Tsaatan people – The Reindeer Herders

The Dukha (Mongolian: Цаатан, Tsaatan) are a small culture of reindeer herders living in northern Khövsgöl Aimag of Mongolia.

The North Taiga band was organized under the Qing Dynasty from 1755-1912 as part of Toja or Uriyankhai banner. With Mongolian independence, the banner became part of independent Tuva, which was soon annexed by the Russians in 1944, leaving only North Taiga band on the Mongolian side of the frontier. The South Taiga group of the Dukhans and other Uriankhais fled over the frontier from Tuva to avoid conscription in the 1930s. At first, the Mongolian government repeatedly deported them back to Tuva. In 1956 the government finally gave them Mongolian citizenship and resettled them at Tsagaan Nuur Lake on the Shishigt River.

Only 44 Dukha families remain, totaling somewhere between 200 and 400 people. They ride, breed, milk, and live off reindeer, though the reindeer population has dropped to approximately 600 since the 1970s, when it was an estimated 2000. Since the democratization of Mongolia, no governmental programs have been in place to replenish reindeer herds with animals from Siberia, direly endangering the Dukha way of life.
Text by Galbadrakh.B