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Changes in Mongolia 1994-2013, with a special emphasis on Reindeer Herding Nomads

On November 6th, 2013 Sas Carey gave a talk to the Indiana University community entitled “Changes in Mongolia 1994-2013, with a special emphasis on Reindeer Herding Nomads”.  Sas Carey is a registered nurse who founded the NGO Nomadicare to support the sustainability and cultural survival of the nomadic peoples in Mongolia by harmonizing traditional and modern medicine.  She has been visiting Mongolia since 1994, working first in the south Gobi and then in the northern Taiga region.

One of the most drastic changes she has noticed over the changes is the increase in urbanization and mechanization of the country.  In the early 1990s, large supermarkets and traffic jams were uncommon, where today they are the norm in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar.  In the south Gobi, the building of the large copper and gold mine Oyu Tolgoi, operated by Rio Tinto, has caused new, paved roads to be built and increased medical facilities in the nearby area.  Other locations in the Gobi provinces continue to struggle with getting medical equipment and having sufficient laboratory facilities, which is a key area of concern of Sas Carey’s NGO Nomadicare.

In the taiga, the reindeer herder people named the Dukha have also experienced many changes.  The 1990s transition from socialism to capitalism and democracy allowed them to return to nomadism, but the increased emphasis on international marketability has caused new problems.  The gold rush in Hosvgul province disturbed the ecozones and often contaminated water sources, as small-scale collectors would use harmful chemicals like mercury to better extract gold from ore.  Recently a part has been designated by the government as a specially protected area, and there has been increased recognition of the different needs of the reindeer herders.  There are plans for the Dukha to start receiving living stipends, so during her last visit in the summer of 2013 she saw part of the census that will be used to determine who should receive a stipend.  The increase in tourists visiting the area has also lead to a new health problem- children’s teeth have very high amounts of cavities and decay because visitors bring candy as gifts.   Rural access to healthcare continues to be an issue in Mongolia, and it is unclear how increased revenue from mining resources will impact the country in the future.

This event was hosted by the Mongolia Society,  Department of Anthropology, Department of Central Eurasian Studies, Foster International Living-Learning Center, Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center, Inner Asian and Uralic National Resource Center, and Office of Global and Community Health Partnerships (OGCHP).