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The Tenacity of Ethnicity:
A Siberian Saga in Global Perspective
Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer

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COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Published by Princeton University Press and copyrighted, © 1999, by Princeton University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording, or information storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from the publisher, except for reading and browsing via the World Wide Web. Users are not permitted to mount this file on any network servers. Follow links for Class Use and other Permissions. For more information, send e-mail to



The main questions that concern the Yugan Khanty are self-rule, preservation of our territory, and how to survive under conditions of economic reform. Without adequately addressing these questions, nothing else matters. (Vladimir Kogonchin, head of the Yugan Khanty Obshchina [Community] "Yaoun-Yakh," May 1996)

"GLOBAL" and "traditional" mean something different to each generation of a people. Late- twentieth-century international energy corporations, collapsing collectives, and interpenetrated mafia-government alliances represent contemporary versions of much earlier multileveled relationships based on multiethnic trade, war, and shifting nomad-settler interaction. The shaping of group politics is an ancient art. To acknowledge this is not an invitation to project a specific group's identity backward in time, using some analytical shopping list of frozen ethnic characteristics, such as language, lifestyle, religion, worldview, or "tradition." The time for indulging in an imagined primordialism has long passed in anthropology. Rather, I invite readers to empathize with a people through their changing self-definitions.

This book is a contemporary version of what anthropologists do best: it is my telling of a dramatic nonfiction story of how a small group in West Siberia, the Khanty, has formed, survived, and remade itself over multiple generations of strife generated by the interaction of external and internal pressures (map 1). It is about the politics of power and powerlessness over time: from a period before the contact of Khanty ancestors (Ob-Ugrian Ostiak) with Slavonic peoples (not yet called Russians and Ukrainians) to the current post-Soviet jostling for land, wealth, and dignity. It is a micro-study of macro-issues. It is at once remote and immediate, for I hope to take the exotic out of Siberian images and individuals without making them "just like us."

Cultural revival movements that stimulate or exacerbate a politics of difference are occurring under tense conditions in many areas of the world. For some Native American activists, the term "revival" is itself offensive, since ongoing vitality rather than mere cultural reconstruction or re-creation is viewed as the key to understanding rituals and ways of life perpetuated privately or in remote communities of "traditionals." In Siberia, although romantic images of isolated communities persist among some Russians and Westerners, "cultural revival" may be an all-too-appropriate term for processes occurring within indigenous groups buffeted by globalizing patterns of colonization and Christianization, compounded by more region-specific and far more harsh Sovietization.

The post-Soviet age, chaotically combining "wild east" marketization with paternalism, and regionalization with Moscow administrative control, leaves indigenous Siberian groups in ever more precarious positions. In such conditions of uncertainty, political movements of cultural survival are emerging with varied intensity and resonance.

Khanty outrage at the forced relocation of numerous villages and the destruction of much of their environment by the energy industry has been expressed throughout the 1990s, beyond their tentative cries of anguish in 1986-89. In an atypically extreme incident in 1992, a group of armed Khanty hunters encircled a camp of Russian geologist-prospectors and demanded that they leave within twenty-four hours. The hunters, fearing that their tiny settlements would be moved once again, were trying to curtail yet another influx of outsiders into their territories. Frightened and surprised, the tough Russian geologists packed up, but vowed to return.

A more organized, multiethnic protest occurred around the same time, when Khanty, Mansi, Nentsy, and Nganasan activists used a large conical tent to block the planned route of a railroad spur into the Yamal peninsula. They also occupied the main supply road north into the Yamal, attracting the attention of local authorities, who had been giving indigenous rights only lip service. In 1995, the poet Yuri Vella protested threats against his family territories by placing a tent at the parliament of the Khanty-Mansi Okrug (District) in its capital, Khanty-Mansiisk.1

Public, organized protests have been rare, however. Far more common is a seething anger voiced within local communities and to a few outside supporters. A Khanty museum activist, for example, returned from a trip near Kazym, where the roadside is littered with debris for kilometers, exclaiming, "How can people hate themselves so much as to spoil their own environment like this? They must not think of it as theirs, even though they have taken it from us."

In the late 1980s, such feelings combined with shifting political conditions, enabling a few members of the Siberian intelligentsia to form an "Association of the Minority Peoples of the North." One of the first planning meetings took place in early August 1989, in Khanty-Mansiisk. Regional meetings led to a full Congress of the Minority Peoples of the North in Moscow's Kremlin in March 1990, with the explicit goal of empowering indigenous Siberians to have a greater voice in the distribution of resources, power, and authority in their own territories, and to monitor government programs ostensibly designed to improve their lives (see appendix A).2 Within the Association, smaller regional activist groups were formed, among them the Association for the Salvation of the Ugra, headed by Tatiana Gogoleva, to formulate and defend Khanty and Mansi cultural, political, and economic rights.

The Association of the Minority Peoples of the North was a response to increased opportunities for local peoples throughout the Soviet Union to participate in the political and cultural processes changing the country and fostering newly revitalized identities. These opportunities were illustrated by the famed catch-words of the Gorbachev era, glasnost' (frankness) and perestroika (restructuring). But the cultural and political ferment did not begin in a vacuum. Rather, people's participation in new political forms had roots in their historical experiences and in the nurturing of ethnic identities they defined on the basis of cultural differences.

The history of ethnic interaction in Siberia's northern Ob River area reveals examples of ethnic group formation, survival, and persistence against considerable ecological, demographic, and political odds. The process has been painful, uneven, and unstable. For the Khanty, it was volatile enough to include a harshly repressed "rebellion" in the 1930s and sporadic local conflicts in the nineteenth century and earlier. In the twentieth century, expressions of ethnic consciousness have persisted in varying degrees, with varying influence on surrounding Russians.

In a caf‚ in Paris in 1997, I noticed some "New Russians" (slang for newly rich Russian businessmen) enjoying themselves. As the evening progressed with internationally customary libations and table-hopping, I landed next to their leader, an energy executive from West Siberia--Khanty territory. The executive was adamant: "All Khanty are alcoholics and die by age thirty, far too young to absorb any wisdom from any elders, who do not exist anyway. . . . No land exploration deal can be negotiated without a bottle, for the Khanty want and expect it that way. Khanty like to shoot at energy prospectors, and it has gotten quite dangerous to venture into the woods of the Eastern Khanty Surgut region." He concluded, "Let the few pitiful Khanty who are left on this earth live in town. Russian villages are dying too. The world needs gas. You need all we can pump."

