Tsaatans or Dukhas are a Mongolian minority ethnic group, small Tuvan community of Turkish origin, living in the extreme North of the province of Khovsgol, in the taiga.
Taiga is a transition zone before arctic tundra composed of bushes, conifers and silver birches. It’s the place in the world that is the farthest from the oceans. The taiga forms a kind of natural protection for the camps of the Dukhans, but is also wild and inhabited, which means it can be harsh in Summer: it’s not possible to avoid marshes, flies, and mosquitos.
The Northern part of taiga was organized under the Qing Dynasty between 1755 and 1912, while it was under Uriankhai’s banner. At the time of Mongolian independence of 1911, the banner was incorporated in the independent Tuva Republic. In 1944, Russians annexed Tuva Republic, but without the Mongolian part of it.
In the 1930’s, many Dukhans and Uriankhai fled over the frontier from Tuva to avoid conscription. At first, the Mongolian government repeatedly deported them back to Tuva, but in 1956, the government finally gave them Mongolian citizenship and resettled them at Tsagaan Nuur Lake on the Shishigt River. Many Dukhans rapidly left their flat to go back in the taiga.
Dukhans are the last solitary group that earns its living by herding reindeer in the isolated and little accessible mountains of the extreme North of the country. ”Tsaa” means reindeer in Dukhan language, so Tsaatans (the other name of Dukhans) are ”those who live with reindeer”.