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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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