The executive's logic and prejudice were sobering. He refused to believe that any Siberians were leaders, members of an intelligentsia, or were capable of writing books and producing films. Sadly, his views cannot be dismissed, for they are characteristic of many in his industry. And his chilling words "Whose homeland is it, anyway?" pointed to the crux of the tension, as Khanty writers, hunters, and reindeer breeders compete with newcomers for a home they thought was theirs.


My first task is to tell a story of West Siberian development, strife, and accommodation that brings indigenous views of their history and current life into focus. Like most tales of human interaction, it has moments of transcending hope for interethnic communication as well as moments of despair. Having lived through the break-up of the Soviet Union, and seen its initial ramifications for indigenous peoples of the North, I hope to make the Khanty better known to a wide range of Western and Russian readers. Three stages of my field data are integrated with historical, sociological, and census materials, for perspectives on changes in Khanty society and differences within it. No Western ethnography of the Khanty based on post-1917 fieldwork and research has been published, and few works on Siberians have appeared since the former Soviet Union and then Russia (Rossiia) opened itself haphazardly to anthropologists.3

The Khanty (Ostiak in historical accounts) are an Ob-Ugrian people with hunting, fishing, and reindeer-breeding adaptations to the harsh Siberian north, a complex kinship organization, and a rich ritual life influenced, but not eclipsed, by Russian settlers. They are significant as a post-tribal people with a difficult historical legacy struggling to remake themselves into a mobilized political and cultural group. Nomadic camp and lineage identities continue to be important, as other levels of identity (regional, national, international) are added.

Study of Russian and Khanty interaction can contribute to a more general understanding of ethnicity, nationalism, and change. My approach to ethnicity stresses self-identity, encompassing group and individual awareness of social-cultural differences. I see ethnicity as a mildly politicized construction of cultural difference and nationalism as a striving for some level of self-determination. In practice, the distinction dissolves, making the word "ethnonationalism" appropriate. Study of specific cultural values and behavior can reveal how social groups are maintained and why conflicts emerge. Analysis of responsive ethnic interactions can help illustrate the futility of theoretically pigeonholing the material and the ideological, the real and the perceived, the practical and the ideal, or the cultural and the political. An underlying assumption of my work is that, just as ethnonational groups are interactive, so these theoretical realms are interpenetrating and mutually influencing.

Narratives out of Siberia should transcend notorious stereotypes of cold and cruelty, as well as reverse stereotypes of selfless hospitality. The experiences that have compelling correlations for me are those of Native American (First Nations, Indian) groups, whose own painful histories of colonization and community power are (or should be) important factors shaping American consciousness and conscience. Native American comparisons are relevant for Native Siberians in the 1990s, as they emerge from one version of colonialism (under the Soviets) only to encounter new varieties of exploitation. I hope that readers familiar with North American history will find similarities and contrasts in my Siberian accounts; I call attention to some of the most salient correlations. The comparison is especially significant because newly politicized Siberians and long-mobilized Native American Indians are themselves interested in meeting and understanding each other. My participation in projects helping Native Siberian and Native American leaders communicate has permitted insights into adaptable models of hard-won Native American political and economic success, as well as development and reservation ghetto plights that Native Siberians are trying to avoid.4

A further goal is to describe Siberian ethnic interaction in sufficient detail to permit comparisons with the experiences of other Soviet and post-Soviet ethnonational groups. While many comparisons must remain implicit, my account of ethnonationalism, especially in the chapters on the 1990s, addresses concerns of political and economic specialists fascinated by the Russian Federation transition. Chaotic post-Soviet conditions invite a range of new scholarship and the generation of new theories.

My account of West Siberia also sheds retrospective light on "nationalities issues" raised by Soviet officials and ethnographers, engaged in what they perceived as one of history's grandest experiments in national relations and (re)construction. Before glasnost', some Soviet ethnographers contributed to the study of ethnic relations. Their varying views of "ethnos," nationalism, bilingualism, and ethnic intermarriage can be compared with a range of Western analysis. By the end of the Soviet period, Western and Soviet analyses of ethnonational problems converged to an extent previously inconceivable, as ethnic conflicts erupted in former Soviet republics.5


A Khanty fisherman in Tegy village proudly told me in 1976: "My children study in different places, in Tiumen', in Omsk, in Berezovo, and in Salekhard. They will be able to read what you write about the Khanty." I take his words seriously, though the context of his statement has changed dramatically in the 1990s. Multiple kinds of interaction, dialogue, and observation have contributed to my comprehension of ethnic relations and social life in the former Soviet Union and the post-Soviet Russian Federation. Periodic fieldwork since 1976 has been in many of the republics of the former Soviet Union and its successor Russian Federation. Most of my field time, especially in the 1990s, has been spent with Siberian colleagues and friends in and out of Siberia.

Since 1987, visits of Siberians to my home and to conferences in the U.S., Canada, and Europe have provided opportunities for updating and supplementing my Siberian work. As with many "post-modern" anthropologists, the "near" and "far" of standard fieldwork have been wonderfully confounded. Consultations with Khanty in 1993 (Moscow), in 1995 (at home outside Washington, D.C.), 1996 (Northern British Columbia), in 1997 (Moscow), and in 1998 (Florida) have been especially relevant. While these have been mostly with leaders and members of the intelligentsia, they have also provided more insights than I once thought possible into continuities of nomadic camp life in the post-Soviet period. In many ways, this makes the shock of recent oil industry excesses all the more tragic. One Khanty leader, Joseph Sopochin, explained to Bureau of Indian Affairs executive Franklin Keel in 1995, "We experienced colonialism by oil development, beginning in the Soviet period and continuing even more intensively today." Many Khanty add that they would like more control over local development, plus negotiated percentages of energy profits, but understand that they cannot realistically expect a total halt to energy projects in West Siberia.

