Visiting Mongolia’s Reindeer Herders

High up in the remote mountain ranges of the Eastern Taiga, tucked alongside the border of Russian Siberia, in the northernmost part of Mongolia, live the nomadic Dukha People.

A reindeer calf nuzzles her mother

Better known as the Tsaatan Reindeer Herders, this unique community has survived for thousands of years by migrating throughout this isolated region. Their lives revolve around their reindeer and the traditions that come with caring for them. They depend on their herd primarily for milk, food, tools and crafts made from their antlers, as well as transportation.

Saintsetseg, a shaman from the Tsaatan tribe, shared with me her concern for the well-being of the many water sources in her area.

Saintsetseg with her reindeer, and the artwork of Isaac Murdoch and Christi Belcourt

The Tsaatan faithfully rely on the melting snow that flows from the mountains surrounding their camp, as well as some of the 300 lakes and rivers in the Ulaan Taiga. As they journey across the land with the changing of seasons, they search for optimal grazing pastures for their reindeer, and set up camp close to fresh water sources that will sustain the lives of their reindeer and the ten or more families that make up their olal-lal (community).

Purvee and Otgoo chat as they prepare lunch

With tourism becoming a fairly new source of income for the Tsaatan they are now finding that their summer camp in particular is receiving many more outside visitors each year, who bring with them a large amount of plastic bottles and non-organic waste that ends up contaminating the land and their precious water supply.

When Saintsetseg was a young girl, she remembers her Elders teaching her the importance of respecting and caring for the water.

The Dukha have always aspired to preserve the ecological balance of their home, while living in harmony with the spirits of the land, water and sky.

Sadly, Saintsetseg says that today this value has somehow been forgotten, and is no longer being transmitted to the youth of her community.

Laughing reindeer

Together, Saintsetseg and I wish to share her message with the children of Mongolia and all across the world.

We must stand together to protect the water that so generously gives life to the people, plants and animals. When it is polluted we will become sick, and without it we cannot exist.

“Always love nature, and protect the water. Water is the source of all life.”

– Saintsetseg Jambaldorj (Mongolia)

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