- Ethnic group. The Nenets are an indigenous Uralic people of Russia’s Far North. According to the most recent census, they number fewer than 50,000 and reside mostly in the Nenets Autonomous Okrug (Nenetsiya), the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug (Yamaliya), and the Dolgan-Nenets Municipal District (Taymyriya). Previously known as the Samoyed, a corruption of the plural of Saami that translates in Russia as “self-eater” or “cannibal,” the Nenets were distinguished from other northern Uralic peoples during the early 20th century. The Nenets are divided between the Tundra Nenets and the Forest Nenets (Khandeyar), both of whom possess their own dialect, though the literary version of Nenets is based on the former. Nenets is a member of the Samoyedic branch of the Uralic language family, which also includes the Finnic and Ugric languages. Slightly more than half of ethnic Nenets are fluent in their native language.During the 1920s and 1930s, the Nenets were subjected to a collectivization campaign by the Soviets that brought traditional reindeer herding under state control. The establishment of permanent “cultural bases” for the seminomadic Nenets led to sedentarization and some level of Russification. The Soviets also continued the tsarist campaign to eradicate indigenous animist practices, as well as outlawing Russian Orthodox ceremonies among the Nenets. Cultural imperialism, including the forced adoption of Nenets children by the state, led to a series of uprisings in the 1950s.
Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. Robert A. Saunders and Vlad Strukov. 2010.