Investment Portal of the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation

Northern tourism industry and language preservation: 'The individual as an independent value'

Children of the Arctic experience at the Days of Siberia and the Arctic 2023

19 november 2023

The unique identity of the inhabitants of the Polar region is not just a concept. The vast expanses of the Russian Arctic have a low population density, with less than one person per square kilometre. Add to this the harsh environmental conditions that periodically cause logistical issues and limit access to civilisation's amenities—living in the North is only possible in a community where each member holds unique value and bears a special responsibility for themselves, their loved ones, neighbours and their land. Such conditions give rise to an exceptionally delicate ecosystem that requires care and, more importantly, understanding.

As part of the Days of Siberia and the Arctic 2023 forum held in mid-November, a round table discussion titled 'The Individual as an Independent Value' took place. The discussion addressed the recruitment and retention of personnel for the rapidly growing economy of the AZRF, population growth in Arctic regions, balancing the interests of 'newcomers' from the mainland with those of indigenous peoples and preserving the culture of the North's indigenous minorities. In today's world, the traditions of small ethnic groups often quickly fade, languages are lost and customs forgotten. Globalisation, which inevitably follows industrial civilisation, creates a universe where maintaining an ethnic group's identity can be challenging. However, in Russia, there are programmes aimed at preserving the traditional economy of indigenous peoples, as well as modern approaches that allow the reproduction of cultural heritage in today's reality.

During the round table, Artur Agafonov, editor-in-chief of the Children of the Arctic portal, shared his experience in preserving the languages of indigenous peoples. He stated that integrating communities into the contemporary hospitality industry creates an environment where the preservation of traditional culture and language becomes an advantage, creating jobs and improving living standards. Arctic tourism will never be mass-market in the conventional sense due to the harsh living conditions and remoteness of the regions, which result in relatively high costs. However, those who venture to the North are highly motivated and interested in the local nature, lifestyle and language. They are prepared to endure minor inconveniences, viewing them more as part of an adventure to gain a unique experience. This leads to a remarkable socio-cultural exchange—while 'ethnic tourists' immerse themselves in the allure of Arctic life, locals engage with the 'outside world,' no longer feeling sidelined by history. 

The Arctic population exodus is partly due to isolation, especially informational. Actively involving nomads, sea hunters and inhabitants of remote settlements in the tourism industry could potentially address their communication needs. Indeed, we must not overlook the economic and scientific significance of such tourism clusters. While it may not be immediately apparent, it's crucial to note that enthusiasts committed to preserving their people's heritage often rally around ethnographic tourist sites or projects. Previously, their efforts were largely driven by altruism. However, with the chance to improve their living conditions, their work could become much more efficient, eliminating the need for additional jobs.

For those not prepared to personally venture to the Arctic, a digital space is available. The Children of the Arctic portal was established to conserve and promote knowledge about the culture of Russia's northern peoples. To achieve this, it provides a broad array of educational and enlightening projects. These range from language courses for Arctic ethnic groups, an animated series about life in the Arctic Circle, to a cycle of scientific and educational broadcasts. The project's initiatives serve a dual purpose: they generate widespread interest in the life and traditions of indigenous peoples, promoting their identity, including for themselves, while also functioning as a practical educational resource. These resources are used both in the tundra and in large cities, where people are rediscovering their own roots.

From this point, it's just one step away for the northern languages to reverberate loudly once again—the more speakers there are, the more vibrant the tradition becomes. Now, there's no need to visit a Nenets camp to hear their language and practice communication. Language chat rooms, social media groups and messengers exist where people converse in their native dialects. Of course, this is just a part of the broader strategy to preserve the heritage of indigenous peoples in Russia, serving as a first step for many.

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