Gary N. Wilson & Jeffrey J. Kormos

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Russian North has undergone a profound process of political, economic and social change. Nowhere is this change more evident than in the Chukotskii Autonomous Okrug (Chukotka), one of the most remote regions in the Russian Federation. During the Soviet period, Chukotka was the recipient of considerable state support which, in turn, led to the economic development of the region and an influx of settlers from other parts of the Soviet Union. These developments, however, quickly overwhelmed the indigenous peoples of Chukotka, who became marginalized economically, politically and demographically.

The post-Soviet period has brought new and unprecedented changes to Chukotka and its inhabitants. In the 1990s, the decline in state support triggered an economic collapse and an out-migration of non-indigenous settlers. Although the economic situation stabilized in the 2000s under the governorship of Roman Abramovich, a powerful oligarch with links to the upper echelons of Russian state authority, the region still struggles to cope with the challenges facing northern regions in Russia and throughout the circumpolar world: remoteness, harsh environments, underdevelopment, size and a dependency on government support. The fate of Chukotka’s indigenous peoples in this changing context has been mixed. Developments during the earlier stages of the transition rebalanced the demographic profile of the region, increasing the proportion of indigenous inhabitants in relation to the settler population, and provided some avenues for greater political autonomy, cultural regeneration and international collaboration. However, more recent changes, both at the federal and regional levels, have curtailed the activities of indigenous organizations, bringing them under the increasing control of the state.

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