Documentation:Open Case Studies/FRST522/The rights to the forests – Land conflicts and negotiation processes between Sami reindeer herders and the forestry sector in northern Sweden
This case study is about consultations and land-use conflicts between the Indigenous Sami people and the forestry sector in northern Sweden. The Sami have used the land in the northern parts of Sweden since time immemorial but do not own the land. Only 10% of the Sami population in Sweden are reindeer herders and belong to a Sami village, although reindeer herding is considered the bearer of the Sami identity and culture. Today, it is hard to be a reindeer herder since there are many other interested stakeholders that are using the land, for instance forestry. Conflicts occur when the forestry sector is conducting forest operations that affect the lands of reindeer husbandry negatively and no consultation has been conducted. The forest operations include for instance, building roads, clear-cutting or soil scarification. The Swedish Forestry Act says that a large forest company shall consult in certain cases, but small forest owners do not need to consult at all. The reindeer herders struggle with getting their voice heard but international non-governmental organizations, forest certification schemes and court cases help them to claim what rights they have. Future solutions to better engage the Sami in land-use decisions include requesting that the Swedish state ratify ILO 169 and secondly, that forestry companies diversify their forest management methods to accommodate more rightsholders and stakeholders.
The Sami people
The Sami are the Indigenous Peoples that lives in Sápmi, which is the land of northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola Peninsula in Russia. There are about 80.000 to 100.000 Sami people in Sápmi. In general, Sami people all over Sápmi share the same values, interests and objectives even though they live over a large geographical area. The Sami parliament (Svenska Samerna Riksförbund, SSR), that was founded in 1950, made it a lot easier to cooperate within Sweden and over the borders. After Norway, Sweden is home to the second largest Sami population which is estimated between 20.000 to 40.000 people. No one knows exactly how many Sami live in Sweden because there is no ethnic population estimate since 1945. The Sami have used the land in northern Sweden since time immemorial. In the 1600s the Swedish state introduced Sami tax land which basically meant that the Sami owned the land. But in 1700s and 1800s the Sami gradually lost their rights to the land in favour of national settlers. In 1977, the Sami people were recognized as Indigenous by the Swedish Government and in 2011 they were recognized as a people. However, the Swedish government has not yet ratified the Convention of ILO 169 which would acknowledge the Sami rights to self-determination. It is often the language and culture that characterize membership of an ethnic minority like the Sami. The Sami have their own language that has several variations throughout Sápmi. Today, reindeer herding is considered the bearer of the Sami culture and identity. But in the past when the Sami were nomadic, their subsistence was diverse and not only dependent on reindeer herding as it is today. Reindeer husbandry is an exclusive right of the Sami people but only about 10% of the Sami population are working as reindeer herders, to work as a reindeer herder, one must be a member of a Sami village. The interests of the Sami people, including the reindeer herders, is to access and use the forest, recognition of their traditional usufructuary rights, old-growth lichen rich forests and cultural recognition.
Sami villages and reindeer herding
In Sweden, a Sami village is both a geographic area where reindeer husbandry is conducted as well as an economic co-operative organization with a management board. There are in total 51 Sami villages and around 3 900 reindeer herders in Sweden. the majority of them are based in mountain Sami villages. Mountain based Sami villages mean that the reindeer husbandry extends from the mountainous areas in the west to the forested coastal areas in the east. There are also forest based Sami villages which are Sami villages that have reindeer husbandry below the mountainous areas in the forest and along the coast. The management board of a Sami village usually consists of reindeer herders which have a responsibility towards the Sami village to manage the reindeer husbandry in an economically profitable and sustainable way. The decisions made by the management board will affect all families in the Sami village and therefore they have a certain responsibility.
The purpose of a Sami village includes maximization of the reindeer meat production, given the approved herd size. Every Sami village can only support a specific number of reindeer and it is the County Administrative Board (Länsstyrelsen) that decides how many reindeer a Sami village will have. About 400-600 reindeer are needed for a family to solely live off reindeer herding. Because of the limited number of reindeer and high mortality among reindeer due to predation, starvation, traffic etc. it is difficult to financially support a family. Therefore, many reindeer herders are in a difficult financial situation with high demands, little control, and a low level of social support. Among some young reindeer herders there is little hope for the future and the number of reindeer herders is declining. But some Sami reindeer herders do not see the decline as a negative issue in the short term since they get more grazing land and larger herds which means that the competition among Sami reindeer herders decreases.
