Siberian Tribe Struggle for Land Rights

by Kathryn McCann


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'Don't go looking for Antarctica without this book.' - Susan Solomon




In the 1930s the Khanty people of Siberia were persecuted by the Soviet regime. They were taken from their ancestral lands, the adults put to work in state farms and the children sent to boarding schools. The shamans were killed in an attempt to crush the people's spirituality and break their roots to their past.

By the 1960s many of the tribe had managed to move back to the Siberian Taiga and re-establish their traditional semi-nomadic way of life, herding reindeer, hunting, fishing and gathering berries.



But then came a new threat.

Oil, gas and mining companies, seeking to exploit the hidden riches of the land, have wreaked havoc in the delicate arctic environment, polluting water sources, degrading forests and killing or scaring away the animals. In places the land is so damaged that it would take a century to recover enough to support the Khanty's precious reindeer.

The prospectors trick families into surrendering their land - moving in without their knowledge, promising compensation that never comes or making them believe they have no right to refuse. As a result the people are often driven from their land into 'native villages', where they are forced to depend on the state to survive. In desperation many seek solace in the vodka brought in by the oil men or even resort to suicide.

In fact until recently, according to Russian federal law, the people had the right to live and hunt in their traditional lands, the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug. And in 1994 those who were still living in the traditional way received official land documents from the local administration, giving them the right to deny entry to prospectors. Now, however, a new Land Code has come into force that invalidates the previous laws, leaving the Khanty with no protection from those who want to exploit their land.

UK-based tribal support group Survival International is running a campaign to help the Khanty. They are inviting supporters to write to officials in the national and local governments to show their solidarity with the tribe and express their concerns over the new Land Code.

You can help by writing a letter in support of the Khanty to help them continue their traditional way of life, or at least receive adequate compensation for the losses they've suffered.

Largely thanks to a previous Survival campaign in 2000, Russian oil company Lukoil improved the way it dealt with the Khanty and the tribe also reported that they were being treated with more respect by the government.


About the Khanty

The Khanty are one of Siberia's 30 tribal groups.

In their traditional homelands of the Siberian Taiga temperatures drop to -50° Celsius in winter, making it inhospitable for most vegetation. However reindeer flourish in those conditions and the Khanty people have traditionally relied on them for their meat - the main staple of their diet - and used their skins to make tents, or chum, in which to live.

The people migrate with the reindeer, fishing, hunting and foraging for sustenance on the way.

Today there are around 22,500 Khanty living in Siberia.

© Kathryn McCann 2005. Kathryn is a freelance writer with a particular interest in environmental issues. Her client list includes IT Power (renewable energy consultancy), Bill Dunster Architects (creators of zero fossil energy development, BedZED), and Manu Guides Association (campaigning against unsustainable tourism development in the Peruvian Amazon). She writes magazine articles and press releases as well as advertisements and marketing material for print, radio and the web. Tel: +44 1276 471998 Mobile: 07956 426821 Email: Web:


Survival International
6 Charterhouse Buildings
London EC1M 7ET
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 20 7687 8700
Fax: +44 20 7687 8701




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