Patrilineage elders formed the core of traditional community control. They enforced the return of poached spoils from lineage lands, guided blood revenge, and decided issues of war and peace. Their consensus-based authority was undermined but not destroyed by czarist officials, who designated some elder "princes" tax collectors and native judges. A few women from wealthy families were called "princesses": one, christened "Anna," helped lead an early Khanty revolt against Russians.
Soviet rule deposed most "noble" families; since they were often the richest reindeer breeders, they were punished as class enemies. Native councils, tuzriki, were established in the 1920s, but their leaders sometimes personalized their power, claiming "I am the tuzrik ." With education, increased literacy, and politicization during World War II, new Khanty leaders became more effective spokesmen for Soviet rule. Soviet affirmative-action laws gave natives special rights in schooling, medical care, and taxation. The laws were unevenly enforced, however, and leaders were powerless when Communist central authorities decided to consolidate villages and collectives, causing hardship for those who wanted to stay in traditional territories.
Radically different politics developed in the 1980s, with Khanty leaders protesting governmental paternalism, economic exploitation, ecological destruction by the energy industry, and invasion of their region by uncaring, prejudiced outsiders. In a rallying cry for northern native unity and greater control over local resources, Khanty writer E. Aipin described widespread destitution and alcoholism. Popular responses to such cries resulted in the halting of a development project in Yamal and in proposals to make part of western Siberia an ecological preserve for native use. Two Khanty were elected to the country's Supreme Soviet. In 1990 Khanty joined other Siberian natives in the first Congress of Northern Peoples held in sixty years. Other forums for political action include the Association of Northern Minorities and the Association for the Salvation of the Ungrians.