- Ethnic group. Formerly known as the Ostyaks, the Khanty are an Ugrian people of western Siberia. They are closely related to the Mansi people, and together they represent the titular minorities of Khantiya-Mansiya, which collectively represent less than 2 percent of the region’s population. They can also be found in Yamaliya and Tyumen proper. The Khanty number fewer than 30,000 and are considered to be an endangered ethnolinguistic group.The Khanty language is a member of the Ob-Ugric subdivision of the Finno-Ugric branch of the Uralic language family; roughly 60 percent of ethnic Khanty possess fluency in their ancestral language. The Khanty are distantly related to Hungarians, Estonians, and Finns. Clan (syr) affiliation remains an important part of Khanty society and governs land-use rights in the Ob River basin. Their historic territory is known as Yugra, which was part of the Siberia Khanate until falling under Russian control in the 17th century.Despite attempts to force the Khanty to accept Russian Orthodoxy, many Khanty continued to practice shamanism into the 20th century. Traditional beliefs—specifically the sacred bear hunt and its associated rituals—were not tolerated by the Soviet authorities until the glasnost era. In recent years, shamanistic practices have become more common, including the communal reindeer sacrifice (myr) and other pre-Soviet rituals. The Khanty have possessed a national homeland in the form of an autonomous okrug for more than 60 years; however, most Khanty have adhered to traditional lifestyles centered on fishing, hunting, and reindeer herding (and more recently, the fur trade).Soviet attempts at collectivization, persecution of shamans, and forced attendance at boarding schools for Khanty children in the 1930s sparked the Kazym Rebellion, which was violently crushed by the Red Army. As is the case with other indigenous peoples of the north, many Khanty suffer from alcohol addiction and there is a high suicide rate. Political identity based on membership in the nation remains weak due to poor communication between the various communities that comprise the Khanty people.Development of the region’s petroleum resources negatively impacted Khanty culture during the Soviet period, polluting rivers and destroying grazing lands and sacred groves alike. However, since Russia’s independence, the Khanty and Mansi have gained additional land-use rights and have modestly benefited from social programs associated with oil profits. A small group of intelligentsia has also been established that lobbies for greater protection of the Khanty’s traditional practices. Along with the Mansi and the Nenets, the Khanty form the core of the Association to Save Yugra, a political organization dedicated to protecting indigenous ecosystems from natural resource exploitation. They also have links to the international Finno-Ugric Congress, a transnational organization that develops closer ties between the various Uralic peoples of Europe and Eurasia and works against language death in the Russian Federation.
Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. Robert A. Saunders and Vlad Strukov. 2010.