The Khanty are semi-nomadic, as are most herding peoples. In their homeland, the Siberian taiga, temperatures can reach as low as -50 degrees Celsius, and little grows. Traditionally, the Khanty have moved around with their reindeer, sometimes staying in ‘chum’ (reindeer-skin teepees), and sometimes in log houses in which a fire is kept burning at all times.
Moss is stuffed between the logs for insulation. The Khanty depend largely on reindeer for their food and livelihood, getting most of their nutrition from the animals. They also hunt and fish, gather berries, and sell reindeer and furs that they have hunted in order to purchase other supplies.
What problems do they face?
The Khanty were persecuted under the Soviet regime in the 1930s – their children taken and put in boarding schools and their shamans killed – but today it is oil companies which threaten them. Oil exploitation on Khanty land is polluting their forests and sacred lakes, killing the reindeer and scaring off other game.
The oil companies often move in without consulting the Khanty, or trick them with false promises of compensation. Many Khanty have now been forced off their land and no longer have any reindeer.
They are reduced to living in ‘National Villages’ away from their ancestral hunting grounds, and have become dependent on the administration and the oil companies for their survival.