People of the land
Khabarovsk Krai in Russia’s Far East is best known for its nature. From orchids to tigers, the region boasts an amazing variety of flora and fauna. The banks of the Amur are also home to the indigenous Nanai population (the ethnonym translates simply as «people of this land»).
Modern-day Nanais represent a complex historical community. They are the descendents of the Tungus, Turks, Mongols, and Machus who at different times settled in the Lower Amur basin. Since ancient times, the Nanai people have relied on fishing not only for sustenance but as a way of life. Today, pollution and overfishing has led to a decline of Amur salmon among other fish on the river. This has devastating repercussions for the livelihood of the Nanai people.
The native language continues to be taught at schools, but, according to the people I spoke to, it is given no special priority and is taught «in the same way as other foreign languages». Only some of the older generation speak their native language to a proficient degree, and nobody else speaks it in everyday life.
In spite of this, the Nanai community are passionate about preserving their culture. More than a dozen national ensembles work in the Nanaian villages: the work of the Nanaian masters of arts and crafts is truly diverse and known far beyond the borders of Russia.