Committee Of The North

The Committee for Assistance to the Peoples of the Northern Borderlands (often abbreviated to Committee of the North in English) was created by decree of the All-Union Central Executive Committee (AUCEC or VtsIK in Russian) of the Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic on June 20, 1924. Following the Revolution and civil war, the new Soviet administrators became increasingly aware of the need to define and manage northern areas. From 1924 to 1935, the Committee was responsible for coordinating the activities of central and local state enterprises engaged in investigating and assisting northern aboriginal peoples. The main goal of the Committee of the North was to develop economic, administrative and judicial, cultural, education, and healthcare arrangements for the northern aboriginal peoples.

Members of the Committee for the North included a representative of the Nationality Council (Narkomnats), and also representatives from industries interested in the northern territories, and researchers specializing in the northern peoples—anthropologists, ethnologists, and linguists. Vladimir I. Bogoraz and Lev Y. Shternberg, who had researched northern indigenous groups while living in exile (in Siberia and Sakhalin Island, respectively), were key members. Separate legal and administrative, finance and taxation, scientific research, health improvement, and educational commissions were created. Petr G. Smidovich, a prominent public figure, was appointed chairperson of the Committee. To discuss important problems, extended plenums of the Committee and its representatives working in the North were announced. From 1924 to 1935, there were ten such plenums.

During 1924-1925, local and regional Committees of the North were created, in which representatives of the northern aboriginal peoples took part. Usually the local committees consisted of three persons, a chairperson and two members, who worked under the supervision of the Committee of the North and reported back to the state on conditions in the northern regions.

The Committee began its work with the aim of investigating the way of life, needs, history, and culture of the small northern ethnic groups. In 1925, expeditions to the northern peoples' settlements were carried out to gather ethnological and anthropological information on little-known groups. In 1926-1927, a polar census of the northern region was carried out as part of an All-Union population census. Results from the expedition and the polar census verified the population of groups numbered among the "small nationalities" and served as the basis for a system of land use, division into national districts (such as founding of the Nenets National Okrug in 1929), reconstruction of the economy, and also for the organization of boards of management, culture, education, health, and other enterprises.

The initial main aims of the Committee and its local boards were to render prompt material assistance and to protect the aboriginal peoples' traditional lifestyles. In October 1925, the government decided to partially release the northern peoples from all taxes, an exemption that lasted until 1930. From the mid-1920s, a bread supply system was created to protect the population against possible natural disasters. There were, however, some shortcomings, in particular, due to practical problems such as the remoteness of the northern peoples' regions, insufficient transport, lack of communication, and nomadic dispersal. Nevertheless, the population of the northern outlying districts began to get sufficient food.

With the aim of strengthening the aboriginals' traditional economy, integral (mixed) cooperatives were created, which bought and sold goods and gave credit. The cooperatives were engaged in purchasing the local population's products such as furs, fish, and seat fat, in return for credit on guns and ammunition, fishing tackle, and materials for making fishing nets. The creation of a wide network of integral cooperatives improved the supply of necessary food and hunting equipments. The cooperatives became a leading form of trade organization in the North.

Another important trend of the Committee of the North's activity was the creation of local boards of administration among the aboriginal peoples. In 1926, the Central Executive Committee's decree "Provisional rules about administration of the native nationalities and tribes of the northern outlying districts of the RSFSR" identified 26 indigenous ethnic groups designated as Malyw Narodnosti Severnykh Okrain RSFSR ("small-numbered minorities of the north"). Up to 1930 in accordance with the statutes, and taking into consideration traditional structures and traditions of tribal meetings, "native" executive committees (clan soviets) were created in each district. These new bodies were responsible for protecting aboriginals' rights, economic prosperity, and for carrying out the decrees of the higher soviet authorities. In 1927, by the decree of AUCEC the authorities of the northern peoples were given judicial functions for internal clan affairs. From 1930, in connection with the creation of national districts, the tribal councils were replaced by national and territorial soviets.

The Committee of the North made great efforts to strengthen social and cultural enterprises. Taking into consideration the aboriginals' traditional way of life and their scattering over an enormous territory, the Committee established complex social and cultural enterprises—in particular, cultural bases (kul'tbazy) in the largest settlements. In the most remote, little-studied districts, mobile camps were placed close to traditional migration routes. The cultural bases included a school, a hospital, literacy courses for adults, Red chum or Red yaranga (tents used to promote the values of socialism), a bathhouse with laundry, and medical and veterinary services. Great attention was paid to a mobile way of working. Workers at the cultural bases often migrated together with the aboriginals, carried out propaganda work, taught reading and writing, and introduced simple sanitary skills. In addition, the cultural bases' aims included scientific research work, such as a meteorological station.

