NENETS or Yurak Samoyeds

They call themselves n'enet's'’, (pl. n'enet's'a”), in places hasaba. The use of the names Yurak Samoyeds or Yuraks, widely spread through the Russian language, should be considered outdated. The name Nenets came into official usage in the Soviet Union in the 1920s.


The Nenets inhabit the polar regions of Northeast Europe and Northwest Siberia between the Kanin Peninsula in the White Sea and the mouth of the Yenisey (ca 1 million sq. km). Administratively these areas belong in the Nenets National District of the Archangelsk Province (administrative centre Naryan Mar) and in the Yamal Nenets National District of the Tyumen Province (administrative centre Salekhard).


There has been a steady increase in the population.

year population knowledge of the native language
1897 9,427  
1926 17,560  
1959 23,007 84.7%
1979 29,894 80.4%
1989 34,665 77.1%


However, nearly 8,000 of the Nenets have become Russified and their use of the native language shows continual decrease. Equally dangerous is the population increase due to migration: in 1970 there were 80,000 inhabitants in the Yamal Nenets AD and in 1989 486,000. The population of the district had sextupled in only 19 years. Since the proportion of Nenets is constantly decreasing in their native settlement areas (22.4% in 1959, 13% in 1979), their primary danger is cultural assimilation. In 1980 27% of the marriages were mixed (82% in the cities), and there were 7% one parent families (in Naryan Mar 30%).

The Nenets’ wide settlement areas and nomadic life-style have traditionally protected them from the position of strength policy of foreign powers. However, the causes for the present unsatisfactory state of their language and culture can be found already in their distant past.

Significant Turning Points in Their History

13th c – coming under the influence of Novgorod;

14th c – taxation by the Tatars is added to that by Russians;

1628 – total domination by Russia is secured;

1824 – large-scale conversion to Orthodoxy;

1870s – partial resettlement to north-western border areas of Russia;

1929 – formation of the Nenets Autonomous District, beginning of collectivisation;

1930 – formation of the Yamal Nenets Autonomous District;

1950s – the Nenets are broken morally and as a nation, as the traditionally nomadic people are forced to adopt a resident life-style in the collective farms;

1960s - the beginning of the industrial boom and massive immigration.

Danger Signs

There are obvious danger signs in both the physical and the national and cultural existence of the Nenets people. Government industrial and military officials determine which settlement areas, positions, rights and privileges are available to them. Nuclear experiments have been carried out unobstructed in Novaya Zemlya. The Arctic nuclear fleet is stationed at Severomorsk, at Severodvinsk there is the experimental nuclear base, the military city of Plesetsk (Mirnyj) has a launching site for spacecraft and an experimental nuclear base. The Norilsknikel concern alone has polluted 5 million hectares of Nenets grazing-lands and almost l million hectares of forests. The pollution of heavy metals has been transferred to the humans through mosses and reindeer meat. The average life expectancy of Nenets is 45-50 years, the suicide rate is unusually high. Only 41% of Nenets are employed and usually in jobs which require low qualification.

ENDANGERED URALIC PEOPLES Uralic Peoples of Siberia and Russian Northern Europe Nenets