I have lived nearly forty months in villages and cities of Rossiia, on nine trips, two lasting over a year. The first thirteen months of my exchange experience were in 1975-76, when I did research for my doctorate in cultural anthropology in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) and traveled widely. My first addictive taste of Siberia was a 1975 Novosibirsk conference on Siberian-Alaskan cultural connections. In 1976, I was able to join a Leningrad University summer ethnographic "expedition" to Khanty territory, thus becoming the first American permitted, in the Soviet period, in Khanty villages of the Northern Ob River near the Arctic Circle. In 1986, I lived in Yakutia (now the Sakha Republic) on the official cultural exchange, an experience that strongly influenced my views of the entire Siberian North and what Russians call the Far East. In 1991, I returned to the Khanty area and the Sakha Republic, beginning a series of yearly visits.6

The circumstances of my July-August 1991 fieldwork at the old Soviet "culture base" of Kazym, where I had first lived in 1976, were remarkable for what they symbolized about changing life in the last months of the Soviet era. I arrived alone, by plane, at the newly developed oil boomtown of Beloiarsk and phoned local representatives of the Association for the Salvation of the Ugra. Two Russians with a car were found to take me the forty-five-minute drive to Kazym, where I was brought to the warm and welcoming home of Khanty activist Tania Moldanova's widowed mother, Nadezhda Karpovna. Several days later, members of the ethnographic film seminar that I had come to take part in moved to the local boarding school (kasum kutup, in Khanty), empty for the summer. My lively and talkative roommates were a Mansi leader of the Association for the Salvation of the Ugra, a Nenets director of a folklore museum in Salekhard, and a talented young assistant to the Association, of mixed Khanty and Mansi background. Neighbors included Tania and Timofei Moldanov, the Khanty folklorist-intellectuals most responsible for bringing our film seminar to fruition.7 In addition to film seminar activities, I had time for diverse home interviews, berrying in the woods with friends, jam making, mushroom picking and processing, breadline waiting, Russian-style bathhouse female solidarity, occasional group-heckle TV news viewing, participant-observation at the Saturday night disco, and socializing of a more low-key variety (Photo 1: The Kazym community during the 1991 ethnographic film seminar. Note Tatiana Moldanova kneeling.).

My 1991 field interests had three main overlapping aspects: (1) the nature and development of the Association for the Salvation of the Ugra and its ethno-political context; (2) a general ethnographic study of cultural change and spiritual revival, using comparisons especially to my observations in 1976; and (3) the multiethnic and multi-voiced dynamics of the film seminar.

First contacts with the Association for the Salvation of the Ugra occurred in Moscow, where I had discussions with their capable and impressive president, Tatiana Gogoleva. Even before meeting Tatiana Gogoleva, I had heard from Sakha friends that she was one of the most effective of the emerging leaders involved in founding the umbrella group "Association of the Minority Peoples of the North." When we met, she outlined Salvation of the Ugra activities that combined hard-nosed political-economic activism against indiscriminate energy development with sponsorship of Native rituals such as weddings and bear festivals.

I was pleased that the Association for the Salvation of the Ugra, by focusing on both internal and external Ob-Ugrian relations, was becoming a fulcrum for precisely the issues that I considered most crucial and most fascinating about the new efforts at Khanty political-cultural revival. Yet I also understood, especially later in Kazym, that I would have to temper my own enthusiasm for their activities with a more broad-based sense of how extensively their influence was spreading.I interviewed more than twenty people of various ages, sometimes through personal connections and sometimes in casual talks on the village street. Over half of the street interviews developed into home visits. Some Kazym Khanty, from young to elderly, were excited about the Association, but some had barely heard of it. One sad and cynical young woman, who had health and housing problems, was very sarcastic when I suggested she might want to contact the Association for possible support and advocacy. "What possible good could they do? The real power to do anything around here is still in the hands of the [former communist] Zyrian [Komi] local village [council] president, and he helps his own people." I also had two interviews with this friendly yet nervous local president, who proclaimed himself a Yeltsin-style reformer, criticized the ecological devastation of his region, and was defensive about his relations with the Association.8

It was impossible to measure Khanty cultural changes in any standardized way, yet it was easier in 1991 than 1976 to discern that many Khanty appreciated not only their "traditional" (non-Christian, non-Soviet) rituals but also the spiritual beliefs that underlie them. This was brought home when I accompanied three sisters to the graveyard to pay respects to their ancestors. It emerged in my discussions with several (young) believers about their yearning for a revival of effective shamanic practice, "before it is too late." But most striking was the acknowledgement of a continuity of ritual life (including reindeer sacrifices for ancestral spirits, bear festivals, and some wedding rituals) that had persisted under the surface of Soviet rule. Crucial to this was a key tenet of Khanty personhood: belief in reincarnation and the need to divine proper Khanty names for babies. In 1991, elderly, middle-aged, and two younger Khanty women were regularly divining to determine soul transfers for newborns. Thus the spirit of Khanty specialness and continuity, expressed through soul beliefs, persisted amidst a morass of interethnic marriage, atheist propaganda, and sheer alcoholic apathy.

My 1991 role in Kazym was not just outsider ethnographer, collector and sifter of bits and shreds of information, but also teacher-facilitator, part of a team of Western, Russian, Bulgarian, and Hungarian specialists leading seminars on ethnographic film (see Appendix B). Our goal was to give Siberian seminar members skills with which to film their own cultures, however they cared to define that challenge.9 During intensive classroom sessions, we traded information on methodology and diverse philosophies of cultural anthropology, as well as on video film techniques. Conflicts arose between some participants, who defined "culture" as only traditional and folkloric and others who wanted to include "modern," Russified Native youth. We ate meals together in the school cafeteria, shared adventures during filming, and helped organize a Khanty "traditional sports" festival for the community on a cold damp day that was saved for me by a bonfire that generated gossip as well as warmth.

During frenetic evenings in the school, we had Western ethnographic films running in one room; videos of a four-day Khanty bear festival (filmed in the winter of 1991) in another; and tea, conversation, and singing in a third. In all three rooms, members of the Kazym community mingled with seminar participants, who included not only Khanty and Mansi but also Nentsy and Sakha. Informal discussions lasted past midnight in all three rooms. The room with the bear festival was the most popular with elderly Khanty women and drew a few elderly men as well. They came to watch themselves and their friends, reliving their joy at being able to dance and sing openly in a rite honoring the sacred bear. Eager to talk and explain, they made that room sacred for me. Later, when a Khanty widow proudly showed me a bear skin, complete with head, that she kept above her dresser, kissing and talking and making offerings to it, I better understood her feelings. I was pleased when she let me help her put the bear away.

Participation in the film seminar provided insights into aspects of Kazym life that I might not have been able to see so quickly in another field situation. The presence of outsiders-with-cameras catalyzed, and in some cases polarized, community opinions about the opening of their village to foreigners, to reform, and to overt issues of ethnicity. Such mixed community feelings were aired in two village meetings, and more informally around many kitchen tables. Slavic-Native tensions exploded in my face one day when I was scolded by a Ukrainian woman for my friendship with "Khanty nationalists." Native rights and ecology advocacy, seemingly congruent, also turned out to be fraught with tension when a Russian ecological activist appeared, asking us to make a film on local ecology problems.

