The Hill Mari are the principal residents of central Volga region. Most of them live in the western part of Hill Mari and Kilemary districts and in the Sharanga and Tonshayevo regions of Nizhny Novgorod Oblast.
According to the 2002 census, there were 18,515 Hill Mari, while in 2010 this had increased to 23,559 or by 27%. This development may reflect a strengthening of Hill Mari identity, possibly due to better economic conditions and education levels among the Hill Mari. In the same period, the number of Hill Mari speakers declined from 36,882 to 23,062. One reason why the number of Hill Mari speakers somewhat exceeds the number of self-identified Hill Mari may be that some Meadow Mari can also speak the Hill Mari language.
The biggest catastrophy for the Hill Mari was the construction of the Cheboksary hydroelectric power station between 1968-1986, as a result of which they lost 30% of their territory while approximately 8,000 persons were resettled. The views of the Hill Mari were dismissed at the time of the decision to raise the Volga River to the maximum level.
The Hill Mari language is, alongside Meadow Mari and Russian, an official language of the Republic of Mari El, which is taught in schools of Hill Mari and Kilemary regions. The Hill Mari living in Nizny Novgorod Oblast are not being taught the mother tongue in schools.
A weekly newspaper Zhera is published in the Republic of Mari El, with a circulation of 2,000 prints. The bimonthly children’s newspaper Jämdõli is published with a circulation of 400-500 and a quarterly literary magazine U Sem with a circulation of 300 prints. There is no permanent radio or TV channel in the Hill Mari language.
The first book in Hill Mari – the Gospel of Matthew – was published in 1821 in St. Petersburg. These days very few books in Hill Mari are published and when they are, then mostly at the authors’ initiative. The worst situation is with children’s and youth literature. The last state-funded children’s book was published two years ago after a decade-long pause.
The Hill Mari have their own theatre that enjoys popularity among the local population. The Hill Mari have several museums: a visual arts museum and an open-air ethnography museum in Tsikmä as well as a Nikon Igantyev literary museum in Salõmsola.
Well-known Hill Mari include dukes Akpars and Mamitsh Berdei (a Meadow Mari hero), founder of Shuro monastery Afanassi Nikitin, author of the first Mari-language novel Nikon Ignatyev, composer Vladislav Kuprijanov, first president of the Republic of Mari El Vladislav Zotin, first female Mari professor Lidia Vassikova, artist-ethnofuturist Izmail Yefimov, artist-illustrator Zossim Lavrenyev, poet and translator Gennadi Matyukovski, theatre director Aleksey Mayuk-Yegorov, academician Ksenofont Sanukov and writer Nikandr Ilyakov.