Almost one hundred years ago Waldemar Jochelson, a member of North Pacific Jesup Expedition to Siberia, wrote that Yukaghirs were on the edge of extinction. It seems however that “the edge of extinction” is quite flexible phenomenon, because more than a hundred years after his expeditions, Yukaghirs are still “dying out”. In this article I present how the discourse of “extinction” is being used by Yukaghir elite to construct the politics of identity. This discourse is being used to create the group image of Yukaghirs as the last truly honest and noble people of taiga or tundra. Drawing on the concepts of Anthony D. Smith and James Clifford I want to show that ethnic survival does not have to assume the continuity of genotype, culture and language. A group can survive even if it is of mixed descent, has lost its language and culture, as long as it remembers the past and treats adopted culture and language as its own. Many authors point-out the existence of so-called “specific ethnic elements” responsible for ethnic survival. On the one hand, we could say that Jochelson’s Yukaghirs are gone, they have all died out. On the other hand, there are still local indigenous groups who call themselves Yukaghirs. Ethnic identity was a rather abstractive idea brought to “primitive” societies by white people (Russians in this case). In the past Yukaghir speaking tribes lived among Eveny speaking and Chukchee speaking tribes. In tundra, these three groups used a common name – Khangai – tundra people. Those arguments show that assimilation, acculturation and creolization took place among Yukaghirs at every stage of their history. Apparently, purity of gens, blood and culture are myths or legends human societies are addicted in referring to, but have very little to do with ethnic survival. What matters is not the physical existence of a group, but its cultural characteristics. This allows us look at the “dying out” as a relative phenomenon.
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