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Regimes of Classification and the Paradox of Kamchadal Heritage

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This paper examines the historical formation of the "creole" ethnic group known as Kamchadals through an examination of the changing criteria for ethnic, social, and class taxonomies. Over the course of 300 years of Russian settlement in Kamchatka, the population has been subject to three distinctly different regimes of classification, with each prioritizing different qualities. Thus, at various times, the ethnically mixed population in central Kamchatka has been measured, and officially recorded, on the basis of religion, profession, social standing, wealth, and ethnicity. Today, as Kamchadals seek to establish themselves as an officially recognized indigenous population, the historical record presents particularly difficult questions that tend to undermine their claim. For example, according to current procedures, to become officially recognized as Kamchadal, a person must demonstrate direct descent from a person classified in the 19th century as Kamchadal. The 19th century records however, are not records of "ethnicity" as it is understood today, and thus official classification is as dependent on luck as it is on any commonly accepted measure of "ethnicity" or "race." Thus, this paper charts the shifting measures by which a local, frontier population was measured, and contemporary efforts to translate those modes of classification into contemporary understandings of "ethnicity." Its broader relevance concerns a tension inherent to the concept of indigenousness itself, that is, the tendency of outsiders as well as native peoples themselves to apply a measure of authenticity and thus to discriminate between varying shades of "more" and "less" indigenous individuals.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2003-04-01

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