Indigenous Peoples and Development of the Yamal Peninsula

(By A. Golovnev, G. Osherenko, Yu. Pribyl'skii, D. Schindler ; INSROP Working Paper No. 112 – 1998, IV.4.1)


The Yamal Peninsula is home to over a quarter of the 35,000 Nenets living at the edge of the Arctic and spread across four administrative districts. Nenets are not only the largest of the so-called "small numbered" indigenous peoples of Siberia, but are also among the most traditional. Yamal is the heartland of their reindeer-herding culture. It is also the locale of extensive gas fields to which the Russian government looks as a major source of energy and hard currency exchange in the next century. Many questions surround development of the super-giant gas fields. What impact will development have on Nenets. How can negative impacts be minimized and benefits optimized? What means of transport for gas, oil and gas condensate will be both feasible and beneficial to the indigenous population? Can large-scale reindeer herding continue alongside hydrocarbon extraction? How can property rights be transformed to serve the needs of economic development and cultural endurance?

In order to address these questions, the report provides background on the geography, ecology, archeological resources, demography, political and administrative structures, Native leadership, ethnography and Native economy of Yamal. The authors trace the history of Soviet interest in the Northern Sea Route as it relates to Yamal. They first explore the impact of early expeditions from 1920-1932 on Yamal's residents and economy and then the six year period of Glavsevmorput 's influence (1932-1938). The report chronicles the drastic reduction of reindeer herds and harsh times during and immediately following World War II, the periods of intensive collectivization and consolidation of kolkhozy into a handful of sovkhozy (state farms), and the era of oil and gas exploration.

The sovkhozy, which were never dismantled on the Peninsula, face a difficult transition to a free market economy given the push to privatize herds, the state farms, and the land. The report describes the existing system of property rights and explores alternative property rights arrangements and the potential impacts of each. Final sections forecast NSR impacts in the 21st century and offer recommendations for facilitating international transport in the Kara Sea and beyond with the participation and support of the Native population.


    A. Golovnev, G. Osherenko, Yu. Pribyl'skii, D. Schindler, 1998, Indigenous Peoples and Development of the Yamal Peninsula, INSROP.©