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Nenets people adventures in U.S.A.

Indians from the Samish tribe of the United States of America visited the Nenets autuonomous area for two weeks. Overseas guests noted that their people and the Nenets have a lot in common. Half a year later our countrymen paid return visit to America.

The District delegation consisted of Pyotr Ledkov, chairman of the Council of Elders of the Nenets People Association “Yasavey”, and Julia Taleeva, member of the Public Youth Chamber of the Naryan-Mar City Council, a member of the Nenets folk song and dance ensemble “Hayar”. Yan Turov, Director of the Economic Programs Foundation from Arkhangelsk, was the leader of the trip.

The visit to the USA became a basis for long-term relations between the two indigenous peoples. The project was implemented as part of the U.S.-Russia Partnership Dialogue Program with the support of the U.S. Embassy in Russia.

– We are confident that the partnership in the preservation of indigenous cultures of Russia and the USA will help to open such opportunities as cultural, youth exchange, scientific and educational cooperation, – said Yan Turov.

Acquaintance with Indian customs.

The hosts demonstrated to the guests their experience in the development of tourism and crafts, introduced the forms of work on the conservation of marine biodiversity and sacred territories. But most of all the guests from Nenets autonomous area were impressed by a fascinating passage on the canoe.

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Pyotr Ledkov with his new friends from Alaska with Nenets roots.

Islands of San-Juan Archipelago, which were settled by Samish tribes, are washed by the waters of the Pacific Ocean, but allocated in a separate sea with the official name of The Salish sea, – enthusiastically says Peter Ledkov. – Beautiful pebble beaches, dense forest, it is impossible to describe all this beauty! Traditional Indian dwelling didn’t look like Nenets tent at all. Their houses are large, they can accommodate more than yoo people. In the center, on the earthen floor – an open hearth, the smoke from which leaves through the roof. Along the walls there are benches,” Julia Taleeva adds.

More than a quarter of the century the representatives of the Saemish tribe fought for their rights, for the opportunity to use the natural resources, for the return of the islands, and even for the purchase of some of them, and for the preservation of their traditional food – fish, shellfish, their cultural traditions and trades.

Canoe races….

– one of the brightest and most favorite sports of the Indians.

Canoes come in different sizes and can accommodate more than 16 paddlers. They travel the ocean along the coast and between islands. Boats are built from a solid trunk of cedar. This tree is sacred to Indians. They not only make canoes and build houses from it, its bark is used for handicrafts: hats, baskets, cases, dishes, jewelry for women, and more. Before setting sail in a canoe, a ritual is held.

– At the bow of the boat is a burning candle over which the woman elders warm her hands. Then she slowly walks around the canoe touching the inside of the boat with her hand along its entire length as if checking its integrity, Peter Ledkov explains. – Then she goes around the boat and gropes, stroking the boards on the outside, checking the ropes, twisting and untwisting them. Following her is a male elder holding small bells in both hands and singing along to their ringing. Fascinating!

Being in America for just a few days our compatriots were able to feel the scale and importance of the sport festival held by the Indian tribes.

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During traditional canoe race.

– Hundreds of canoes in the open ocean! Teenagers, women and men of different ages, some families with small children – all taking part in this event! – Peter Ledkov continues. – Getting to know such open, sincere, noble people really pleased me. Years of fighting for their rights united the people of this area. They regained not only their ancestral lands, but also revived traditions, trades and way of life. And their canoe races went even to the international level! To see it and to take part yourself in a trip in a canoe, on what went the remote ancestors of the modern Indians, is worth a lot!

Similarities and differences in the cultures.

During the trip our compatriots also met a teacher, an expert of the Samish language. It is a man of advanced age, who has set a goal – to put the ancient language on paper.

– Earlier they had only oral form of communication, fairy tales, byliny. Stories of the tribe were passed from mouth to mouth. The language is very difficult in pronunciation, more difficult than English and our native Nenets language”, – Julia Taleeva believes. – I have held a lesson of Nenets language with names, numerals and guttural sounds. Everybody was repeating it with interest, though our languages are not alike at all.

In Semish tribes, as well as in Nenets, the problem of preservation of the native language is very acute. But on the islands there is a lot of work on the transfer of knowledge.

Delegation members tried traditional Indian food – clams, oysters, shrimps, fried salmon slices, cooked in front of the guests, which is an exquisite delicacy for the average Russian because of its high price.

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Nenets autonomous area delegation in USA.

Before dinner the hosts blessed the food to the beats of a tambourine and happily welcomed the overseas guests.

– One day during dinner, two brothers, handsome young men, came up to me. They told me that their ancestors were Nenets and that my grandfather looked a lot like me. That they used to live in Alaska. We had a warm conversation, – Pyotr Alekseevich remembered with a smile the pleasant acquaintance.

Getting acquainted with the tribes, Pyotr Ledkov and Julia Taleeva in the national costumes showed a small concert.

By the way, though Indians also dance and sing to the sound of a tambourine, but they have more vocal play and fewer words. Movement of young people is similar to silent walking on a circle with bare feet, playing with hands completes a dance pattern. This is what Julia notes:

– “I wanted to join them and dance together, but for them the dance is a ritual that cannot be violated. Tambourines of Indians and Nenets are similar. And musical instruments made from improvised materials are very similar to the instruments of Hayar Vocal Group.  There are horns, hooves and bells.

People friendship.

– This trip is a unique opportunity to see another culture, to plunge into the life of an ancient people. Everyone from adults to kids is proud of their customs and traditions, which is great to see. In our district, young people are sometimes ashamed of their nationality, and I did not understand many things before. But now, having grown up, I am proud of the history of my people, my ancestors, and my culture, – Julia Taleeva summed up.

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Samish Indians and Nenets people friendship.

Interest of the Indians in the Nenets delegation was sincere. They were glad to see the nation, which mentality is close to them and understandable. Thanks to the good translator they easily overcame the language barrier. Everybody laughed heartily at the jokes, stories and funny stories.

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Nenets people learn Native Americans saving traditinal environment experience.

Now Peter Ledkov and Julia Taleeva correspond with their new friends by e-mail and chat in social networks. There is a hope that this communication will expand and take other forms and content, which means new meetings, ideas and projects between Nenets and Samish are in prospect.

Svetlana Balashova, Narian-Mar, Nenets autonomous area, Russia.

Photo courtesy of Yan Turov, Russia.

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