On Friday, October 8, 1999, the Six Nations Museum in upstate New York had the unique pleasure of being visited by fourteen Mongolian people from the Republic of Buryatia in Russian Siberia.
Buryatia is located in central Asia and is about the size of Germany. On the north west edge of the republic is Lake Baikal, the largest lake in the world, holding about one-fifth of the world's fresh water supply. To the suth of Buryatia is Mongolia, the visitors' homeland.
The Baikal-sayan / Adirondack cultural and ecological exchange was the realization of one of the project goals of Cultural Survival's Totem People's Preservation Project. This important exchange was hosted by the Association for the protection of the Adirondacks and funded through a grant from the Trust for Mutual Understanding in New York City, the State Department of Environmental Conservation of Adirondack Park Agency, and Paul Smith's College.
The handsome group of talented visitors (who spoke no English) was brought to the Adirondacks to meet with people of the Department of Environmental Conversation and others associated with the Adirondack Park. The major issues of joint concern were environmental: forest management, integrity of air/water, and so on. The organizer of the exchange, Totem People's Preservation Project coordinator Dan Plumley, has worked with the reindeer herders of Siberia and elsewhere for many years, and is familiar with the herders' problems, which have been brought about largely as a result of industrial and cultural pollution.
Among the group were many high ranking officials: Mr. Valery Gulgonov, Chairman of the Buryat Committee on Ecology and Nature Management; Tamara Szanjitsibikova, director of the the Khizhenga and Selenga ROLL Projects; Valery Mongolov, Governor of the Okinsky Raion, Bayir Uskeev, head administrator of the Tunkinsky Raion (both regions combine to comprise the High Eastern Sayan Mountain range which borders Mongolia); and Vladimer Syrenov, director of the Tunka National Park. The head of the Soyot Nation Association, Natalia Samaeva, was also present, as was Yanzhima Vaselyeva, the director of the Association of Siberian Non-Timber Forest Products.
After the visitors heard an Iroquois legend of the Eel Clan (told by the author with the aid of a beaded pictographic record belt) the visitors inspected the museum. They took photographs of each other wearing Iroquois gustoweh, and Lakota headresses, and one fellow raised his right hand with palm out in the manner of a Lakota, suggesting to all that he was familiar with American westerns.
Visitor Klim Tuluev, a trained naturalist, and culture bearer, knows many of the stories and traditions of the Oka Mountains of Buryatia. He offered greetings to the Mohawk people, and expressed his belief that the reindeer herders and Native North Americas were related. He addressed us as cousins, and spoke about the central fire which is the primary symbol in his culture. The symbol of the fire has a prominent place on the regional flag of Buryatia, along with the sun and the moon. Klim also spoke about the importance of maintaining traditions, and expressed the hope that the people of the Mohawk Nation will also maintain their traditions.
The visitors ignited the sacred fire within the circle of the council ground on the museum grounds in order to honor the Mohawk Nation (on whose land the museum stands) as a gesture of friendship from Asia. This was followed by a musical performance and a type of singing known as Khoommie or throat singing, similar to Inuit throat singing, which was spell-binding. The singing was accompanied by flute and all the people grasped hands and danced around a clump of trees. There was much laughter and applause. The ravens and crows, who usually caw and squawk all day, became very silent during this time.
Gifts were exchanged. The visitors gave us a beautifully made multi-colored circular fur wall hanging, exquisitely detailed with beads. They also presented the museum with two beautifully crafted baskets made of birch bark. In return we presented our guests with an English translation of Kaianerekowa, the book of legends, plus some charts and a pamphlet concerning the Tuscarora.
The visit from the people of the Republic of Buryatia was thoroughly enjoyed and a great learning experience for us all. The only thing lacking was a greater representation of the Mohawk Nation. Fortunately, plans are already in hand for a return visit, and an even more substantial exchange is envisaged by organizer Dan Plumley.
Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.
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