Debates were continual about where lines should be drawn in exposing sacred rituals to outsiders. During filming of the winter bear festival a related sacrifice of seven reindeer in a sacred grove was not permitted to be filmed. One of our Khanty colleagues had tears of sorrow and anger in his eyes when he saw a film of a shamanic ritual that included an animal sacrifice (see appendix B.) He did not think it should have been filmed, because he felt aspects of "insider" sacred life should be kept hidden from "outsider" viewers, whose atheist, Christian, or other perspectives might interfere with their understanding or good will.

The problem of mystical secrecy is familiar in anthropology: I try to explain insights Khanty have given me about named souls and reincarnation without revealing confidences about personal spirituality. The task became far easier later in the 1990s, when some Khanty have urged greater openness and themselves are writing eloquently about spiritual concerns (e.g., Kravchenko 1996).10

The focus of the seminar was on using ethnography and film morally, creatively, and productively, to help serve community purposes. Thus, we courted diverse community input. We debated the meaning of Soviet rule, patriotism, what constitutes "anti-Soviet propaganda," and what it means to lose one's "national soul." Similar pulse-taking opportunities emerged, with higher stakes but less overt intensity, during the August 1991 coup.11

Discussions of ethnography and ethics brought out stories of how a few Khanty purposely deceived certain Russian ethnographers, including one case of systematic misinforming on the subject of lineage identities. Ethnographers perceived to be potentially exploitive, or too closely allied with local Russian authority figures, were given misinformation throughout the Soviet period, raising alarming questions about the nature of some seemingly apolitical ethnographic and historical data.

When I was first given permission to participate in a university "ethnographic expedition" to the Khanty in 1976, I was concerned about my ability to learn very much during summer fieldwork. However, the trip enabled insights into Soviet anthropology and Native-Russian interaction. Most important, I became intrigued by Khanty culture: fieldwork provided focus for further archive and library research, and for future contacts.

In 1976, members of our "expedition" lived in two villages, one a fishing collective (Tegy) and the other a reindeer breeding center and "culture base" (Kazym). In both, I was impressed by the importance of rituals stressing life passages. It is crucial to emphasize that I did not initially set out to study this topic. Rituals were not immediately apparent upon arrival at Tegy via modern hydrofoil. But their significance soon became clear, modulating first impressions of impoverished, Sovietized, dispirited lives (Photo 2: The Kazym main square, women cooking, 1976.).12

Many opportunities arose to confirm my growing impressions of active yet discreet ritual life, beginning with ceremonies and beliefs focused on the graveyard. In Tegy, I observed the Khanty librarian at a traditional memorial feast; in Kazym, I watched preparations for another remembrance ceremony. Although I had been told religion was dead,I heard recently made tapes of sacred bear festival songs and listened to a Russian and a Khanty consultant accuse two other Khanty of shamanic misdeeds. Just before a thunderstorm, I watched a woman, buffeted by a life of many misfortunes, run out of her cabin and beg the Sky God, Numi-Torum, not to harm her family. I learned of recent weddings that featured adapted older rituals. I was shown, from a boat, the site of a sacred grove still considered off-limits to women, and I experienced firsthand the fear that a Khanty man evinced when I attempted to climb to his attic. I was by his definition "impure," as a woman, and would contaminate the house below.13

In Tegy, our group stayed in the grade school, empty for the summer and located conveniently in the center of the village near the Malaia Ob River. In Kazym, the collective director placed us in a small building that also housed the local library and Communist Party headquarters, on the main square. Such arrangements enabled easy but not ideal access to consultants, whom we sought ourselves. While some villagers felt free to visit me, most of my serious discussions took place in Khanty homes, where Khanty casually encouraged visitors to enter after calling "uusia" (hello).14

Several consultants lived in the same households, which became places I frequented at all hours of the long summer days. Others entertained me (and sometimes other expedition members) at length with songs and legends. I taped such expressive data, which then (with permission) became currency for breaking the ice with other consultants. Only one woman, a reputed shaman, completely refused to talk. A few of my most significant interviews took place by chance, sitting on the bank of the Amnia River waiting for a boat to take me between Kazym and the more "traditional" village of Amnia on the opposite shore.

I collected life histories to the extent that it was polite and politic to do so.15 Expedition members pooled historical and kinship information (especially from male elders) that I was then able to check with my most trusted middle-aged or elderly female consultants. In everyday visits with Khanty women, I helped clean fish, make tea, and carry wood, although I was all too often treated as a guest without work obligations.

Twice I was able to leave the villages and learn something of the active and strenuous camp life that many Khanty lead. One occasion was a day-long scything trip made with a Khanty elder, his son, and our expedition leader, Valery A. Kozmin. On this trip, I cut grass for cattle feed, and helped prepare a Khanty-style meal of boiled fish. I watched our host check fishnets in what he described as his traditional lineage territory and listened to his stories of World War II.

On a second trip, our group traveled in two motor boats to a fish camp near Kazym to see a six-person fishing crew in action. We watched the solitary Khanty woman of the camp rapidly splay fish to dry on lines for the long winter ahead. A young Khanty fisherman described sacred groves and local history.

Descriptions of rituals and ethnic relations often varied in detail and emphasis. Some differences could be resolved by correlating them with Tegy and Kazym accounts; others were undoubtedly based on memory lapses and changing practices. Only rarely did anyone attempt to misinform, and their information could usually be checked against other sources. When questioning the extent of contemporary belief in gender-linked prohibitions, for instance, I discovered that a whole group of Khanty women of various ages, sitting in the same room, could not agree. The incident confirmed that, for certain issues, a valuable technique is to encourage friendly debate. Anthropologists clearly cannot attempt to find one right answer to complex questions about culture change, conservatism, and ethnicity.

From 1975 to 1998, I have had fascinating conversations with Russians, in and out of Siberia, about their attitudes toward the Khanty and other Native Siberians. The Russians varied from staunchly idealistic Soviets, such as the collective directors of Tegy and Kazym, to snobbish townspeople of Berezovo who disdained learning a Native language, to mixed Russian-Native "Siberiak" women in nineteenth-century Russian peasant dress who bragged about knowing the local Khanty dialect, to energy executives, to post-Soviet officials of the Moscow Government Committee of the North (Goskomsevera), most of whom are Russians, not Natives.16 In West Siberia, evidence of Russian-Soviet culture was everywhere: in village stores, in the first two-story apartment building in Tegy, in post offices, in log-cabin hospitals, and especially in the energy boomtowns like Beloiarsk. In 1976, I observed that the Russians had relatively better housing, jobs, and possessions than the Khanty, but the life-style gap had become much greater by 1991. It has increased through the 1990s, as the dachas of energy executives rim lakes where Khanty sacred groves were once the sites of rituals.


