Reindeer catastrophe overshadows Sami national day

Peter Vinthagen Simpson
Peter Vinthagen Simpson - [email protected]
Reindeer catastrophe overshadows Sami national day

The Sami people of northern Sweden celebrate their national day on February 6th and Lappland is a hive of activity getting ready for the party of the year. Reindeer shoes are being made, handicrafts sculpted and party frocks designed and sewn up.


Jokkmokk's yearly market sets the pulses racing among Sami youth and high schools and colleges get their traditional goods ready to sell to the hordes of brethren and tourists that will descend on the town from near and far.

"For some it is a chance to make some money, for others it is the first step out of the classroom and into the real world," Nils Jonas Persson, a woodwork student at the Sami College in Jokkmokk, told

This year the party has a darker undertone with catastrophe looming for the region's reindeer. Almost all the reindeer grazing grounds have been declared a disaster zone. All but two Sami villages across the region have been forced to apply for catastrophe aid from the Sami Parliament of Sweden (Sametinget) to feed their animals.

The problems with pasture land for the reindeer are diverse with an excess of snow in the north to bare ground south of Östersund. According to the Sami parliament the situation has not been this bad since 1936 with much of the winter pasture land inaccessible to the herds.

Reindeer herders are angry and frustrated and are demanding to know when their aid will arrive.

"The main problem is that there is no money allocated to manage reindeer feed catastrophes. We have to first survey the extent of the problem and then make an application for disaster aid. This takes time and in the meantime reindeer die and herders become frustrated," explains Ragnhild Svonni at the parliament.

The Sami parliament assumed responsibility for reindeer feed issues from the turn of the year. Sylvi Simma, the parliament chairperson, warned in her new year's address that "the Sami Parliament can neither promise better weather nor more money to manage the difficult pasture situation."

So it seems that this year's national day celebrations come not a moment too soon for the Sami. Expectations are high and Elin-Anna Labba on claims that "Jokkmokk's market is a sort of Sami equivalent to fashion week in Milan."

Laila Marie Bransfjell, who is a 21-year-old textiles student at the Sami College, has a more down to earth assessment of the party's preparations admitting modestly that "we are learning to become good housewives."

For those unable to make the journey up to Lappland, Skansen in Stockholm offers a traditional national day programme including a handiwork market, food and music and dance from Ola Stinnerbom and Beatrice Omma.

The Sami are an indigenous people of northern Europe who inhabit large parts of northern Sweden, Norway, Finland and the Kola Peninsula of Russia.


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