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March 26, 2010

Last Hunting Tribe to Move Out of Mountains


Damala, an Ewenki [Evenki] woman hunter in her 40s, has been busy preparing to move as the relocation of her whole tribe, the last hunting tribe in China, will start this fall.

The relocation of the township of Aoluguya [Ôlguya ] in Genhe city, Inner Mongolia, aims to preserve the ecological balance of the mountains where the tribe currently lives, according to a March 13, 2002, Xinhuashe (Xinhua News Agency) report.

Gu Xianglian, head of the township, said the construction of a new Auloguya will start after March, and the township has received 6 million yuan (US$725,513.91) of the projected 50 million yuan (US$6.05 million) earmarked for the relocation. Ewenki hunters used to be a “reindeer tribe,” the only ethnic-minority people in China living on raising reindeer. The hunters are Yakuts, a branch of the Ewenki people, and they have special government permission to hunt in the mountains.

The name “Aoluguya” means a place with flourishing aspens. The township is located at the center of the primeval forests in the northern part of the Great Khingan Mountains and about 100 kilometers (62.15 miles) south of the Mo River, the northernmost tip of China’s territory.

Ewenki hunters moved to Aoluguya in 1965 from the township of Qigan by the Eerguna River. Currently Aoluguya is home to nearly 500 residents, including Mongolians, Han Chinese, people of Chinese and Russian ancestry, and about 230 Ewenki hunters.

While most Ewenki hunters have adopted modern lifestyles, more than 30 veteran hunters such as Damala still live on hunting and raising reindeer in the mountains. Damala has 130 reindeer, which bring about 8,000 yuan (US$967.35) a year in family income.

As weather conditions have initiated changes in the underground permafrost horizon, which resulted in frequent floods in recent years, the mountains have become increasingly inhospitable to hunters who want to expand reindeer raising, said Genhe deputy mayor Du Ruixia.

Furthermore, the Ewenki hunters, scattered in the mountains, are unable to get adequate education, medical care, water and power supply, and telecommunications services, Du explained.

Damala, like her neighbors, says she will miss the home where she has lived for some four decades. But she says the relocation is good for her family.

“My son is studying at a school in Genhe city. Even if we were not required to relocate, I would also leave the mountain sooner or later,” she noted. Some of her neighbors, however, are reluctant to move.

“It is OK here,” said Suo Yulan. “Why must we move?”

Gu explained that what the hunters worry about is that the Ewenki, as a people, will lose their identity once they move out of the mountains.

Mangui, at the northern end of the railway through the Greater Khingan Mountains, has been selected as the new site for the township of Aoluguya.

The Ewenki people will be moving into bungalows built with bricks and wood, each occupying 35 square meters (377 square feet), said Genhe city officials. The city plans to have telephone lines installed in 80 percent of the households in the new town while building schools, a hospital and a post office.

Hunters in the new community will continue to make a living raising reindeer, spotted deer, and red deer, Gu said.

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