Sunday, 16 December 2018

Of reindeer and the Sami way of life, 2018

It's not easy living on the edge:
Futures Forum: Living on the edge: surviving with animals @ BBC One

The Sami and their reindeer are having a particularly tough time, as a posting this time last year showed:
Futures Forum: Of reindeer and the Sami way of life

The pressures still remain:

Norway stands accused of waging cultural war against Sami people by forcing them to reduce their reindeer herds

They have lived off the land and their reindeer herds in the Arctic Circle for thousands of years, using milk, bone and furs to survive

Reindeer are pictured in Kautokeino, a town in Finnmark county, located in the northeastern part of Norway, on March 16, 2017. (Photo: Getty)

Eleanor Ross
Friday 14th December 2018

It’s five degrees below freezing in Oslo, but a group of young people wearing fur-trimmed dresses are chanting outside parliament. One of them is Maret Anne Sara, a young Sami author and artist, whose family’s culture, traditions and livelihood are at risk.

She is protesting against the Norwegian government’s decision to force Sami reindeer herders to cull a portion of their herds by New Year’s Day. If the cull goes ahead, her family’s herd could be cut from 300 to 75 reindeer. This could threaten their survival. It’s also, she says, a violation of Sami human rights: they say that their culture is under threat.

Sara’s brother, Jovsset Ante Sara, is 26 years old and one of hundreds of Sami reindeer herders instructed to reduce their herd because of “overgrazing”. He submitted an appeal to the UN Commission to postpone the cull, yet on Tuesday the Norwegian government voted to continue without waiting for its response.

While he contests the slaughter, his reindeer are about to become famous for another reason – as BBC Christmas entertainment. This year, Jovsset’s animals will be featured in the two-hour show Reindeer Migration 24/7. By the time it’s broadcast, some of his animals will have already been earmarked for the chop.
‘A new colonial monster’

Around 100,000 Sami live in Sapmi, territory that spans north Scandinavia and Russia. They have lived off the land and their reindeer herds in the Arctic Circle for thousands of years, using milk, bone and furs to survive. Sami are a fixture of north Norway’s landscape, often seen driving hundreds of reindeer across the snowy tundra on snowmobiles, and are represented by their own parliament (the Samediggi), which has recommended that herders with fewer than 200 animals are protected from the enforced culling. However, this advice was ignored.

“I’m super-scared, because the democratic system has turned against us,” says Sara. “This law discriminates against Sami voices and interests, and our families in general.

Norwegian reindeer police officer Jim Hugo Hansen talks with a local Sami during a patrol at the Finnmark county, located in the northeastern part of Norway. (Photo: Getty)

“Ethically, it’s a scary time, because the government is approving laws that rob our people of our existing rights and place in society. If the law to cull our reindeer is approved, then we are facing what is effectively a new colonial monster, practised through an entire democratic system.”

Sara is cautious for a reason. Between 1850 and 1980 the Sami were involved in wide-reaching colonisation plans by the Norwegian government, forcing the Sami to change their language and way of life. In recent years, the Sami’s cultural provenance has been valued again, but Sara thinks the forced culls are evidence of renewed colonisation techniques.

Sara fears that one of the Norwegian government’s main aims is to deny the Sami their rights. “They deny us the status of indigenous people. Their attitudes are racist. In my opinion, this is just part of their ongoing plan to colonise us.”
Preserving traditions

However, the government argues that culling reindeer will help preserve Sami traditions, by making the tradition sustainable. Asbjorn Kulseng, spokesperson for Landsbruk Direktorat, the governmental organisation responsible for the cull, says the number is not arbitrary.

“Every district sets the number for the maximum amount of reindeer they can have. This number is based on the district’s pasture. If the district has more reindeer than they are allowed, the district will make a reduction.”

Ulf Bergdahl from the Sami village OF Saarivuoma shows his talent with the lasso on a stuffed reindeer at the Skansen Open Air museum during the Sami National day celebrations in Stockholm, Sweden. (Photo: Getty)

Just 10 per cent of Sami are still engaged in reindeer herding across northern Scandinavia. Jovsset lives in Finnmark, in Norway’s north east. Both the president of the Sami parliament and Sara allude to the value of the land across Norway’s north.

Sami president Aili Keskitalo told i that the government wants to develop the land.

“We know they’re trying to establish a copper mine where Jovsset herds reindeer, but they’re having to compete with other land users,” says Ms Keskitalo.
Killing culture

Mr Kulseng dismisses this, saying the enforced culls are happening to “increase the production value within reindeer husbandry. It is not based on planned mining or windfarms in the Sami pasture”.

Jovsset has spent five years campaigning against the cull. His case has run through all levels of the Norwegian justice system, but despite winning two cases, he was defeated at the Supreme Court, meaning the demand that he cull his reindeer before New Year’s Eve still stands.

Sara is pessimistic about the impact if Jovsset’s herd is culled.

“With 75 reindeer, an economist estimated my brother could earn £3,000 for the year. This is by selling the meat, but then culturally we also use the fur, clothing and bones. It’s removing our cultural side,” she said.

The representative who brought the proposal to parliament, Torgeir Knag Fylkesnes, told a Norwegian journalist that they were looking for ways to halt the cull until the UN’s consideration is clear. He said: “Everyone who praises Nobel Peace Prize winners has a duty to support the cultural livelihood that reindeer herding is.

“If the police come to Finnmarksvidda [the tundra in Finnmark] to carry out the forced slaughter, I will be there to stand with the Sami.”

Norway stands accused of waging cultural war against Sami people by forcing them to reduce their reindeer herds - inews.co.uk

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