Reindeer herders sometimes need to deal with threats from local, non-Sami people. For instance, one of the state television channels showed a news coverage from Gällivare where reindeer had been run over by snowmobiles purposely to make the reindeer suffer and die.. This actions are considered a threat to reindeer herders but not something the Swedish police always take seriously. Reindeer herders do therefore not always feel safe when going out alone looking for their herd. As a reindeer herder you also cause worry to your friends and family while you are away to travel with the reindeer seven days a week. Many reindeer herders have a feeling of powerlessness against the many obstacles and unjust circumstances that make reindeer herding almost impossible and many also experience a lack of understanding from the Swedish Government. Depression, suicide rates and mental health problems are therefore high in this group and reindeer herding is considered one of the most dangerous professions in Sweden.
Although, reindeer herding is a tough work with low revenue, reindeer herders are considered higher in rank than other Sami. Sami people that are reindeer herders also have more rights and privileges than Sami people that are not reindeer herders. For example, they are the only the members of a Sami village who still have the rights to hunting and fishing on their traditional land. Reindeer herding is also considered more as a lifestyle choice than a profession, and as a Sami you are usually proud to carry on the cultural heritage of your ancestors. Reindeer herding is an identity and something you are born into. But the downside is that you are more or less forced to become a reindeer herder if you get the opportunity; to choose otherwise would be to let down your family.
Mostly men are reindeer herders (60%) and the working environment is sometimes described as a macho culture. A young Sami man from one study says; “you should be outdoors the longest, come back to the hut the latest, withstand the worst weather and stay at the furthest edge of the herd. If you experience trouble, you endure and work harder. You are not supposed to complain or show any sign of weakness”. The macho culture not only strikes the men but also the women trying to become or/and make a living from reindeer herding. Also the non-reindeer herding women do not feel included in the reindeer herding or decisions made in the Sami village. Also, the common economy in a Sami village is often experienced negatively by women because they usually need to have another work outside the Sami village to financially support the family. The consequence is that she and the children cannot be a part of reindeer herding and a essential part of the Sami culture because the work is far away and time consuming. That women and children cannot be as participatory as men in the reindeer herding may lead to the decline in passing on traditional knowledge of reindeer herding. Traditionally, reindeer herding was more of a family activity. nowadays it is hard for reindeer herders to find a partner and have a family since the work demands that you be away most of the time. Up until 1971 the status of women in a Sami village was strongly dependent on men and it is now hard to change the norms. And as for the law today, the possibilities to create equal gender opportunities in the Sami village are limited.
The daily life of a reindeer herder is all circling around the reindeer (Rangifer tarandus tarandus). Reindeer are semi-domesticated ungulates and move in natural cycles over large areas in the search for food. In the summer they move up into the mountains and during the winter they graze in the forests. The reindeer herders are following the reindeer and making sure that they are safe and have enough of food. Winter grazing is the most critical period of the year when it can be hard to find food. The winter diet of a reindeer consists of 80% of mat-forming terrestrial lichen (Cladonia spp.) and arboreal lichens (Bryoria spp.). Supplementary fodder is sometimes used when snow conditions are such that grazing is prevented. However supplementary fodder is costly and less energy efficient than lichens for the reindeer.
Reindeer husbandry has since the 1960´s been going through large changes of modernization in the way they work. Today, the work is more motorized than before and snowmobiles, all terrain vehicles as well as helicopters are used when monitoring the herd during its seasonal movements. To improve communication between reindeer-herders and other land users there has been a development of digital Reindeer Husbandry Plans (RHP). The RHP defines Core areas and Key areas in reindeer husbandry of a certain Sami village and can be shared with other stakeholders. Core areas are lands that are frequently used by the reindeer and it includes the reindeer calving areas where they give birth. The Key areas are the most important areas for reindeer husbandry and demarcate the areas where the reindeer prefer to stay. All year round areas are areas where reindeer husbandry is allowed to be carried out during the whole year. In the past, the knowledge of these areas have orally been passed on but now the knowledge can easily be shared among reindeer herders. In some Sami villages the communication is not always working. a young reindeer herder expressed it like this; “Sami communication is non-existent...we’re supposed to understand each other, both out in the forest and socially, without talking. And... of course that doesn’t always work”. The digitalization is a great advantage which improves efficiency and facilitates Sami villages' communication with each other.
