Landowners told: you can’t keep Sami out

Sami reindeer herders in northern Sweden can continue to let their animals graze in forests despite the objections of landowners, a court has ruled.

Landowners told: you can't keep Sami out
Photo: Bo Lind/Visit Sweden/Imagebank Sweden

The Court of Appeal for Upper Norrland upheld a ruling from last year, which said that the Sami had proven that their ancestors had grazed reindeer on the land in the Nordmaling area “since time immemorial”.

Finding in favour of the Sami, the court ordered the landowners to pay the reindeer herders’ costs of 2.2 million kronor.

The case had been brought in 1998, when over a hundred forest owners in the Nordmaling area clubbed together to try to force the Sami to stop using their land for winter grazing of reindeer. The ‘Sami villages’ (Siida) of Ran, Umbyn and Vapsten had no right to use the land, the landowners argued.

The forests in the area had not been used for reindeer grazing long enough for the Sami to have established a right to use them, the landowners said. They also claimed the animals had damaged the forests.

The Sami won the the first round of the case in 2006 at Umeå District Court. The court ruled that the ancestors of today’s Sami had established a customary right to use the area around Nordmaling for reindeer.

This verdict was backed by the Court of Appeal, which ruled that the landowners had not proven that the Sami had at any point given up reindeer grazing on any part of the land. The court president, Anders Iacobaeus, dissented on this point, saying that the landowners had proven that the Sami had given up the right to herd reindeer on the Järnäs peninsula, part of the area in question.