Dancing with reindeer people

The reindeer herders had waited for the dance ensemble for quite some time when they finally arrived at the tundra base camp.

LUJÁVRI: Sámi ensemble travelled for hours on snowmobiles in order to sing and dance with reindeer herders on the Kola Peninsula.


“The show was fun,” says reindeer herder Nikolai Selivanov to BarentsObserver. He and his colleges got a well-earned break from their work, gathering reindeers, welcoming 12 happy, female dancers from the village of Lovozero in Murmansk Oblast. 

“We knew they were coming and had waited for quite some time, says Selivanov, smiling. 

He represents the Sámi, an indigenous people inhabiting the Arctic area of Russia, Norway, Finland and Sweden. Their best-known means of livelihood is semi-nomadic reindeer husbandry. For thousands of years, Selivanov`s family has roamed the tundra of Kola Peninsula, moving the reindeers from summer to winter pastures, crossing the low mountains between the White Sea and the Barents Sea, enjoying the beautiful forest, lakes, bogs and rivers.    

Lack of state subsidies
Today, there are seven brigades and approximately 60 people occupied in the agricultural cooperative “Tundra”. Since the Soviet Union, reindeer husbandry has been organized through agricultural cooperatives. Today the cooperative is subsidized with 10 million rubles (€ 220,000) a year. According to the herders, this amount of money is too little to make the husbandry efficient.  

“The herders earn way too little, and we always lack equipment,” says Vladimir Filippov, Leader of the agricultural cooperative “Tundra”. 

The biggest challenge, though, is the threat from poachers. “I have a feeling they have an annual time schedule just like us,” he says. “And obviously modern technology is helping them out too,” he adds.     

Despite these challenges, the herders are not considering changing profession. 

“Reindeer husbandry is so much more than a simple job to us,” says Selivanov. “Reindeer represent the Sámi culture. Without the culture and traditions of our ancestors we cease exist,” he goes on.    

Towards winter pastures
Right now, the herders are gathering the animals, marking, counting and separating them into those to be slaughtered and those left for breeding. When all this is done, the brigades migrate to winter pastures.

The “Elle” ensemble visits the brigades one or two times a year.  The aim is to cheer up the herders in the darkest period of the year, as well as enjoying the fresh air at the tundra.

“Our souls always seek out here,” says Alla Vasileva, the front figure of the ensemble.

Almost the whole group is originally from reindeer herder families and feels at home at the Murmansk tundra. 

  “Our performance is a small tribute to the herders staying here without their families for such a long time,” Tatiana Sechko adds.  “Besides, we love coming here. They are always waiting for us.”