At the same time, the Committee took an active part in the organization of the education system, which was created in parallel with the study of native languages, creation of written forms for the languages of the northern peoples, and training of teachers for northern areas. In 1929-1930, there were 129 national schools (boarding schools for children of indigenous people), with about 3000 pupils. In 1932, alphabets were prepared for 14 northern peoples (Evenki, Nenets, Khanty, Mansi, Chukchi, Itel'men, Sel'kup, Even, Nanai, Koryak, Yupiget (Siberian Yupik), Nivkh, Aleut, and Kets). Publication of grammars, primers with short readings, and books by writers and poets writing in their native language began.

With the aim of training aboriginal people for cultural and economic positions, the Seventh Extended Plenum of the Committee decided to create specialized schools. The first such school was the Northern Worker's Faculty in the Leningrad State University, which was established in 1925-1926. Subsequently, it became the Institute of the Peoples of the North, and specialized in the study of the languages of northern minority groups and teacher training. There were also specialized northern departments in the Krasnoyarsk and Khabarovsk Medical Institutes, Irkutsk Huntsman Training, Ussurijsk Agricultural technical secondary schools, and independent national technical secondary schools in Khabarovsk, Yenisejsk, and Nikolayevsk on Amur.

In the late 1920s, there was a change of state policy from helping minority peoples in their transition from traditional to Soviet structures, to a general, universal scheme of management on a socialist scheme (Stalin's First Five-Year Plan). The main trend of the Committee's activities became collectivization of the aboriginal peoples' property. According to party and government instructions, the committees and local authorities increased collectivization rates without consideration of the aboriginals' traditional way of life. A whole complex of measures was carried out, from introduction of income tax for prosperous farms, determination of fixed quotas for production and selling at increased prices, state confiscation of clan hunting lands, disfranchisement, and repressions. Socialization of hunting tools and another property was done in the collective farms (kolkhozes). Collectivization was done in parallel with resettlement of some of the northern peoples from nomadic camps and small settlements to a settled way of life. As a result, the traditional way of life of the nomadic peoples was destroyed (e.g., abandonment of reindeer herding as a way of life), leading to a disastrous decrease of land use efficiency, devastation of privately owned farms and herds, and loss of the northern peoples' traditional culture and spiritual experience.

In August 1935, the Committee of the North and its local bodies were abolished. Their functions were given to the Chief Office for the Northern Sea Route (Glavsevmorput), who primarily as an economic body had little interest in the administration of indigenous peoples. Disbanding of the Committee was conditioned by a change of state policy with regard to the peoples of the North, purposeful to their joining in the common process of the modernization of society.

N.D. Vasilieva

See also Collectivization; Economic Inventory of the (Soviet) Polar North, 1926-1927

Further Reading

Bobyshev, S.V., North Committees of the East Siberia and Far

East, Vladivostok, 2000 (in Russian) Gurvich, I.S., Etnicheskaya istoriya Severo-vostoka Sibiri [Ethnic history of Northeast Siberia], Moscow: Nauka, 1966, pp. 213-262 -, Novaia zhizn' narodov Severa [New life of the northern peoples], Moscow: Nauka, 1967

-, "Principles of Lenin's National Policy and their Use in the Far North." In Osushchestvlenie leninskoi natsional'noi politiki u narodov Krainego Severa [Realization of Lenin's national policy among the Far North peoples], Moscow: Nauka, 1971, pp. 9-50 Petrov, Yu.D., Not Numerous Peoples of the North: National

Policy and Regional Practice, Moscow, 1998 (in Russian) Sergeev, M.A., Nelcapitalisticheskiiput' rarvitiia malykh narodov Severa [Non-capitalist way of development of small peoples of the North], Moscow: Izd-vo Akademii nauk SSSR, 1955

Skachko, A., "Five years of works of the North Committee." Soviet North, (1930): 2

-, "Ten years of works of the North Committee." Soviet

North, (2) (1934): 9-21 Slezkine, Yuri, Arctic Mirrors: Russia and the Small Peoples of the North, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994 Uvachan, V.N., Gody, ravnye vekam: stroitel'stvo sotsializma na Sovetskom Severe [Years just as much as centuries: building of socialism in the Soviet North], Moscow: Mysl, 1984

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