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Between indigeneity and nationality : the politics of culture and nature in Russia's diamond province Hicks, Susan M.


Despite a half century of rapid, state-sponsored industrialization in the region, only with its more recent, abrupt exposure to global capitalism has Siberia become a hotly contested site of debates over both indigenous rights and natural resource extraction. The Sakha Republic (Yakutia), a Northeastern Siberian region twice the size of Alaska, is now a particularly crucial site of contestation, boasting diamond reserves that produce about 25% of the world‘s diamonds. The region is also home to a sizeable, highly educated indigenous population, the Sakha, who comprise over 45% of the Republic‘s residents. Sakha activists have been engaged in a sustained project of cultural revival that has drawn upon globally circulating representations of indigeneity to contest environmental destruction, assert political control over their lands and resources, and to challenge socio-economic marginalization. However, in post-Soviet Siberia, like elsewhere in Asia, distinctions between indigenous and non-indigenous are not straightforward, and articulations of indigenous identity are fraught with complications. With a population over 400,000, the Sakha are in fact considered too numerous to fit within the official Russian category for indigenous peoples—- the "small-numbered peoples of the North," and many Sakha are themselves ambivalent about the label "indigenous," seeing their own culture as more advanced than that of their neighboring indigenes. This dissertation examines the social processes that link globally circulating images and practices of indigeneity with Sakha cultural politics, and argues that articulations of indigenous identity are not only contingent and heterogeneous, but are also partial and uneven. In this context, indigeneity coexists alongside other kinds of identity, especially ethnonationalism. Analysis builds on eighteen months of ethnographic fieldwork in the Sakha Republic, including participant observation in 2 cities, semi-structured interviews and life history interviews with Sakha and non-Sakha residents, and regional newspaper analysis.

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