"It is important for the outside world to learn something about us, and to realize that not everything about our culture is dead," Tania Moldanova reassured me in 1991, when I expressed concern about writing Khanty history as an outsider. In this spirit, my work combines diverse historical and contemporary data, forgoing generalized descriptions in the "ethnographic present," and featuring, now that they can finally be heard, diverse Khanty voices. Historical sources are uneven. Particularly rich are the Soviet household demographic and economic records of Tegy and Kazym, since they were kept by officials who did not intend to use them for anything other than their own information. Prerevolutionary archival data on legal conflicts, taxes, leadership, government reform policy, and intermarriage are also quite reliable, provided each is weighed in terms of the background (class, occupation, opinions) of its author.

My most significant historical sources relate to indigenous protests, called "rebellions" by authorities, and collectivization. These include accounts in Russian in obscure journals, by participants, witnesses, judges, and other officials. I have tried to augment Russian and Soviet descriptions justifying the taxing, jailing, killing, and relocating of Natives with indigenous or foreign accounts. Native versions of a little-known, searing hostage crisis at Kazym in 1931-32, resulting in the killing of high-level Soviet officials, are recounted here for the first time in English.

A panoply of impressionistic local resident and traveler descriptions of Northwestern Siberian life since the eighteenth century has been sifted for nuggets concerning the Khanty. These are revealing even when the authors were clearly racist. Ethnographies by usually well-meaning Russians, writing more or less professionally since the nineteenth century, have been combed for data related to the themes stressed here.17 Finally, museum records in Saint Petersburg (Leningrad) and Helsinki, accompanying collections of religious materials, have provided insights into Khanty spiritual life. These insights were subsequently reinforced when I saw precious, secret items in the field for the first time in 1991.


Arjun Appadurai urges us to "re-think concepts of family, civil society, political society and the nation . . . avoid[ing] the trap of de-historicizing `tradition.'"18 His discussion of fresh perspectives in "transnational" contexts is aimed at better understanding complex societies where people often do not expect to live and work where they were born, and where "collective imaginings" take place through electronic media. His plea to go beyond concepts of the "nation-state" or accusations of "tribalism" when ethnic conflicts break out is as relevant to studies of Siberia as to India, Europe, or America. It is appropriate even for people without computers who are trying to stay in their own homelands.

Accounts of ethnic interaction ideally should be multisided and multileveled ethnographies, so that ethnohistory is more than a study of European political-economic impact and "Natives" are more than passive, acculturated recipients of outsiders' cultures (Wolf 1982:385-91; Ortner 1984:143; Ortner 1995). The reverse stereotype of Native overaction implicit in the expression "the natives are restless," must also be avoided. This stereotype may be implicated in the wave of reflexive soul searching in anthropology that rejects the word "native" entirely.19 Relations of Europeans, including Slavic peoples, with Native peoples, including Siberians, have been too unpredictable and diverse to define as corrupt or benevolent or to permit the clear demarcation of "friends" and "foes." Sherry Ortner's now classic statement (1984:143) that history should not be "something that arrives, like a ship, from outside the society in question" still serves as an appropriate warning.

The task of selecting the most significant interactions is made difficult by insufficient material illuminating Native perspectives on events described by majorities holding formal or informal power (Slezkine 1994; Brown 1980). Western anthropologists thus often attempt radical revisions, presenting and interpreting Native views and Native resistance. My approach is similarly Khanty-centric, although I have tried to understand the situations of nearby Siberians and of Russians in diverse positions of power. I integrate various individual "ethnoscapes" into my text without overgeneralizing about ethnic groups as "collectivized individuals" (Appadurai 1996:48-65; Handler 1988).

My interpretation of Siberian data seems least distorted using models of "longue dur‚e" ethnohistory that represent standards of comprehensive description.20 While acknowledging the hidden strings of phenomenology in any analysis and the reflexivity of any field situation, I see in various aspects of Khanty narratives diverse theories and theoretical applications. I have gradually evolved a precarious balance between my worldviews and an openness to others that enables a "situational ethics" approach to theory, data, and writing.21

Like a fur animal eluding capture, ethnicity has come to mean so much to so many that the most humanitarian way to view it begins with individuals' self-labels of cultural identity, ethnonyms (Proschan 1997). Ethnic consciousness can be mobilized or simply fostered in social group behavior and ethnic interaction. Ethnicity is constrained from leading to chauvinist brands of nation-dreaming separatism when a given ethnic group is a tiny minority in its own homeland. Yet chauvinist nationalism can supersede defensive nationalism when desperation leads to ethnic polarization.

Within the Russian Federation, many ethnic group members aspire to increased degrees of self-determination for the ethnic group to which they belong but stop short of radical or chauvinist nationalism. Thus the American theorist Walker Connor (1994) argues for the encompassing term "ethnonationalism." For Connor, the rational and the irrational are part of the dynamics of ethnonationalism, spurred by diverse and interactive conditions prevailing between ethnonational groups, especially in an evolving federal context.

Many social theories distinguish between a culturally, especially linguistically, "homogeneous" ethnic group (ethnos, or ethnie) that has developed through time (identified as coherent by ethnohistorians) and a group that is in the process of defining for itself a more politicized ethnicity.22 Indeed, anthropologists' current critique of culture hinges on awareness that our disciplinary ancestors often saw "culture" as an unrealistically fixed and integrated system (Fox 1995:1-5). My focus is on the rooted-in-history politics of ethnicity, not on ethnicity or culture as homogeneous.

In the Norwegian anthropologist Fredrik Barth's view (1969), people cannot become aware of their own ethnicity until they chafe against ethnic others, and thus need to define ethnic boundaries. Ethnicity becomes inherently political, using the language (idiom, discourse) of cultural differences to make us/them distinctions. While for Barth, this could theoretically happen in premodern times, for Ernest Gellner (1983), the self-conscious definition of an ethnic group as a sociopolitical unit becomes possible only in an industrialized, modern world of intense, often colonial or unequal, interethnic relations.

Similarly, Benedict Anderson (1991) calls national groups "imagined communities," and finds their roots in the development of printing, literacy, and the break-up of colonial empires. His "imagined communities" are limited and self-conceived as sovereign, yet European patterns are imprinted in the brains of their members, whether they like it or not. Taken too far, this argument misses the power of non-European worldviews to shape outsider messages, or coexist with them. John and Jean Comaroff (1992:49-67) address this problem by arguing that people acting in the name of ethnicity (consciousness of difference, shaped by specific historical processes) become complicit in its dynamics, and yet can change the rules of its deadly serious games of categorizing.

