"Ethnicity and State Measures: Social and Political Constructions of Kamchadal Identity, 1700–2000" by Nelson C. Hancock
Nelson C. Hancock
This project examines the history and contemporary predicament of Kamchadals, a self-described hybrid ethnic group living on the Kamchatka Peninsula in eastern Russia. While they were recognized as an official indigenous group in 1991, this status is still marked by uncertainty as Kamchadals assert a colonial heritage with debts to both Russian settlers as well as indigenous Itel'mens of Kamchatka. Such a creole identity, also endorsed by Russian ethnographers, clearly has set Kamchadals in conflict with the timelessness so often associated not just with indigenous peoples, but with national cultures as well. For Kamchadals, this acknowledged lack of cultural “purity” has proven to be detrimental to efforts to secure access to land and resources. In this project I examine the historical processes that led to the classification of Kamchadals as an assimilated, hybrid community, the disruptions caused by Soviet-era economic and social reforms, and contemporary efforts to demarcate a commonly shared Kamchadal heritage. Legal discourses regarding the recognition and definition of indigenous “culture” are examined in contrast with local, vernacular understandings of Kamchadal heritage as the discrepancies between these discourses frame the conflict that is central to the project. I argue that specific mythologies surrounding the concept of “indigenous” have put Kamchadals at a distinct disadvantage in an era when nations throughout the former Soviet Union are recasting their histories and heritage to tell new stories.