The Sámi communities

Land of nine communities

A Sámi community is perhaps not what you would think. It is not a village or town populated by Sámi people. A Sámi community is both a vast geographical area – which in some cases stretches all the way from the mountains to the coast – and an organisation for reindeer husbandry. To work with reindeer you must be a member of Sámi community. Nowadays, as in the past, reindeer herding has never been anyone’s sole livelihood. Hunting and fishing have been equally important to many people. Today most reindeer herders have another job alongside that.

Neither is a Sámi community necessarily a long narrow area running from mountain to coast, as many people think. In Laponia there are both forest Sámi communities that operate in forested areas year round, and mountain Sámi communities that work in more extensive areas and have their reindeer foraging in coniferous forests in the winter and on mountains in the summer. In Sweden there are a total of 51 Sámi communities, nine of which use land within Laponia.

The work is governed by the weather and wind, but still follows set rhythm. The reindeer herds comprise privately owned animals with a combination of cuts in their ears showing who their owner is. In July the reindeer herds are rounded up into enclosures and the year’s calves are given their mark. In autumn and early winter, some of them are slaughtered. Most of the slaughtered animals are sold, but much of what the reindeer provides in the form of meat, skin and other materials is used in the household.

For Sámi communities who have land in Laponia, the World Heritage Site is just a small part of the area in which they live and on which they depend. Without the Sámi community’s areas lying outside Laponia there would be no functioning reindeer industry in the World Heritage Site.