Come Together: Dukha Participate in World Reindeer Herding Conference with Totem Project Support

Diverse reindeer herder cultures span nearly a dozen countries in the northern-most regions of North America, Europe, and Asia. For the last three years, they have come together in Yakutia, Russia, for the International Reindeer Herders Congress to exchange information and increase cooperation on initiatives that effect their livelihoods. In March, Cultural Survival’s Totem Peoples Preservation Project sponsored the congress’ first delegation of Dukha from Mongolia.

The Dukha delegation of eight included four herders as well as representatives of the Taiga Nature Society and the Mongolian Ministry of Agriculture. With financial and technical assistance from the Totem Project, they were able to meet with nearly 500 delegates from 20 indigenous reindeer-herding cultures from 11 countries including Russia, Sweden, Norway, Finland, the United States, Canada, Greenland, and China. The herders discussed practical ideas for improving the veterinary care of reindeer and the use of reindeer and reindeer crafts to improve their socio-economic situation.

Some reindeer-herding cultures in Europe and North America, are more advanced in producing and selling arts and crafts made from reindeer materials such as antlers and hides, said Dan Plumley, coordinator of the Totem Project. At the congress, the Dukha delegation were able to learn new innovative ways to use and market those products.

The Dukha representatives also met with the Minister of Agriculture of the Russian Republic of Tuva and discussed cross-border cooperation opportunities for them and the reindeer-herding Tyvans, to whom the Dukha are directly related. The Dukha say that cross-breeding the groups’ reindeer herds would improve the gene pools on both sides of the border. For centuries, the Dukha and Tyvans practiced nomadism throughout the Sayan Mountain Range. In 1947 the Russian-Mongolian border divided families and herds and ended the traditional nomadic lifestyle.

During the trip, the Dukha and Mongolian team met with Totem Project Toja and Tyvan colleagues and discussed transborder cooperation in line with the Charter Agreement on the Protection of Transboundary Reindeer Herding Peoples, which they adopted in 2000.

Attending the congress, Plumley said, helped the Dukha realize how special and unique their culture is. The Dukha are the southernmost reindeer herders in the world and use the animals differently from most other herding cultures, including the Norwegian Saami and Alaska Eskimos.

" We are returning to Mongolia with a new excitement and pride in our taiga homeland, our reindeer, and our unique Dukha culture," said Mr. Bayendalai, a lead herder from the west taiga.

The Totem Peoples Preservation Project has supported indigenous nomads in eastern Siberia and northern Mongolia since 1999. This year, the Totem Project will continue to focus on veterinary healthcare assistance to improve the reindeer population in the region. Plumley and his colleagues also plan to hold a round of meetings on Native rights with the Mongolian government in the capital of Ulaanbaatar. The agenda of the meetings will include the proposal for the Sayan Cross Peace Park, a transboundary protected area that would cover the area that is home to four nomadic and semi-nomadic reindeer herding peoples: the Soyot of Buryatia, Russia; Tofalar of Irkutsk, Russia; Toja-Tyvans; and Dukha. In order to complete this work, however, the Totem Project needs to raise $14,000.

To learn more about Cultural Survival’s Totem Project or to make a contribution, contact coordinator Dan Plumley at the Totem Peoples Preservation Project, P.O. Box 746, Keene Valley, New York 12943, or by e-mail at Information is also available at

Mariana Budjeryn is a Cultural Survival intern.

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