Since the early 1990s the Altai Republic has been experiencing a dispute about its archaeological heritage. This article deals with one aspect of it—the discrepancy between a local understanding of archaeological monuments as belonging to the direct ancestors of present day Altaians, and an expert view of many historians, archaeologists and physical anthropologists who see no relation between the two. Drawing on the work of Halemba and on Ingold's distinction between relational and genealogical models of indigeneity, this article describes the controversy as feeding on different concepts of "Altaian-ness." Original data nevertheless show that Ingold's sharp distinction between the two models is better understood as complementarity in the Altaian context. Historical data furthermore suggest that such complementarity is a principle that has long been in operation, visible, for example, when we look at identity labels preceding "Altaian."