Drought in Sikvand village in Khuzestan Province has forced shepherds to move their flocks in search of grassland. Many nomadic families are seeking a way of life that will allow their children to go to school. Image by Newsha Tavakolian. Iran, 2018.
Drought in Sikvand village in Khuzestan Province has forced shepherds to move their flocks in search of grassland. Many nomadic families are seeking a way of life that will allow their children to go to school. Image by Newsha Tavakolian. Iran, 2018.

Indigenous peoples represent one of the most diverse groups of the world. Coming from the Arctic, the Amazon, the hills of Asia, and the plains of Africa, they nonetheless share a common historical, spiritual, social, and cultural attachment to their ancestral territories. Forced displacement, loss of land, and restriction of access to natural resources are a more grim set of common denominators.

This project focuses on nomadic communities in southern Iran whose pastoral lifestyle—and access to rangeland that such a lifestyle depends on—is threatened. Newsha Tavakolian and Thomas Erdbrink travel alongside indigenous women who continue to survive through nomadic grazing, despite mounting pressure to join urban communities or participate in settled agriculture. They follow these groups as they travel with their livestock in search of water and pasture on seasonal migration routes, which have been disrupted by both land development and drought.

The images and text explore how these women, who have historically been more restricted in their travel than men, are responding to the urbanization around them, and whether they have as much opportunity as their male counterparts to leave their traditional lifestyle for farms or cities. Surprisingly, some nomad women say they find the process of moving into houses liberating. As the government is pushing the tribes to settle down, some women are saying it actually is helping them to become more free.

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