Logotyp för Laponia

Reindeer husbandry in Laponia

Photo: Carl-Johan Utsi

Samebyarna – The Sami villages

In Laponia there are nine Sami villages that are active to varying degrees. These are the mountain communities of Baste čearru, Unna tjerusj, Sirges, Jåhkågaska tjiellde, Tuorpon, Luokta-Mávas and the forest communities of Udtja, Slakka and Gällivare. The Sami villages have reindeer husbandry rights in Laponia, which means that Sami village members have the right to use land and water for themselves and their animals. For example, hunting, fishing, building and using motor vehicles in connection with reindeer husbandry work, where it is otherwise prohibited. There are about 50,000 reindeer in the area in summer. The forest Sami villages use only the forest land for their reindeer husbandry and move during the year between different types of grazing in the forest and marshes, while mountain Sami villages use both the mountains and the forest land during the year for the reindeer. Laponia is the workplace of the Sami villages, so it is important that you show respect for the reindeer and reindeer husbandry.

A sameby is not what it sounds like. It is not a village populated by Sami people. A sameby is both a geographical area, which in some cases extends from the mountains to the coast, and an organization for reindeer husbandry. To work with reindeer, you must be a member of a sameby. Sami village members then manage the reindeer jointly and collectively throughout the year and modern technology such as GPS transmitters, helicopters and various off-road vehicles are common. But neither in the past nor today has reindeer husbandry been the only activity. Hunting, fishing and duodji have been equally important for many. Today, many also have another job in addition to reindeer husbandry.

A Sami village is not, as many people think, an elongated area stretching from mountain to coast. In Laponia, there are both forest Sami communities that live in the forest all year round, and mountain Sami communities that use more extensive areas, grazing reindeer in the coniferous forests in winter and in the mountains in summer. There are a total of 51 Sami villages in Sweden and nine of them have lands within Laponia.

The work is guided by the weather but still follows a set rhythm. The reindeer herds are made up of privately owned animals with a combination of cuts in the ear showing who the owner is. In July, the herds are gathered in pastures and this year’s calves are marked. During the fall and early winter, some of them are slaughtered. Most of the slaughtered animals are sold, but much of what the reindeer provide in the form of meat, skins and other materials is used in the household.

For the Sami communities who have their lands in Laponia, the World Heritage Site is only a small part of the area they live in and depend on. Without the parts of the sameby’s land outside Laponia, there would be no functioning reindeer husbandry in the World Heritage Site.

A fundamental part of Sami culture

Reindeer husbandry is a fundamental part of Sami culture in Laponia. Throughout history, it has become a steward of great natural and cultural values. Reindeer husbandry is also an important part of rural areas in the north, as it provides jobs and adds important values to society in general. Reindeer husbandry has the same profitability requirements as other industries. In order to conduct and develop sustainable and profitable reindeer husbandry, good production conditions are needed, including access to grazing resources. The unique feature of reindeer husbandry is that the reindeer are on natural pasture all year round. Therefore, the activity is very land intensive and there is a strong need for access to different types of land. Reindeer are moved between grazing areas that have different characteristics that make them valuable at different times of the year and in different years. Each sameby’s situation is unique as the natural conditions differ from one area to another. Other land uses, such as mining, hydropower and tourism, also mean that the situation differs between Sami communities. This also applies to the Laponia World Heritage Site.

Climate change

In Laponia we live close to nature and with nature, and small changes in the climate are particularly noticeable here. Reindeer husbandry is an industry that depends on the weather for its work. The rapidly and constantly changing weather creates the changes in the climate which makes it impossible to predict the work with the reindeer as in the past. Winter can go from bitter cold and dry snow to mild weather and rain in just a few days. When the snow thaws and then quickly freezes, ice packs form on the ground or on the snow, making it difficult for the reindeer to smell the pasture/food anymore, or to hack through the thick layer of ice. This causes reindeer to migrate in search of better pastures. If they don’t find better pastures, they risk starving to death, so many reindeer herders choose to supplement their animals(with pellets or silage) and the old growth forests are becoming increasingly important for reindeer survival.

These changes in weather occur especially in the spring, but rapid changes in weather are more common in the fall and even during the winter. The increasingly hot summers are also causing major problems. The glaciers are constantly shrinking and the snow patches where reindeer seek shelter on sunny and warm days are disappearing earlier. Reindeer grazing is affected by some plants drying out from the heat, others greening up later due to seasonal shifts caused by long cold springs. Everything is affected by climate change, and it is particularly noticeable here where the eight seasons otherwise prevail.

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