Monday, August 12, 2019

The Ten Numerically Smallest Peoples of Russia On Brink of Extinction

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 9 – Today is the International Day of Indigenous Peoples. In Russia, Moscow recognizes 47 such peoples within its borders, each of which numbers fewer than 50,000 people and continues to practice a traditional way of life.  Despite claims of some, the very smallest of these nations are in many cases on their way to extinction.

            In part, this is the inevitable result of their very small size and the arrival of representatives of larger nations in the areas where these groups live; but in part it reflects Moscow policies, both those intended to force these peoples to accept development and paradoxically those ostensibly intended to protect these communities.

            To mark this international holiday, the Nazaccent portal provides a brief description of the ten numerically smallest peoples of Russia, their locations, their numbers, and the state of their languages ( They include, from largest to the very smallest the following peoples:

10. The 513 Negidaltsy of Khabarovsk Kray, only 74 of whom speak the national language. It is divided into two dialects but already the second is dead. None of its speakers remains alive.

9. The 482 Aleuts of Kamchatka Kray, only 45 of whom speak their own language. Aleut has four dialects, but the last is already dead.

8. The 355 Chulyms of Tomsk Oblast and Krasnoyarsk Kray. Russian officials say 44 of them speak their own language but linguists put the number at 12.  Chulym is not a literary language although this year a translation of the Gospels was made into it. Experts predict this group will disappear over the next 25 years.

7. The 295 Uylta or Oroki of Sakhalin. Fewer than 50 now speak their native language which is only partially a literary one: a gramma was published in 2008.

6. The 274 Taz of Primorsky Kray, a metis people which arose only in the 19th century as a result of the mixing of Chinese and Manchurians with Udygeys and Nanais. They now all speak Russian.

5. The 266 Izhors of Leningrad Oblast, a Finno-Ugric people fewer than half of which speak their historical language. That language is divided into four dialects, two of which now have no living speakers.

4. The 227 Entsy of Krasnoyarsk Kray who still lack an agreed-upon literary language and most of whose number now speak languages other than their own. 

3. The 214 Seto of Pskov Oblast. Most Seto live in Estonia, and most scholars consider the Seto language a branch of Estonian. But Seto in Russia insist that it is a language all its own even though it does not have a literary form.

2. The 64 Vods of Leningrad Oblast, another disappearing Finno-Ugric people. In 2002, they acquired their own coat of arms and flag, but now only six to ten of them speak the Vod language.

1.The 4 Kereks of Chukotka who are currently being assimilated by the Chukchi. The Kereks have a separate language, however, and intriguingly more people speak it – ten – than identify as Kereks at present. 

Nations as small as these when intermixed with others as all of these groups are would find it difficult if not impossible to survive, but unfortunately, the Russian government is accelerating their demise not only by promoting the use of the Russian language among them but in other ways as well, including some that look like measures taken to keep them alive.

Like many other governments, Moscow has set up programs giving special rights and preferences to members of such indigenous peoples; but in contrast to most, the Russian authorities appear to be working hard to limit the number of people who can identify as such and get these benefits.

A particularly sad example of this is currently taking place in Arkhangelsk where officials are demanding that individuals who claim to be Saami who number just under 2,000 in the Russian Federation prove that they are in court before getting any special benefits (

In one recent case, regional courts turned down someone they felt could not offer sufficient “proof.”  He plans an appeal to the Russian Supreme Court and, anticipating failure there as well, to the European Court for Human Rights.

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