The modern world has reached the tundra, with electronic devices like TVs now a common sight in Nenets chums. TV has had a powerful impact on the Nenets' way of life. For example young people now stay up late to watch TV, pushing migration times to late in the afternoon, instead of early in the morning. Yet the traditional way of life is still precious to the younger generation.

Siberia, N 67 05'31" E 69 58'13"

128 people

Scroll down

When you’re in the village, you miss the tundra - that’s home.

Stanislav Nikolaevich Serotteto, like his father and grandfather before him, is a government herder. In exchange for his care of a large herd for the state, which will eventually export the meat, he receives a steady paycheck, pension, vacation days, sick leave, and all the perks of any other government job. He is responsible for a large herd of reindeer for the state, and a smaller one for his own family, migrating them together.


32 Years Old | 4 Children

we have a dangerous job where we sometimes sleep in the open tundra in the dark, so we need protection

A bear’s tooth is believed to keep the evil spirits away and protect the person wearing it. Parents will put one on a baby’s cradle or leave it with their kids when they are out working. Bear-tooth belts are not buried with their owners, like other possessions, but passed on to the next generation.

Family Tree



Taking down the camp

In old times, Nenets people used to migrate constantly, simply placing the chum on the sledge. Nowadays, they move with snowmobiles and trekols (amphibious all-terrain vehicles). The frequency of migration of Nenets families depends on the condition of the pastures. After staying in the same spot for some time they make preparations a few days in advance of the move. In the summer, when they migrate more frequently, they unpack only the necessities, leaving the rest on sledges, so they can leave quickly and easily.


Preparing the reindeer

In preparation for migration, the herders and their dogs must round up the reindeer. Reindeer herds range from around 40 reindeer to over 300. Reindeer have two marks on their ears to show their clan and their owners in case there is ever a dispute. The reindeer are roped together and tied to sledges, which they pull, transporting the herders’ possessions.



A day’s travel in the tundra can be five to ten kilometers, depending on conditions. The group migrating may include several households with a number of sledges per home, as well as all their reindeer. In the spring migration takes place every two days. Herders head north towards cooler pastures, away from mosquitoes. But when the ice starts melting, crossing rivers becomes challenging, with melting water creating strong currents.

In the winter, the Nenets call a given site home for a month or two, fishing and making clothes and sledges for the coming year. Some families stay near the village where children over seven years old go to boarding school. But this affects grazing routes and ultimately throws into question the future of the Nenets’ nomadic lifestyle.



After a couple is married they live in the husband’s family chum for two years. After that their parents contribute to a new chum for them. While migrating, however, if the group needs to stop for the night sometimes they put up a communal chum and everyone pitches in. Rough weather can make setting up a chum extremely difficult with winds so strong they can break chum poles.


31 Years Old | 4 Children

My grandma gave my mother the decorations, my mother gave them to me, and I will hand them down to my daughter one day

Many years ago Nenets women wore a headdress called a “switch.” The colorful decorations were purchased from Russians who would travel the tundra, and a woman who wore one needed to stand ramrod straight to ensure it did not fall off. Nadezhda remembers her mother’s switch and how she made it. Nadezhda used that knowledge to make this switch for a reindeer herders’ festival, with the decorations she inherited from her mother. A bride wears a new switch, together will all new garments for this new stage of her life.


Nenets dogs have strong herding instincts. The herders rely on them to round up the reindeer, with very little training. They follow people’s commands, both voice and hand signals. The older dogs help the younger dogs, so the puppies learn from their elders.

Explore more