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The nativeness of settlers: constructions of belonging in Soviet and contemporary Chukotka

The nativeness of settlers: constructions of belonging in Soviet and contemporary Chukotka

Key research issues: non-indigenous settlers in the Russian North; the political economy of post-Soviet Chukotka; northern resettlement and restructuring projects; migration and identity.

I conducted field research in Chukotka, Far East Russia, from January to December, 2002. In 2003, I spent two months interviewing recent migrants from Chukotka now living in various parts of central Russia. I also returned to Chukotka for follow-up research in summer 2003.

My research focuses on the effects effects of rapid socio-economic change and in-out migration on settler identity in one of the most remote parts of the Russian Federation. The story of Soviet-era settlement in Chukotka and the development of a sense of northern belonging in the settler community are major concerns in my research, as is the transformation of social networks, power bases and community identity now occurring in Chukotka under the administration of governor Roman Abramovich (since early 2001). Some early insights on the changing meaning of "nativeness" and belonging, and the emergence of strong local commitments among the remaining settler population in Chukotka, are contained in an article published in 2004 in Polar Geography.

I have also examined the progress of Chukotka's government-funded resettlement programme, which since 2001 has effected a strategic depopulation of the region as a number of industrial settlements were closed. This programme offers a thus-far unique opportunity to preview the much larger resettlement initiatives now planned by the Russian federal government and supported by the World Bank. I was able to follow voluntary migrants from Chukotka to new homes in central Russia, in order to gauge the difficulties of adaptation from an ethnographic perspective. I have published articles on this topic in Polar Geography (2003) and Eurasian Geography and Economics (2004).