Reindeer tortured after threats towards Sami community in northern Sweden

Elias Liljeström
Elias Liljeström - [email protected]
Reindeer tortured after threats towards Sami community in northern Sweden
File photo of reindeer in Sweden. Photo: AP Photo/Malin Moberg

Several reindeer carcasses have been found in the far north of Sweden following a historic ruling over land rights for Sweden's indigenous people and reindeer-herders in the Swedish Supreme Court.


One of the owners of the killed reindeer, Sara Skum, took to social media platform Facebook with pictures and a statement in which she condemned the actions of those responsible.

In her post, she said: "Once again we had to pick up the remains of our dead reindeer. Thoughts are whirring around in my head, most of all it hurts knowing that the reindeer were tormented to death. Mutilated, they lay for hours in the snow, bleeding out. I don’t wish this pain, of seeing one’s animals like this, to anyone."

More reindeer killings in Kalix and Järpen were also reported on Friday by newspapers Norrländska Socialdemokraten and Östersundsposten.

The Swedish Sami National Organisation (SSR) consider the killings to be connected to a trial in wish the Girjas Sami village won a landmark court battle over hunting and fishing rights in the Swedish Supreme Court.

"We know that racism och threats have increased on social media, and now you also see killed reindeer. I see a clear connection to the Girjas verdict. I expect the government and police to focus resources on this and understand that this is a serious situation that they need to handle." said chairman of the SSR, Åsa Larsson Blind, to Sameradion and SVT Sápmi.

Butchered reindeer carcasses were first found on Sunday, February 23rd, north of the town of Gällivare in Norrbotten county. The first finds were on a 40 kilometre stretch of the E10 road where carcasses had been stuffed into plastic trash bags and thrown along the road, which Sameradion and SVT Sápmi were first to report on.

On Monday the site of the reindeer killings was found, according to Swedish newspaper Expressen that's been speaking to members of the Sami village. 

"One of them had been shot far down on the neck and had therefore been hurting, mortally wounded, for a long time. You can see in the snow that it had been kicking around itself for many hours, and it was still a bit warm when we found it, even though it was -15C," Sara Skum, a member of the Sami village, told Expressen.

It didn't take long after the Girjas ruling for hate and threats against the indigenous group to start pouring in via social media and in person.

Reindeer passing a road along the Vindel River. File photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

"If you come here with your reindeer we will shoot them, I've already shot seven. And if I come upon you alone in the forest I'll shoot you too!" a man reportedly said to Lars-Ola Jannok, who is the head of Baste, a neighbouring Sami village to Girjas.

A Sami village is not a village in the traditional sense, but rather an administrative community linked to a geographic area in which members have the right to herd reindeer.

"I got very frightened, we're often alone in the forest," Jannok said at the time.

This isn't the first instance of violence toward the Sami village or Sara Skum, whose family have been exposed to death threats and killings of reindeer many times in the past. 

Dag Skum, Sara's father, told Swedish investigative TV show Kalla Fakta in 2015 about the prolonged suffering their reindeer had been subjected to by people torturing them with snowmobiles:

"Their legs were dismembered, they had driven over the back of one reindeer. You could see that they had driven fast machines. Their horns were broken and scattered around the forest."

Reindeer in the snow. Photo: Stian Lysberg Solum/Scanpix Norge

What are police doing about it?

The Local spoke to Emma Lindberg, who is leading the police investigation into the attack.

"This hate and these threats have been widespread, and we know that there are more cases than just the ones that have come to our attention at this time," she said.

She confirmed that the police have received two reports with the classification "theft", since reindeer are domesticated and considered property. She couldn't yet confirm if they have any connections between the previous threats and the reindeer killings, or if they are related to the Girjas court case.

Lindberg stated that in both cases those who made the allegations also brought up the connection to the police, and that the investigation will show if there's any link. "We want people to come forward and tell us if they think they've been subjected to any crime," she said.

In the past, similar cases of threats and reindeer killings have ended with investigations being closed without convictions.

Lindberg said the main challenge in such investigations was finding a perpetrator and linking them to the crime.

"The leads and evidence that we find will have to be connected to a person in order to press charges, so it's basically about what information we can find. Therefore it is also very important that we work intensively in the initial stages, before things get destroyed. If it's an outdoor crime for example, evidence is very exposed to the weather and wind," she said.



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