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Grass is greener for last of the reindeer herders

2023-03-07 (chinadaily.com.cn)

Before coming to Beijing to attend the two sessions, Du Mingyan was busy conducting a field trip to Olguya Ewenki township in Hulunbuir, Inner Mongolia autonomous region, to visit her Ewenki peers, who are China's last reindeer-dependent ethnic group.

As a member of the 14th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and deputy head of Hulunbir's bureau of culture, tourism, television and radio, Du wanted to see whether the Ewenki still faced any difficulties because she wants to tell her people's story during the annual meetings of China's top legislature and top political advisory body.

Reindeer are listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and most in China are semi-domesticated. Many Ewenki still live a seminomadic life, and reindeer are used for transportation.

Du was also a member of the 13th CPPCC National Committee for five years and frequently visited regions that are home to the Ewenki. She submitted eight suggestions on topics such as poverty alleviation and the development of the reindeer breeding industry.

Hunting the animals was banned in 2003, and the Ewenki have mainly relied on raising and domesticating them — as well as tourism — to earn a living, she said.

Local governments have worked hard to improve the livelihoods of the residents of Olguya Ewenki township, and around 100 million yuan ($14.5 million) has been invested in improvements to infrastructure such as heating, sewage, electricity, internet and cable TV, Du said, adding that the average living space has increased from 50 square meters in 2003 to 88 today.

Much has also been done to improve breeding techniques, and the population of reindeer has increased steadily.

In December, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs set up a breeding ground in Genhe city, which has helped underpin development and has increased incomes for herdsman.

The Olguya Ewenki government has strengthened protection of the group's traditional culture, publishing books and producing music related to their history and traditions.

Olguya Ewenki reindeer culture, birch bark handicrafts and Ewenki Shamanic Dance have all been registered on the protection list for national-level intangible cultural heritage.

As a result, cultural tourism has developed significantly as Olguya Ewenki township has become more popular with visitors, Du said.

Bu Dongxia, a herdswoman who lives in the township, runs a tourist shop that receives around 10,000 visitors a year who come to get a taste of Ewenki folk culture and reindeer meat. She also has 34,000 followers on the short-video platform Douyin, where she shares videos about Ewenki life. Bu makes around 600,000 yuan a year.

Du said that Chinese of every ethnicity should be united, and they should all cherish unity just as much as they cherish their lives.