Together with the Khanty people, the Mansi are politically represented by the Association to Save Yugra, an organisation founded during the Perestroika of the late 1980s. This organisation was among the first regional indigenous associations in Russia.
The ancestors of Mansi people populated the areas west of the Urals. Mansi findings have been unearthed in the vicinity of Perm.
In the first millennium BC, they migrated to Western Siberia where they assimilated with the native inhabitants. According to others they are originated from the south Ural steppe and moved into their current location about 500 AD.
The Mansi have been in contact with the Russian state at least since the 16th century when most of western Siberia was brought under Russian control by Yermak Timofeyevich. Due to their higher exposure to Russian and Soviet control, they are generally more assimilated than their northern neighbours, the Khanty.
In the 1960s, exploitation of the rich oil deposits of Khanty–Mansi Autonomous Okrug began, causing the Soviet Union's largest internal migration wave since the Second World War. This led to a dramatic marginalisation of the Mansi and Khanty who today constitute slightly more than one percent of the district's population.
As for most other Northern indigenous peoples of Russia, the Soviet state ordered the creation of a "national literature" for the Mansi people which consisted mostly of works hailing the enlightenment and progress brought to the Mansi by Lenin's revolution. The most prominent Mansi representative of this genre was the writer Yuvan Shestalov, who after the breakup of the Soviet Union converted to shamanism. Since then he claimed that the Mansi are in fact the descendants of the ancient Sumerians, an assertion shared by few.