Creative and multifaceted approaches to nationalism are illustrated by some of its early European theorists (e.g., Mazzini (1907)), who wedded traditions of liberalism and nationalism, and by more recent theorists struggling to make sense of the diversity of ethnic and nationalist movements from non-European perspectives. Especially useful for stressing the constructedness and responsiveness of ethnonationalism are the ideas of non-Western political anthropologists Yael Tamir (1993), who uses Middle East politics to illustrate her points, and Partha Chatterjee (1993) writing on India. Tamir's Liberal Nationalism argues that loyalty and patriotism to a state or federal republic need not preclude other identities and loyalties or take priority over them. Just as there is a linguistic distinction between the words "selfishness" (egoism) and "individualism" (taking care of oneself without hurting others), so too nationalism need not imply an automatic or blind mass chauvinism. People have "human rights" as both individuals and group members in this conception. "The morality of community" means protection of group rights first for ethnically related members, but also for all minorities within a given multiethnic state, on the basis of citizenship (Przeworski 1995:31; Hann and Dunn 1996).

Formation of Khanty ethnicity in the pre-Soviet period involved shifting levels of cultural awareness, and occasional political use of that awareness on a group level. In the early Soviet period, ethnicity was state-sponsored, through the creation of the Khanty-Mansi Okrug (District). With education, Khanty gradually became more aware of their group identity, based on cultural differences in relation to other peoples, but rarely overtly politicized. More recently, Khanty (and Mansi) ethnicity has become politically strengthened, viable, and credible, at the same time that Khanty are joining with other Siberian peoples to reinstate and protect their interests. Some Khanty leaders advocate self-determination through "preserves" (not reservations) and obshchiny (land-based communities).23

The significance of self-identity has been emphasized by psychological anthropologists Lola Romanucci-Ross and George De Vos (1995), among many others. Soviet census takers were instructed to use self-identity as the basis for recording national statistics, although debate has raged over how much self-defining the census permitted, given preconceived nationality categories and the existence of a "nationality" designation in Soviet passports. Russian ethnographers usually define ethnos in more complex terms, beginning with self-identification but assuming an evolving and hierarchic set of historic and ethnolinguistic categories.24

While ethnonationalist identities are often crucial keys to understanding behavior in the former Soviet Union and the Russian Federation, they are hardly the only keys. The concept of "social identity" discussed by Ward Goodenough (1963:3) and Michael Herzfeld's "levels of identity" (1989:155) stress the plural and situational nature of self-identity, placing ethnicity and gender in broader perspective. In different contexts diverse actions and identities may be appropriate, particularly in situations of ethnic or international interaction. New rights and duties are constantly learned or adapted but do not preclude old relationships.25

Examples of multiple, situational identities in the Soviet context include urban Russian Communist Party members who secretly attended family funerals or baptisms. Among the Khanty, I met many who were balancing multiple identities. They included a collective worker who played a major role in a traditional graveside memorial feast and a party leader who participated in a bear ceremony. Precisely because multiple levels of social-cultural participation became widespread in the Soviet period, the post-Soviet transition has been somewhat more flexible, diverse, and democratic than often predicted or claimed (Balzer 1990, 1992, 1994, 1995).

The term "biculturalism" does not begin to describe all the options for individuals, nor should we assume hypocrisy as we analyze changes of heart in Native leaders who were Communist Party members. For any given individual, the distinction between conservative and progressive often depends on social context and opportunity. An established, educated young Siberian man living outside of Siberia conspiratorially said to me in 1976, "I may be wearing a business suit, but inside is my traditional culture." During glasnost', the Evenk poet Alitet Nemtushkin (1988), speaking for many Siberians, proclaimed in public: "Thanks to all the Soviet peoples for their fraternal help. . . . However, we have outgrown the children's trousers and no longer need to be under guardianship. Give us the right to take charge of our destiny."

Concern with individual identities and strategies of ethnonational survival should not mask the serious social and political constraints impinging on those strategies (Royce 1982; Gellner 1983, 1993, 1994; Verdery 1996). Prejudice, ethnic conflict, and ethnic stereotyping all lead to attributions that are unwelcome and hard to shake. Such negative aspects of ethnicity can push people into boundary crossings, "passing," or the opposite, exacerbated ethnic consciousness and embittered chauvinist nationalism. But bloodshed, escalating and tragic in many places, is not the norm, either for the world community or the post-Soviet peoples.26

Ethnic conflict and accommodation should be seen in the context of the politics of demographics. For most Khanty, the Soviet-Russian influx into the North has been all too rapid and extensive, reducing indigenous groups to only about 3 percent of the Khanty-Mansi Okrug by the 1990s. Yet many villages and settlements remain predominantly Native. In 1976 in Tegy, a young Khanty man remarked to me, "I think there are more Russians than Khanty living in this village." Startled, I checked the collective records and asked local officials. I discovered the youth's impression was inaccurate, as there were almost a third more Khanty than Russians in Tegy in 1976. However, the incident revealed a different kind of truth: many Khanty perceived themselves as besieged, knowing themselves to be a minority in the region as a whole. This perception has only grown.

In their turn, some anthropologists stress processes of acculturation and assimilation in complex societies with dominant and minority groups. Such trends need to be tested rather than assumed.27 Assimilation is used here in the sense of social assimilation, especially that involving ethnic intermarriage. "Russification" may result. Yet intermarriage in Rossiia is as often between members of non-Russian groups as between Russians and non-Russians. In the past, when children of mixed Russian and Native Siberian marriages chose their "official" ethnic identity at age sixteen (for internal passports until 1997), the choice of Russian was not assured.28 This was especially true while Soviet-style affirmative action programs were in place. In the 1990s, however, such programs and the attitudes that produced them have been curtailed, as Siberian regional leaders, often Russian nationalists, take control of local areas.

Acculturation describes a process of incorporating values. While acculturation usually results from the influence of one dominant culture on another, the concept allows for influences to flow in multiple directions, involving multiple groups. Peoples of the North were not passive recipients of outsiders' sacred (Orthodox, Soviet) words, but active integrators and interpreters of those words. Soviet propaganda was often ignored and values compartmentalized, so that bi- or multicultural behavior did not seem insincere to its practitioners (Abrahamian 1994).

