Evenki are the most widespread of the Tungus speaking peoples and can be found through the Lower Yenisey valley through Evenkiyskiy Avtonomnyy Okrug, Irkutskaya and Amurskaya Obl. to Khabarovskiy Kray,Buryatiya,NorthWest and South Sakha (Yakutia); also in China (see below) and a small group inMongolia. In other words, from the coast of the Sea of Okhotsk in Russia’s Far East, throughout southeastern Siberia, and up the entire length of the Yenisei River to the tundra regions of the Taimyr Peninsula.
In total they probably number 50,000,with most residing in Sakha (Yakutia). Traditionally nomadic, they have practiced traditional subsistence activities, including reindeer breeding and hunting. Summer pastures are in the watershed areas,winter pastures in the river basins. Reindeer herders traditionally hunted wild reindeer as a secondary occupation,mostly in small groups, seasonally, at river crossings. Nomadism is crucial for Evenki herding culture. Due to Soviet collectivisation nomads were forced to settle and experienced a subsequent dissolution of their social structures and cultural identity.Reindeer are used for travel (riding animals) and transportation and herded without dogs.Modern transportation has only partly substituted the reindeer.
Evenki reindeer husbandry is the model of small scale taiga reindeer husbandry in its use of reindeer for transportation and milk production. Traditionally, the number of reindeer ranged from a few animals per family up to two or three dozens. Relationships with reindeer are close and animals are used to being saddled and milked and continue to be domesticated through millennia old techniques such as the use of salt, smudge pots against insects and protection against predators.
Evenki reindeer husbandry is closely related to Sayan (Tozhu,Tofalar,Tsataan) reindeer husbandry from whom they probably adapted it. Evenki used reindeer to spread the length and breadth of Eastern Siberia, over an area of 7 million square kms according to one estimate.As a result there are some 20 distinct Evenki subgroups and the reindeer has become a strong marker of Evenki identity. The development that has occurred in parts of Siberia has been disastrous for some Evenki and this process is intensifying in recent times with accelerated mineral extraction, pipeline construction and industrial forestry. The fate of the Evenki reindeer herders of the Higher Bureya Region of the Khabarovsk Krai serves as a reminder that reindeer husbandry can disappear from regions.