Naryan-Mar is a small city of about 19,000 people. It is fairly new, having been established around 1930 as the Soviet Union began to exploit natural  resources in the area, so most of the architecture is twentieth century. It is located on the Pechora River, not too far from the Barents Sea. It is a port city in the summer when the river isn’t frozen.  This is the federal building.


This  is a boat frozen in the ice on the river, waiting for spring.


Some things about this part of Russia were surprising.  It is north of the Arctic Circle, so it is very cold two-thirds of the year.  However, the Russians keep their building interiors very warm.  If you bring only warm clothes, you will be way too warm indoors.  Not knowing this, we were uncomfortably warm a lot of the time.

Because of the snow, ice and mud, it is customary to remove your boots indoors.  People often have a collection of slippers for guests to wear. This is me in Nelmin Nos.


Thid is our hotel. It was very comfortable, and the staff were very nice.


We were treated very well in Russia, and no asked us about Trump.

One of the main things I learned about Russia is that it is difficult to be an entrepreneur there.  In the U.S.  it’s basically pretty easy. Rent space, get a permit from your city and you’re in business.  I know this because we have done it (not successfully, mind you).  In Russia, not so much.  There are so many regulations and layers of bureaucracy, that it is really discouraging. Nevertheless, there are lots of small businesses and shops. Humans like to buy and sell things, so we do.


An Article in the Local Newspaper

FBCC4597-55D5-49DD-9D47-EF4E1ED664ED.jpegApril 15, 2018

The media in the Nenets Autonomous Okrug have taken an interest in our trip. Below is one of the first article to appear in the local paper in both Russian and English. It was published on April 3. I couldn’t get the newspaper’s photos to upload, but this is a picture of the same day.


Знакомство с Ненецким округом начинается с ЭКЦ
Introduction to the Nenets Okrug begins with an ETC
– So decided the delegation of the Diet of the Indians from the State of Washington, America.
Immediately upon arrival in the Nenets Autonomous Okrug – April 3 – the representatives of the Seimish Nation’s nation got acquainted with the activities of the Ethnocultural Center, the diversity of national cultures. The guests were greeted by experts of the ECC and participants of creative groups in colorful Nenets, Komi and Russian dresses. There were songs in different languages, the guests got acquainted with folk dances, games. In response to the Indian drum, theg guests sang their song. The meeting continued in the afternoon at the Center for Decorative and Applied Creativity of the NAO ECC, where guests made souvenirs with members of the Mel club.
In the evening they visited the plague in the “Marad Sey” square, listened to songs performed by the vocal group of the People’s Nenets Song and Dance Ensemble “Hayar”, learned a lot of interesting things about the life and way of life of the Nenets people.
The program of the delegation’s stay in our region is extensive, among other meetings and trips it also involves the participation of the Seimish of the Indians in the spring festival of Varya Yala (Vorony Day), which will be held in Nelmin-Nos on April 7.
The visit of the Seimish delegation of the Indians of our region was organized by the NGO “Economic programs fund” within the framework of the project “Exchange of experience in the field of science of culture, traditions and business development of Seimish Indians, Washington, USA and Nentses, Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia” under the Russian-American Program a partnership dialogue in partnership with the Nation of the Seymish Indians and the University of Health and Science of Oregon.
– так решила делегация сеймиш индейцев из штата Вашингтон, Америка.
Сразу по приезду в Ненецкий автономный округ – 3 апреля – представители нации сеймиш индейцы познакомились с деятельностью Этнокультурного центра, разнообразием национальных культур. Гостей встретили специалисты ЭКЦ и участники творческих коллективов в красочных ненецких, коми и русских нарядах. Звучали песни на разных языках, гости познакомились с народными хороводами, играми. В ответ под индейский бубен гости исполнили свою песню.

Встреча продолжилась во второй половине дня в Центре декоративно-прикладного творчества ЭКЦ НАО, где с участницами клуба «Мел” не”» гости изготовили сувениры.
Вечером они посетили чум на площади «Марад сей», послушали песни в исполнении вокальной группы Народного ненецкого ансамбля песни и танца «Хаяр», узнали много интересного о жизни и быте ненецкого народа.
Программа пребывания делегации в нашем регионе обширна, среди прочих встреч и поездок она также предполагает участие сеймиш индейцев в весеннем празднике Варңэ’ яля (Вороний день), который состоится в п. Нельмин-Нос 7 апреля.
Посещение делегацией сеймиш индейцев нашего региона организовано НКО «Фонд экономических программ» в рамках реализации проекта «Обмен опытом в области науки культуры, традиций и развития бизнеса сеймиш Индейцев, штата Вашингтон, США и Ненцев, Ненецкого автономного округа, Россия» по Программе российско-американского партнерского диалога в партнерстве с Нацией Сеймиш Индейцев и Университетом Здоровья и Науки Орегона.