To assess the Soviet legacy, it is necessary to confront the degree to which certain aspects of Marxist-Leninist thought took hold among Native Siberians and Russians. Ideology and social behavior were filtered through different levels of awareness of Marx and different experiences of local history. Yet for many, pragmatic faith in progress, objectivity, and civilization became part of an unevenly shared worldview even when people were cynical about local conditions (Grant 1995).

In folk Marxism-Leninism, separation of political trends (cadre building, purges, and labor organization) from economic programs (collectivization and industrialization) is superfluous. The two were also enmeshed in Soviet planning. And some Soviets believed that they were building, against horrendous obstacles, the strong economic-technological base necessary for effective, enduring social and spiritual change. In this crude materialist view, endorsed by some Siberian officials, changes in the means and modes of production set the pace and determine the nature of social-cultural advance, yielding a domino theory of culture change. Such a functionalist utopian framework, still embraced by many graduates of the Soviet education system, posits meaningful change as occurring first at the economic, then at the social, and finally at the religious level, conquering superstitious false consciousness only with great difficulty.29

Sensing from experience, if not from theory, that changing material conditions were not by themselves enough to move a population quickly toward Communist goals, Soviet leaders gave sociologists, ethnographers, and Marxist philosophers the task of seeking functional alternatives to religion (Kryvelev 1977). Faced with the persistence of religion, party cadres waged elaborate propaganda and secularization campaigns, creating secular rituals based on Russian cultural forms (cf. Stites 1989; Lane 1981). Rather than replacing the religious opiate of the people with communist rituals, authorities in effect substituted methadone. This was less successful than hoped, particularly when the "masses" were devout national minorities, and when individuals responded to religion as forbidden fruit, not opium.30

To analyze Siberian ethnic relations, I view religion as neither an opiate nor a handicap but rather as a bulwark of potentially tenacious personal and social-cultural significance. Religious belief in itself did not necessarily lead to political dissent in the Soviet period, since many loyal Soviet citizens practiced their religions quietly. However, in the Soviet milieu, religious belief often became a symbol or marker of ethnicity (Petro 1990; Ramet 1992). Religious practice changed, without its significance being diminished. In the whole Soviet (dis)Union and in Khanty territory, many aspects of traditional religious life declined, while others grew stronger in new ways. These patterns have become especially clear in the post-Soviet 1990s, as some Siberians are attempting what they and others call "neo-traditionalism" (Pika and Prokhorov 1994).


The Khanty are closely related in language and culture to their neighbors the Mansi (Vogul). This "Ob-Ugrian" cultural commonality was reflected in Soviet political geography, with a large portion of northwestern Siberia designated the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug. The region was established in December 1930 and until 1937 was called the Ostiak-Vogul National Okrug. The name discrepancy was symptomatic of Soviet politics, for 1930s ethnographers claimed that "Khanty" and "Mansi" were more authentic ethnonyms than the terms "Ostiak" and "Vogul," which were loaded with tsarist legacies (see Appendix C).

The Khanty in 1926, when the first Soviet census was taken, numbered 17,800 and the Mansi 5,754 (fig. 1). In the late 1990s, they number approximately 25,000 and 10,000, respectively. While not all Khanty live within the bounds of their Okrug (District), most live within the Tiumen' Oblast (Region). In the Soviet political framework, the Khanty and Mansi were midway between Siberian groups without a formal administrative unit based on nationality (the Yukagir and some Amur River groups) and the two largest Siberian groups, the Buryat and the Sakha (Yakut), each numbering over 375,000 in 1989, with its own "autonomous republic" within the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Since 1991, the nesting "matrioshka doll" has endured declarations of greater republic and regional status, but hierarchy is maintained through the Federal Treaty signed in March 1992, the 1993 constitution, and bilateral treaties. Despite some debate, Khanty and Mansi boundaries have not changed (maps 1 and 2).

Figure 1. West Siberian demography (by census year).

Sources: Chislennost' i Sostav Naseleniia; Natsional'nyi sostav naseleniia (Moscow: Finansy i Statistiki); and Murray Feshbach archives, Georgetown University. Question marks indicate data are unreliable.
The Khanty, Mansi, and Hungarian languages comprise the Ugrian branch of the Finno-Ugric language family (fig. 2). The Khanty language is divided into three major dialect groups: Northern (including Kazym, Obdorsk, Berezovo, and Sherkaly Khanty), Southern (Irtysh-Konda, Altym, and Leusha Khanty), and Eastern (Surgut, Salym, and Vakh-Vasyugan Khanty). These divisions also reflect subtle cultural distinctions that Khanty sometimes make. Variable interactions with Russians, Tatars, and Samodeic [formerly Samoyedic] groups, especially the numerically dominant Nentsy, have led to further indigenous distinctions.

On the basis of language, environment and ethnic interaction, the most significant distinction is between Northern and Southern Khanty. In the more southerly portions of the Ob region, the Khanty historically had greater association with Russians than in the north. I have worked with Northern and Eastern Khanty and have found that these groups have preserved a relatively strong sense of ethnic and local identities, despite Samodeic, Tatar, and Slavic influences. Today, in the 1990s, about 60 percent of the Khanty speak their Native language (Vakhtin 1993:48).

The Khanty have long been patrilineal in social organization, tracing descent and significant inheritance through the male line. Awareness of widely ramifying levels of kin group identity is common, although kin groups became less relevant in the Soviet period. Many Khanty are patriarchal, highly valuing male authority, and patrilocal, preferring a woman to live with or near her husband's family.31

In a given area, the relative importance of fishing, hunting, and reindeer breeding varies with natural resources, and, since the 1930s, with government planning. In the 1960s, some Khanty reindeer breeders living along the Ob moved to the Kazym region, since the Kazym collective was one of the last to actively support reindeer breeding. Khanty fishermen catch a wealth of fish, including pink and white salmon, pike, sturgeon, trout, and carp. Khanty hunters shoot or trap squirrel, polar fox, elk, otter, marten, sable, wolverine, ermine, and, occasionally, wild reindeer and bear (cf. Ponomarev 1973). In addition, grouse, partridge, geese, and ducks abound in regions not affected by the energy industry and are easily trapped or shot. Waterfowl are especially easy prey during summer molting season, when the defenseless birds can be clubbed.

The environment that supports such rich animal life is diverse, including taiga, tundra, and forests of cedar, beech, pine, and larch. Traveling north, or away from riverbank forests, one reaches taiga, with its stunted vegetation and grasses, and then tundra, with its huge expanse of permafrost. Aerial views of Khanty territory in summer show rivers overflowing their banks and glimpses of large moss-covered swamps, peat, and marsh pine.

