Evenki (who before 1930 were known as the Tungus) are one of the most numerous indigenous peoples of Siberia and the Far East with an enormous area of settlement. Before the Yakuts migrated into the area in the 13th century, the Evenki (or their Tungus ancestors) occupied almost the whole of the present territory of Yakutia, except the northeast borderlands where nomadic Even tribes wandered and the Yukagir clans resided. Today 29,900 Evenki reside in the Russian Federation, but only 3400 live in the Evenki Autonomous Okrug. The majority (15,000) live in the Sakha Republic (Yakutia), with other large populations in Khabarovsk Kray, Buryatia, Amursky, and Chitinsky Oblasts. About 19,000 Evenki also live in northeast China and 1000 in Mongolia.

According to linguistic classification, the Evenki language belongs to the northern group of Tungusic-Manchurian languages. The language shares some features with Mongolian and Turkic and also with later borrowings from Yakut, Buryat, and Samodian languages. Historians consider the Trans-Baikal and CisBaikal regions as a hypothetical motherland of the Evenki, from where in the 10th to 12th centuries Tungus tribes extended to the east to Amur and to the north through Siberia, along the Lena River basin and to the northwest along the Yenisey river, assimilating and forcing out the Paleo-Asiatic tribes of northern Siberia, mainly Yukagirs who in former times occupied vast areas of eastern Siberia. Tungus tribes who by the 17th century reached the Okhotsk Sea became the Even, while those moving north and west formed the Evenki ethnic group.

Extending through eastern Siberia and assimilating foreign tribes, the Evenki were split into groups that differed in dialects and developed regional differences. Until quite recently there were three such Evenki groups: "foot," "reindeer," and "horse."

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