Challenges to Arctic Nomadism: Yamal Nenets Facing Climate Change Era Calamities

Andrei V. Golovnev

Abstract

Yamal peninsula is the largest center of reindeer herding in the Arctic, and Nenets historically and recently succeeded in maintaining their economic and ethnocultural potential. However, environmental challenges, such as the formation of a widespread ice crust across the Yamal Peninsula in the winter of 2013–2014 and the outbreak of anthrax in the summer of 2016, have provoked a discussion on Nenets herding “crisis” that allegedly implies the overgrowth of herds and the overgrazing of pastures. Biologists and administrators emphasize the necessity to significantly reduce the Yamal reindeer population “for the sake of environmental safety.” The author of this article presents an alternative approach focused on a system of movement: skillful herd-navigation and quick maneuvering is the basis of Nenets’ traditional rule ya puna hayoda (land after us remains). Conversely, the consequences of sluggish and stationary behavior, including huddling around camp for a long time, is reflected in another Nenets proverb: yadata habei (“land is turned upside down”).

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