This article is a case study of the emergence and construction of politically salient social classifications that underpin such phenomena as ethnicity and nationalism in contemporary Russia. Official recognition of ethnic group in Russia often entails political visibility and special status with an associated set of legal provisions. In addition to 'titular peoples' of the republics, the Russian legal system has several legal categories based on ethnicity, such as indigenous peoples and national minorities, whose members claim and attain special status and associated rights. In order to ensure these rights, the state administration needs reliable information on the numbers of people in such categories.
The article analyzes ethnic and languages categorization in the population census of 2002, describes the related census technology, comments on legal definitions of indigenous peoples in Russia, and within this framework elaborates on the topic of indigeneity construction. It also provides an interpretation of the numerical threshold employed in federal laws on indigenous peoples.