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9 LIFE LESSONS FROM THE NENETS

Written by Patrick Barrow

We’re often told that making time for reflection is important. And it’s not rocket science. How many times can you say a pause on the day to day has provided clarity, perhaps a catalyst for positive change? Perhaps if COVID-19 is good for something, it’s the forced time of reflection – an opportunity for refreshed priorities.

Over the last few years, Secret Compass expedition leader Patrick Barrow has spent more time than most with the nomadic reindeer herders of Siberia. With a shamanistic and animistic belief system, Nenets culture is built upon a deep respect for the land and its resources.

In March 2020, ahead of the scheduled Secret Compass team expedition Pat visited the 20th Brigade (a family he had visited on three separate occasions previously) along with his wife Vicki and 7-month-old son Bill, for a week in the tundra. With six weeks planned in Russia, the global COVID-19 pandemic cut his time short and he was forced to return to Canada ahead of plan. As they wrap their heads around the new ‘normal’ he reflects on the lessons the Nenets have taught him over the years.

Time Is Culturally Subjective

Contemporary western society has done well to divide time into 24 segments, each made up of a further 60 segments. Nenets work on this week, or next week. Their lives are more intertwined with weather systems and seasonal change so a few days here or there is acceptable. In the tundra, segments of 60 are not useful.

Live Organically

Eat when you’re hungry, sleep when you’re tired, work when there is work to be done. Rest when you can, it is more important than we give credit.

Learn Traditional Craft

Find solutions to your problems and be independent. Nenets live alone, and no one is coming to help solve any of their problems. They are all carpenters, woodworkers and seamstresses and they harvest their own meat. It’s important to persevere, learn and find your own solutions.

Everything Has Its Place

In the chums there is an order, everything has a place and goes in the same place every time. This provides stability, familiarity when you are migrating every day. You may be in a different valley or a different forest but your home is always familiar and safe.

Connect With Your Surroundings

Connection with nature and your environment is vital. Nenets have a very pure relationship with their surrounding environment.

Make Time for Family

Family is the central unit for the Nenets. Family all lives together in one space and extended families in a camp together.

Share Experiences Not Gifts

Unless a gift is so special or personal so that it creates lasting memories, it’s often better to share skills and experience. Travellers who have mechanical skills have spent hours working together with Nenets fixing snowmobiles. This is mutually beneficial and builds respect, instead of giving random presents with no real reason or sentiment attached.

Submit To That Which You Can’t Control

Subject to an environment which they have no control over, Nenets become very used to accepting the things they cannot change, focusing only on the things they can control. You’ll find by doing so you’ll minimise anxiety and increases productivity.

Be Graceful In Your Submission

Nothing is certain until it happens. Plans change constantly, so even with the best of intentions, nothing is ever really confirmed until it is actually happening.

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