Native Americans of Russia

In early 70’s German movies with Gojko Mitić about Native Americans became so popular among Soviet youth that very soon in Soviet Russia, Belarus and Ukraine the subculture of Indeanists took birth.. They would call each other by their Indian names, Bears, Eagles and Bulls, and would associate themselves with Native American tribes, of which the most popular ones were Apaches, Cheyennes and Sioux.. You may find it funny and childish.. I do sometimes, especially when I look at their Slavic faces.. But for them it wasn’t just a game that all of us once played in childhood, acting Chingachgooks and Deerslayers.. In 1980, near Leningrad (St. Petersburg) they organized the first Pow-Wow where about 50 people gathered together to share and express their love for Native Americans..

The Pow-Wows are usually held in secret from people who are not in the community of Indeanist.. That’s why it’s hard to get there.. But in 2007, the Indeanists of Moscow and St. Petersburg agreed to participate in Tipi Festival to share the culture of North America’s Native people with others.. Me and my friend Oleg, both interested in Native Americans, decided to go there a day before.. As the Tipifest was held out of Moscow, we decided to go camping, but our preparations took so long that by the time when we found the place it was past midnight already.. It was raining.. We were all wet, hungry and tired of hours of walking.. The place was a wide field.. Far ahead we noticed a light and heard people laughing and talking.. These were the organizers! They were so impressed to see us, strangers coming out of nowhere in the middle of the night for joining the Tipifest that they offered us to stay in one of the tipis prepared for the festival.. We had a tipi now, we had wood for fire and we became friends with organizers of the festival, who said that we can stay here for another night when the festival is over..

When next day in the morning we woke up and went to look for fresh water, Indeanists were already there.. Some were singing, some were doing their morning exercises.. Others were smoking a pipe.. Festival was to start in the afternoon, so we got fresh water and went back to the tipi.. The whole morning we spent drinking tea, cooking food, eating and resting.. A little before the festival began, suddenly a head of a man appeared through the door.. We smiled and said “Hi”.. “Hey, you all come here! There are Indians inside,” he shouted out and few seconds later a group of heads appeared in the tipi.. “Are you Indians? Are you real Indians?” The heads were curious about us.. “Oh no, no.. We just live here.. Please, come in and have some tea..” One of our friends from Moscow joined us later, and we went to see the opening ceremony.. Introduction, greetings, and even a speech on Sioux language.. All in bright and colourful dresses..

Accepting “To Learn and To Preserve” as their motto throughout the 40 years of their history Indeanists of Russia learned the Sioux language, traditional songs and dances, rites and ceremonies.. Based on historical documents Indeanist recreated the traditional clothes.. All the dresses you see on the photos are handmade.. They published Sioux-Russian dictionaries.. And with coming of Internet they launched several websites dedicated to Native people of North, Central and South Americas where they gathered stories, legends, biographies, photos, articles and other materials..

We had a chance to talk with the leader of Moscow Indeanists, Evil Eye (the one playing flute on the photo below).. He said that for many years they are in touch with Native Americans from the US and Canada.. Often they visit Russian Pow-Wow.. “We had an old guy who attended our Pow-Wow,” said Evil Eye. “With tears in his eyes he said that many of their children already forgot their culture and that it would be great if some of Russian Indeanists could visit the US and teach them our culture..”

During the Tipi Fest Indeanists performed traditional dances and Native American songs.. Later workshops were organized for everyone to learn something.. A dance, or a song.. Or Sioux language basics.. One of the Indeanists, Ieska presented me a Sioux-Russian phrasebook.. The workshop on traditional handicraft was especially popular among ladies..

Later in the evening it rained hard.. In the afternoon we met new friends, so we invited them to spend the night in the tipi.. Sitting around the fire we shared stories and played djembes.. We didn’t know we were saying goodbye to Autumn.. Because when we woke up in the morning and left the tipi there was snow all around..


10 thoughts on “Native Americans of Russia

  1. You slept in a tipi! What a precious, almost once-in-a-lifetime experience! How many people can comfortably fit in one tipi? How come you’re not showing us pictures of the interiors? 🙂

  2. I enjoyed reading this blog. It makes me sad to think that some Canadians don’t have this much pride for their own first peoples. This story touched my heart as an Ojicree woman. God bless.

  3. Wow This is awesome! I am full blooded *Dine* (Navajo from Arizona). I would love to visit Russia someday. It’s refreshing to see another country embrace our heritage! I went to an all Native American Boarding School my junior year in Salem, OR. The school was Chemawa Indian Boarding School, built in the late 1800’s. The school had so much rich history, stories, haha and still has those ugly ol GOVT Blankets and beds (lol, not so comfy).

    • I guess it’s hard to provide all the students in the school with tipis 🙂
      Hope you can in to Russia one day to get the chance to meet with the community of the followers. I’m sure you’ll like it a lot.

  4. Hello, I’m Native American, and have been planning to travel on the Trans-Siberian Railroad, and came across your blog. Do you know when the powwow is, I think it would be great to attend before I make the trip on the railroad.

    • Hello. Well, as far as I know the powwow takes place in August somewhere near Saint Petersburg, Russia. But since they don’t publish any information about that, I can’t really tell you any details. I came across this website, but it’s only in Russian and can’t find the contacts. Maybe you’ll do it better using the google translate.

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