Story & Photos: Chan Maxby

The Yamal Peninsula, in remote northwestern Siberia, is home to the Nenets people, a nomadic tribe whose main livelihood is herding reindeers.

Yamal means “the end of the world.” And it is an apt name for this frigid land of permafrost and unforgiving temperatures which can plummet to -50°C. Local people live in teepee-shaped tents called chums, which are  five to six meters in diameter, supported by strong wooden poles and completely covered by multiple layers of reindeer skins. At the center of each chum is a metal wood-fired oven used both for cooking and heating. Sleeping, preparing food and eating are all done inside this warm shelter. In the Nenets community, women generally do all the cooking, cleaning and sewing while caring for any sick or orphaned reindeer. The men handle the reindeer herd, watch out for natural predators like wolverines and polar bears, chop firewood and repair sleds.

Electricity is supplied through a power generator, and water comes from melting snow.

The Nenets reindeer herders maintain a unique lifestyle, which differs from other nomads such as the Kazakhs in Mongolia. While the Kazakhs drive their herds to grazing grounds in the morning and then bring them back in the evening, the Nenets leave their herds to graze wherever the reindeers find food. Reindeers live on lichens found under layers of snow, moss and sometimes bird eggs, and when the food supply is exhausted, the Nenets have to pack up their camps and follow the reindeer to their next grazing grounds. In summer, the reindeer migrate north towards the Kara Sea, and in winter head south.