Nelmin Nos


April 6, 2018

In Nelmin Nos, we stayed at the home of Veronica Selemateva.  She is an entrepreneur.  She has a small grocery store, and now she has opened her house to homestays. She has a small banya (sauna building) next to her house.  When you go into a house in Russia, you take off your boots and put on slippers.  This helps keep the floors clean

We spent the afternoon and evening eating, talking, and going to the sauna. We had a fairly substantial tea consisting of tea, bread, cookies, salami, and chocolate. A couple of hours later we had a dinner of soup, meatballs and rice, bread, cookies ,chocolate…  The diet is very heavy on meat, usually reindeer, beef, or chicken, with a fair amount of fish.  They eat salmon and whitefish baked and in soups. There are few vegetable or fruits. Deserts are usually cookies or sometimes cake.

We slept spread around the house. I slept on a bed, which I was grateful for because I was very sore from the snowmobile ride. Most people slept on mats on the floor.

Saturday, April 7, was Raven Day in Nelmin Nos.  The return of the ravens ( or crows;  it was a little unclear) signals that spring is on its way.  The town has a celebration with  a small stage set up for singing, dancing, skits, and speeches. People wear their traditional costumes. Or their crow costumes. The group photo includes members of the dance troupe ‘Hayar.’ It it is quite festive. We were asked to sing at the closing ceremonies, and we gave some gifts away. Below are the festival ground



And their are reindeer races!

The young woman on this side is Alexandra, one of the delegates to the Samish who will be visiting us next summer.


The girl second from the left is the daughter of the people who owned the guesthouse.


Later, we also gave gifts to Veronica, and to the news crew. Then we got in the low-pressure-tire truck and headed back to Naryan-Mar.


Expedition to Small Land Tundra II

April 5, 2018 continued

By the time we got to the Neruta family-clan Camp, we were exhausted (or at least I was), but the day wasn’t over. The herders has a lot of work to do and they couldn’t  just drop everything, so they were in and out. The camp has a small generator which runs a few lights. There is no running water. Ice is brought inside and melted. There is a small wood burning stove in the middle of the chum, which is used for cooking and heat. There are a couple of small tables and stools. The outside edges of the chum are lined with reindeer hides and big cushions, and this is where everybody sleeps.

The man sitting center-right in the checked shirt is Alexei Ledkov, the owner and operator of this reindeer herd, Brigade 7, a term left over from Soviet times. He operates it with his son, Nikolai.


We were offered a traditional Nenets dinner consisting of tea, bread, raw frozen reindeer, reindeer soup and reindeer blood  I passed on the blood. I tried to put in a video of Toby and Kelly drinking it, but I couldn’t get it to upload, so I’m putting it on Facebook instead.


After eating and some talking, we went to sleep on the floor of the chum. Even with a sleeping bag, it was cold. I went to sleep with my whole tundra suit on.

Tomorrow’s Post: Nelmin Nos and the reindeer games!


Some Personal Observations

April 9, 2018

In my last post, I forgot to  mention the size of our group.  In addition to Yan, Irina,Toby, Kelly and me, we had picked up several other people.  We had a news crew consisting of a TV journalist, Dmitry Pishuhin, his wife, Yevgeniya, and his photographer. We also had another photojournalist, Antone Tayberey and some sort of a government official, Taleh Shamilov. We all thought he was a spy

Yan had told us that the Nenets reindeer herders had been very reluctant to to let tourists visit them. This is the first time he had been able to convince them to try it.  So there were ten of us descending on them.

The news crew was nice in person but totally obnoxious on camera.  They kept making us do dumb things that made it look like we were Americans patronizingly greeting the natives, plus making us put on our shawls over our tundra outfits, or making us go outside without hats so our headbands would show.  I almost got frostbite on my ears, and it was just ridiculous. Yan feels it will be good exposure for the project, so we went along with it.  Yan told us we have alre1dy been on Tass, as well as some other news organiions.

