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Сenturies-old nomadic life on reindeer land

RT continues its series of reports from one of the most-remote parts of Russia – the far eastern republic of Sakha, also known as Yakutia. Roughly the size of India, it's Russia's biggest republic. Despite the vast territories, Yakutia is one of the least-populated areas of the country. Today RT takes a look at life of Yakutian indigenous population, who are mainly reindeer herders.

The simple philosophy of the indigenous population, the Even people (also known as Eveny), is “If there were no reindeer there’d be no Evens. If there were no Evens there’d be no reindeer!”

In winter, the Even people pack up camp and resettle roughly every ten days, constantly migrating with their herd.

But is it the reindeer that lead the herders or vice versa?

When reindeer run out of grazing land, they go in search of fresh pasture. Reindeer herder Andrey Zamyatin says it’s him that follows their every move.

“I live and move with the reindeer all year round. I grew up here in the Taiga. This way of life is in my blood,” he says. 

The Even people have been natives of this land for centuries, but during the Soviet era the tribes and their reindeer were collectivised into state farms. It was then that they developed an awareness of national identity and pride.

The Even people have a tough job in a challenging environment, where temperatures drop to minus 60 degrees Celsius. Over a thousand reindeer roam the territory. The majority belong to the local government, which also owns the land that is rich in oil and diamonds. Yet, authorities pay the herders just $US 250 a month.

“My salary is very low. It’s not enough to provide for my family. And sometimes my wages don’t arrive! So that’s why my wife has to make fur clothes for a living,” Andrey says.

His wife Rima uses the fur from reindeer legs to make boots, and she crafts traditional Eveny costumes in her spare time, but her main duties are that of Yurt Keeper: organising her canvas home, cooking, sewing, and tending to the needs of her family. And she’s teaching her young daughter Zoya the skills of a Yurt worker, determined to keep the traditions alive.

Rima is concerned about the future of Eveny culture.

“Young people go off to university and are tempted by the big city. They don’t want to return to a nomadic way of life. So we must try our best to keep children inspired and teach them how to both love this environment and live in it,” she says.

In reality, however, it is a hard existence. It takes much effort to report back to the local authorities, while a quick chat to friends in the city is absolutely out of the question. And if you want to eat, you really need to work hard.