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Henrik, a Sami reindeer herder in Lapland

09/08/2022
Laurent Lefèvre

Forest Sámi, Henrik has known as a child the harsh conditions of the nomadic life. After an experience as a reindeer herder in Canada, he came back to settle on his land to practice the endangered traditional breeding. On the occasion of the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples 9 August, the Sámi will have the opportunity to show the relevance of their fight for the survival of their way of life.

Forest Sámi, Henrik is a reindeer herder on the banks of the Muonio River, which marks the symbolic border between Sweden and Finland. This northwestern part of Lapland is the traditional territory of the Sami, who are estimated to number between 50,000 and 100,000, probably close to 100,000.

With the Inuits of Greenland, the Sámi are  the las indigenous people in Europe. They live in four countries – Sweden, Finland, Norway and Russia. In each of these countries, they elect their representatives in a Sami parliament responsible for defending their interests. 

Truth Commission

Banned from school until the 1970s, the Sami language, which comes in nine variants, has no word for war, but has 150 terms for reindeer and 200 for snow. The Sámi, who reject the pejorative term Lapp (Lapparna), have been victims of discrimination. In Sweden, a truth commission is charged with investigating abuses committed by the Swedish State. These abuses still persist today, especially after the decision of the Swedish Supreme Court (Girjas ruling), which recognizes their exclusive right to administer hunting and fishing on the territories where their herds graze.

For Elin Marakatt, a young Sámi journalist and writerliving in Lainiovuoma Sámi Village: 

Forest Sámi, Henrik has known as a child the harsh conditions of the nomadic life. After an experience as a reindeer herder in Canada, he came back to settle on his land to practice the traditional breeding.

Une promenade en traîneau à rennes permet de découvrir la taïga au pas lent et légèrement chaloupé de l’animal.
A reindeer sleigh ride allows you to discover the taiga with the slow and slightly swaying step of the animal.

The hard condition of the nomadic life

Henrik, who has experienced as a child the harsh conditions of nomadic life, has already lived several lives. He was a reindeer herder in Inuvik (Canada), before returning to his land to practice traditional herding.

The taiga by reindeer sled

Today, a reindeer-drawn sleigh ride allows you to discover the taiga with the slow, slightly swaying step of the animal while soaking up the resplendent beauty of this coniferous forest, as if whitewashed during the winter, which normally lasts eight months, from October to May. At lunchtime, Henrik massages the reindeer to warm them up and feeds them after dismantling their harness.
À l’heure du déjeuner servi dans son kota, Henrik se confie sur les difficultés des Samis, éleveurs de rennes.
At lunchtime, Henrik confides in us about the difficulties of the Sámi reindeer breeders

Confidences in a kota

It’s time for lunch in Henrik’s kota (« hunting shelter » », which he inherited from his father. During this shared meal, he willingly confides the current difficulties of the reindeer breeders, an activity reserved for the Sámi in Sweden.

Faced with deforestation and the consequences of global warming, they are fighting to preserve their ancestral grazing areas (reindeer breeding area) and lichen resources, essential to their herds in winter – a 71% decrease in the area of forests abundant in lichen has been noted over the past sixty years.

Mobilization for the climate and their survival

According to the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights and the Environment, the cumulative development of mines, wind farms, hydroelectric power plants, roads and power lines threatens the sustainability of their livestock.

Gathered within collectives, including the Association of Young Saami from Sweden (Sáminuorra), the Sámi are mobilizing locally on the ground with the support of Greta Thunberg, at the European level (the People’s Climate Case) and on social networks (#BackaSápmi) to defend their way of life threatened by global warming.

On the occasion of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples 9 August, they will have the opportunity to show the relevance of their fight for the survival of their way of life… and of the planet.In hashtag language, an equation summarizes their fight: #IndigenousRights = #ClimateJustice!

 

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