In the picture below, Dmitry and Yevgenia are  the ones making peace signs.


The way of life represented by the shums on the tundra with their reindeer herds may be on its way out.  The Russian economy has been in a state of flux since the  end of the Soviet Union.  The Soviets had tried to collectivize the reindeer herds. This didn’t work well,  but many herds are in collectives still. The owners of this herd, Alexei Ledkov and his son Nicolai, are trying something different.  They have formed an independent organization called an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization). We have NGOs in the states, but they are usually non-profit corporations that contract with governments and/or private charitable foundations to work on projects that improve communities, and arts, and humanities projects that are good for the general welfare. Here NGO is used as a term for what most Americans would call free enterprise.

Alexei and the other herders were reserved at first, but after the news crew went off duty, we were able to have some good conversations with them.  One thing comes through very clearly: reindeer herders love what they do and they are convinced that they will be the last generations of herders who live as they do.

As I see it, the biggest problem is government interference. A few decades ago, the Russian government mandated that Nenets children attend school in the villages, or settlements, as they call them. So they built boarding schools. The children attend school for ten years, going home in the summer. I got conflicting reports about whether the children we allowed to use the Nenets language at school, but classes are taught in Russian.

This has had potentially devastating effects.  First, the children are separated from their parents (can any one say indoctrination?). They speak Russian most of the time and are losing the Nenets language.  The moms don’t like being separated from the kids and have started living in the villages.  After everybody lives in the village for awhile, nobody wants to go back to the tundra. The men live out on the tundra herding for at least six months of the year. So instead of being families living, working, traveling together on the tundra, the family system has been destroyed. The ironic part is that many of the people we talk to think the government is just trying to help them. (Schools! Healthcare! Subsidies!) It is hard for them to see the destruction that is going on. This all seems both familiar and depressing.

Kelly talking to Nenets children in Naryan-Mar. They are learning English.


Expedition to Small Lands Tundra I

April 5, 2018

We gathered our things and headed for our transportation, a low-pressure-wheel truck, for the first part of our trip.


Narayan-Mar is located on the Pechora River.  It is still frozen at this time of year, so it is our roadway for the first 37 miles of the trip. This is what’s it looks like:


At the settlement Nelmin Nos, we changed to sleds pulled by snowmobiles.


We rode in the sled for 75 miles. It took about four hours. Riding in the sled is not fun. Think back to your elementary school years. Remember being on a teeter-totter when your partner jumped off and you crashed to the ground? It was like that except that you are also being violently jostled from side to side. For four hours. In zero degree temperature.

Our destination is an area about ten miles from the Barents Sea. The reindeer herders we were going to visit had two base camps about twenty miles apart. We stopped briefly at the first one. It was small and extremely isolated.


We then continued on to the main camp. Around four pm we saw a camp consisting of a reindeer hide-covered covered chum, a corral, a rack with reindeer hides hanging on them, a few hundred reindeer, about ten herding dogs, snowmobiles, a small generator and not much else. There is no bathroom. You have go away from camp down a small hill.

We had arrived.


Preparing for Expedition to Small Land Tundra II

April 5, 2018

Yesterday, Yan got our tundra suits.

  After lunch we went to the Museum of Local Lore. This is a museum specializing in the Nenets Autonomous Okrug. We had a guided tour from the museum historian.  It was interesting, but I am so tired I almost fell asleep standing up. I’m still jet lagged.

We were driven to the museum by a man that I later found out is a director of the Russian Chamber of Commerce And Industry. Apparently he is interested in our project also.

At dinner, we met the RussiaOne news team that is going in to be with us until Saturday. I’m a little nervous having a news crew with us. Apparently, there is a fair amount of interest in our project.

After dinner, Kelly, Toby, Irena ( interpreter) and I met with Alexandra, a young Nenets woman who we hope will be coming to Anacortes next summer, to talk about goals and  outcomes for our project . I think we are a little shaky on outcomes, but we did have a good discussion about the possibility of the Nenets craft items on the internet. We also talked about ways the Samish and Nenets could work together on projects in the future.

After that, went to finish packing the trip to the tundra.  I am very nervous because I don’t like to be cold, and I don’t know what to expect.  Also, we can only take a backpack or duffel up to 40 liters, which is a fairly small back pack.