Large segments of the Surgut (Eastern Khanty) region as well as parts of other Khanty territories have been devastated by wasteful and destructive oil and gas excavation. Networks of Ob River tributaries support Khanty fishing settlements, while expanses of taiga and tundra enable nomadic reindeer breeding. The Ob, as well as some of its tributaries, have been polluted to varying degrees, with a diminution of fish resources notable since the 1960s. Yet fish spawning grounds relatively free from pollution still exist in this vast region larger than France.

Khanty often asked how long the winter is in America. It was clearly a matter of great concern, for they would solemnly trump my answer of "four or five months" with the figures "seven or eight months." Their climate is severe and continental, intensely cold in the "dark days" of winter (minus twenty-five to minus fifty degrees centigrade) and hot in the "white nights" summers (fifteen to twenty degrees centigrade).

The sub-Arctic environment meant that many Northern and Eastern Khanty had relatively little direct exposure to Russians, who long perceived the extreme north (especially territories distant from waterways) to be undesirable, despite some efforts at colonizing, missionizing, prospecting, and trading. Only since the 1960s has the gas and oil industry spurred more extensive settlement.32 In this ecological and behavioral climate, therefore, some Khanty survived without demographic inundation until well after World War II, although many changes percolated northward through the movement of Khanty and Mansi themselves. In addition, precisely because of the threat of cultural inundation, certain Khanty rituals were kept from prying outsiders' eyes, particularly in the smaller Khanty settlements.


This book is a saga of what Siberians have lived through over the last several centuries. As with many indigenous Northerners, the Khanty experienced displacement, isolation, and interpenetration. The processes of ethnic interaction in the Ob River region may be characterized by sweeping trends that overarched and strongly affected Khanty lives: colonization, Christianization, revitalization, Sovietization, and regionalization. These processes incorporate suprastate and state politics, as well as more local social dynamics and movements. Recent devastation stemming from the energy industry's land thefts has led to upheaval and nuanced resistance in many styles. Such changes might seem to presage the complete demise of Khanty ethnicity. Yet the final chapters demonstrate ways some Khanty have found, in the midst of crisis, to preserve cultural values and dignity and strive for cultural empowerment. Khanty ethnicity has varied with the politics of individuals, groups, and generations. It has been shaped by recent grass-roots mobilization, ecological activism, and religious revival, as well as older historical memory, language-based solidarity, and loyalty to a homeland. At each historical turn, Siberian experiences help shed new light on old debates concerning the concepts of colonization, conversion, revitalization, and ethnicity.

The term colonization is used here with awareness of fluctuation in Russian/Soviet historiography on the issue, and relief that recent Russian assessments have refuted Soviet ideological emphasis on a history of ethnic friendship between early Slavs (mostly Cossacks) and Siberians. Colonization describes a combination of conflict and accommodation that occurred as soldiers and settlers arrived in Ob Ugrian territories. Colonies (networks of fortified outposts) were where officials demanding fur taxes often treated Siberians in less than respectful ways. Colonists (settlers) forged into Native lands hoping for personal survival and private gain. Some became Siberiaki, combining Slavic and Siberian values.

Christianization was equally inconsistent, with missionary zeal for large numbers of converts at first taking precedence over more thorough and patient approaches. The term Christianization is used to stress the process rather than the result. Focus on conversion to Russian Orthodoxy inappropriately implies finality. Missionaries were, in effect, fomenting a de-ethnicization process. Most, in the name of civilization, hoped to change individual consciousness on such a scale that whole cultures, from funerals to choice of chiefs, would be transformed.

Complete Khanty transformation proved elusive. Two small revitalization movements arose in the nineteenth century, and others may be undocumented. One movement, of a Nenets shamanic leader named Vavlyo Nenyang (Vauli Piettomin), united some Khanty with Nentsy neighbors against Russians and a few Natives seen as tsarist middlemen. Its Robin-Hood-like demands included redistribution of resources to the poor, alleviation of taxes, and appointment of new leaders. A second movement, in response to a smallpox scare, was more religious, involving massive animal sacrifices and a return to traditional values. Neither movement resulted in a new religion, but they contained the seeds of syncretic ethnic regeneration for several West Siberian groups.

Khanty ethnicity was most influenced by Sovietization (chapters 4 and 5). Soviet life began violently, and only slowly came to be part of many citizens' conscious and unconscious values. This does not mean that every Khanty individual was delighted with every decision made at collective meetings. Rather, many learned to think in Soviet terms of collective work and ethnicity. Federal "nationalities" definitions shaped the politics of ethnicity, yet not always in the ways officials planned. In the Soviet period, Siberian Russians too came to be "ethnic" and gradually responded to the growth of non-Russian ethnonational movements with their own.

In chapter 6, analyses of trends toward regionalization in Siberia focus especially on the development of Khanty politics through the Association for the Salvation of the Ugra, local claims against energy companies, and agitation for community (obshchina) self-rule. Interaction of the indigenous intelligentsia with Russian leaders has reached new levels of complexity, conflict, and potentially productive negotiation. And Russians who have become "Siberiaki," committed to staying in Siberia and developing it for themselves, pose a new version of an old threat to Khanty and other Native Siberian groups.

"The tenacity of ethnicity" becomes most clear in chapter 7, where tenacious values and symbols of Khanty spiritual life are explored. The importance of reincarnation for continuity of the Khanty and the significance of rituals marking life passages reveal the main channels of Khanty ethnicity before political activism became possible. These cultural expressions of ethnic consciousness were striking in the anti-religious Soviet milieu.

Crucial questions about ethnicity in a global context center on behavior as well as cognition. Theories of ethnicity should take into consideration its multiple potential roots in social-group boundary maintenance, linguistic differentiation, resource competition, political struggle, descent principles, religious values, and underlying psychological needs. Combining, yet not homogenizing, the work of many theorists in my conclusion, I review and analyze further those concepts of ethnicity that have aided interpretation throughout the text.

Each major change in Ob River ethnic relations represents some degree of manipulation of Khanty life by outsiders. Yet multiple levels of ethnic interaction can trigger radicalized reactions of self-preservation, as well as adaptation and partial cultural destruction. Khanty individuals have long been nurturers of a valued yet changing culture and reshapers of outside messages, as their nineteenth-century revitalization movements testify and their current responses to educational, political, and economic developments reveal. The West Siberian energy executive may discover more than the debilitated Khanty he bargained for.

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File created: 8/7/2007

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