Swedish reindeer herders defy Norwegian authorities

Swedish reindeer herders defy Norwegian authorities
Photo: Patrick Trägårdh/ Imagebank Sweden
An unresolved conflict between Sweden and Norway has led to a tense situation on the border between the countries in the northern territories of Lapland. Reindeer herders from Sweden are refusing to move their animals after Norwegian authorities threatened to force the issue with the aid of a helicopter.

The Norwegian Reindeer Administration had initially given the Swedish Sami group until June 20th to move its herd, a date which has now been revised.

“They have now given us until next week but we have no plans to move. We have hired security guards to ensured that the Norwegian authorities don’t take action,” Per Anders Nutti, chairman of the Saarivuoma reindeer herders group told The Local.

The group, which has several thousand reindeer in the disputed area, claims that many of its newborn calves risk death by drowning if forced to leave.

Negotiations are currently ongoing to find a solution to a conflict that first emerged after the expiration of a bilateral herding agreement between Sweden and Norway in 2005.

Norway subsequently took a unilateral decision to replace the agreement with a new law dictating which summer pastures could be used by the Swedish Sami.

Sweden in turn countered that such a law would be in breach of the so-called Lapp Codex from 1751, a reciprocal agreement covering cross-border rights for Sami groups from different countries.

When the Norwegian law came into force, Sweden’s then Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds registered Sweden’s dissatisfaction with an official protest to the foreign ministry in Oslo.

“In 2005 the Norwegian Reindeer Administration drove our reindeer away. If they try to do the same this year by bringing in a helicopter then we’ll make sure to get our own helicopter and fly up there to stop them.

“We are not going to endanger anyone’s life of course; it will be a peaceful protest but it is a statement we want to make,” said Per Anders Nutti.

Last summer too tempers flared as Norwegian authorities tore down fences erected by the Swedish Sami. The Saarivuoma responded by rebuilding the fences and using the enclosures until they had finished marking their calves.

Christian Lindmann, senior advisor for the Norwegian Reindeer Administration, told The Local that the Saarivuoma are demanding access to a larger area than that agreed upon in the previous bilateral convention.

“They are breaking Norwegian law. There are negotiations underway to make a new agreement but at the moment they are further west than we find legal,” he said.

Lars Anders Baer, chairman of the board of the Swedish Sami Council is hopeful that a new agreement can be signed by the end of the summer.

“We have to find a solution. The negotiations are now nearing a conclusion and most of the work is done,” he said.

But the Saarivuoma reindeer herders insist that there is no need for a new convention.

“A Norwegian high court ruling from 1968 asserted our right to use this land. The Norwegian state has broken its agreement with Sweden and the Swedish government needs to make it clear that this is not acceptable,” said Per Anders Nutti.

The Local tried to reach the Swedish foreign ministry and agriculture ministry for a comment.