Mobile antennas change migration routes of reindeer herders | Polarjournal
Only 9% of the population still belong to the indigenous community, living off reindeer herding and housing in tents. (Photo: Sergey Karpukhin)

As part of the complex expedition “Clean Arctic – Vostok-77”, a group of anthropologists from the Center for Arctic and Siberian Research were able to confirm the hypothesis that the routes and schedules of the Nenets reindeer herd migrations have changed over the last ten years due to the emergence of mobile communications masts in the tundra.

As early as 2019, researchers noted changes in the migration routes and plans of reindeer herding communities on the left bank of the Yenisei. It turned out that the camps stay longer than usual within the vicinity of reliable mobile phone reception, causing the herds to destroy mosses in an area 30 km around the communication towers.

Dmitry Belov: The situation was to be expected. This is not only because those who are busy with their daily chores in the pointy yurts, the traditional dwellings of the Nenets, want to chat with their friends”.

“Nowadays, state services, medicine and studies are concentrated online, and nomads are also people who are obliged by government agencies to perform certain bureaucratic rituals, explained Dmitry Belov, deputy head of the expedition.

” Eastern Nenets started to connect to communication networks and deviate from the path their ancestors had followed for centuries. We observe the same phenomenon among the westernmost Nenets in the Nenets Autonomous Region. But you can’t cover the entire tundra with communication towers, so for the past three years we have been testing different ways of using satellite communication that could give families of reindeer herders, hunters and fishermen access to the Internet from anywhere in the tundra,” says Belov.

The indigenous population of the Yamal-Nenets are also moving with the times and use satellite reception.

Trade and its side effects

These results were only a part of the entire expedition. Over the course of time, a network of trading posts was established in the Yamal region to supply the tundra nomadic population. Fish, meat, furs, hides, wild plants and handicrafts, national clothing, as well as covers for tents, hunting and reindeer herding equipment are traded.

The existence of a network of trading posts has proved its worth, but the goods arrive there in containers and packaging. The replacement and repair of appliances leaves behind mountains of waste and scrap metal.

While drawing up a map of the Soviet economic heritage in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, the expedition participants discovered 42 landfills on the basis of Soviet map materials and interviews with residents. Eight of them are large landfills that had been accumulated over decades by trading posts located in the tundra and could not be removed from there.

“Not all trading posts have yet established the disposal of solid municipal and industrial waste and burying is not possible. The trading posts are located on permafrost soils. It is generally impossible to dig even one centimeter deep into the ground,” said expedition member Rodion Kosorukov, a scientist at the ASI Center of the Federal Scientific Research Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

According to the expedition management, the largest landfills are located near the permanently active or seasonal trading posts of Yary, Ust-Yuribey, Yuribey-Gydansky, Mordyyakha, Messo, Laborovaya, Shchuchye, Matyui-Sale.

The Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug is an administrative unit in the north of Russia. It is an autonomous district within the Tyumen Oblast and a federal subject of the Russian Federation. As in many regions of northern Russia, the area is extremely sparsely populated. The indigenous population makes up only 9 percent. The most important economic sector is natural gas and oil production. (Graphic: Heiner Kubny)

It is quite possible that some of the landfills have already been closed by local authorities in recent months, as the data from the informants interviewed and satellite images used to compare the current state of the landfills could be out of date. During the expedition, the researchers also had to assess the size and composition of the landfills they discovered.

Overall, the expedition saw an ambivalent picture: While the Nenets ethnic group continues its traditional way of life, the effects of a lifestyle adapted to modern times are enormous and not only positive. The changed migration routes and the legacy of the trading posts are just two such factors.

Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal

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