Reindeer herders march on Stockholm

Irate reindeer herders from Sweden's indigenous Sami population took to the streets of Stockholm on Friday to protest against Norway's alleged attempts to force the animals from their traditional pastures.

Reindeer herders march on Stockholm

With a real-life reindeer taking the lead, the protesters in traditional dress sang songs on their way to the Norwegian embassy.

The Saarivuoma reindeer herders group accuses Sweden of failing to come to their assistance and allowing Norway to systematically tear down fences, drive away their reindeer and threaten to fine Sami groups on the Swedish side of the border in Lapland.

“This is completely unreal. We can’t live with a state that terrorizes and hunts us, despite the fact that we are on our own land. We have lived on this land and cultivated it for thousands of years, long before the creation of the Norwegian state,” said Saarivuoma chairman Per Anders Nutti in a statement.

The group also stated that Sweden was quick to criticize others for human rights violations but unacceptably passive when it came to crimes taking place in its own back yard.

“We have to raise awareness about this. We don’t have the resources to fight an adversarial state on our own. This is why we are now traveling to Stockholm to put forward our opinion and hand over letters of protest to the Swedish foreign ministry and the Norwegian embassy.

Negotiations took place during the summer to try to find a solution to a conflict that first broke out after the termination 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 her country’s dissatisfaction with an official protest to the foreign ministry in Oslo.

“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,” Per Anders Nutti told The Local in June.

But a senior advisor for the Norwegian Reindeer Administration argued that the Saarivuoma were demanding access to a larger area than that agreed upon in the previous bilateral convention.

“They are breaking Norwegian law. [..T]hey are further west than we find legal,” Christian Lindmann told The Local in June.