with a particular area.

Russia is a country replete with indigenous nationalities that are spread from the Caucasus to the Northern regions, to the country's Far East. Many of these peoples number no more than a few thousand.

But most of these peoples have one and the same dilemma: maintaining their language and culture while trying to keep the ubiquitous technological age at arms length.

“The villages are dying out. Young people go away to study. Those who return here can't find a job,” said bitterly an old woman.

Some of these communities, like those in the Sakhalin region, are at the mercy of energy companies whose encroachment on their land is often being carried out without their consent.

The Teleut people in Southern Siberia have been pushed from their native land by giant factories, their language has been practically replaced by Russian and their population is decreasing.

Other ethnic communities seem to have been able to find a way out. Rural tourism provides an indispensible mechanism of maintaining the ethnic consciousness of some of the minorities. It continues to be one of the main guarantors for the employment of the Vepsian people in the Northwestern Russian Republic of Karelia.

All the indigenous peoples of Russia are devoting great attention to the teaching of their native languages. Some of these efforts are paying off: many students in various indigenous areas now anxious to learn more of their native tongue.

With all the ups-and-downs the native peoples of Russia are currently facing, they continue to teach their languages, celebrate their traditional festivals, worship their deities, take care of their museums and maintain close links with their centuries-old cultural roots.