Reindeer husbandry industry in Sweden is facing many challenges as well as opportunities. The industry is estimated to make about USD 43 million per year. The rich culture with food, handicrafts and reindeer provides good opportunities for tourism. But the threats to the Sami culture and reindeer herders are also big. Predation of reindeer, climate change and competing land uses such as forestry, mining and other energy uses are limiting the opportunities.
The law that regulates reindeer husbandry is from 1971 and its origins are from the law in 1928. In 1987, reindeer husbandry was classified as a National interest (Riksintresse) by the Swedish state. Other National interests in Sweden are mining, outdoor recreation, heritage conservation and many more. Areas that are very important or frequently used in reindeer husbandry can get the status of National interest. These areas are migratory paths, resting pastures, gathering areas, difficult passages, particular areas of winter pasture, calf birthing areas and areas around calf marking, slaughter and separation fences. According to the Environmental code (Miljöbalken) 3 chapter 5 § areas of importance to reindeer husbandry shall be protected against measures which significantly will hamper the industry.
The Swedish State and Sami
The relationships between the Swedish State and the Sami people are in many ways infected. The Swedish government has several times been criticized by different international organizations, among them the United Nations (UN), for not considering the rights of the Sami. The recent criticism of the government is for not ratifying the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (No. 169) of the International Labor Organization (ILO) in 1989. But Sweden did vote for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2007.
The Sami people also have historical reasons to not see the Swedish government in a very bright light. In 1922, a State Institute for Racial Biology (Rasbiologiska Institutet) was founded where they studied the Swedish population from a racial perspective. The Sami were there seen as an inferior race, not to be mixed with. In 1913, the government forced Sami children to go to Nomad schools, Swedish was the only language they learnt and everything from the Sami culture was forbidden.
The historical decisions of the Swedish government have widely shaped the Sami culture of today. The Swedish state has in many ways set the norms for the Sami. It was the government that created the Sami villages and the regulations that only members of a Sami village could become reindeer herders and use the traditional land. The regulations were aimed to easier control the reindeer herding population. From the Swedish government's perspective it was a try to “rescue” the Sami culture by defining reindeer herding and legislating that the only ones who could practice reindeer herding were Sami. The focus on reindeer herding took away many other traditional activities associated with Sami like hunting and fishing, language and handicrafts. Those Sami who chose reindeer herding were not even allowed to live in houses because that would “Swedify” them. The legislation about Sami policy today is a result of what the Swedish state historically had decided over the heads of the Sami. No Sami has been part of those decisions and laws that are in force today. New suggestions of legislative changes have been offered by the Swedish state but have been refused by the Sami because they have not been involved in the law formulation process. Unfortunately, it is today very hard for the Sami to survive on their old traditions. This is one of the reasons why reindeer herding has been reduced to circling around industrialized meat production. The Sami wish to continue their cultural traditions and want to be shown respect and acceptance from the Swedish government.
However, the Swedish government and the Sami are almost constantly in court. In 2001 there were seven on-going court cases that engaged 12 Sami villages. The Sami pay a high price to prove their rights to the land in terms of time and energy. The economy of the Swedish state is highly dependent on the natural resources that are extracted from the north of Sweden where reindeer husbandry is also conducted. Forestry, mining, wind and hydro power are some examples.
Sami court cases about land-use conflicts
Girjas court case (Girjasmålet)
Sometimes the Sami reach out and get attention in international media. That is exactly what Girjas Sami village accomplished in the District Court of Gällivare (Gällivare Tingsrätt) in 2016, when they won a long-running court case against the Swedish state, starting in 2006. Girjas Sami village sued the Swedish state and claimed that they have exclusive rights to control hunting and fishing in the land of the Sami village. Even though the Sami village won the judgement, the Swedish state appealed against it but lost again in January 2018 in the Court of Appeal (Hovrätten för Övre Norrland). But the Court of Appeal decided that neither the Swedish state nor the Sami village had the right to control hunting and fishing. However, the Swedish state had to pay for all the expenses in the court case. Neither the Sami village nor the State understood the court decision fully and now both parts have appealed. The Court of Appeal said that Girjas have a higher right to the hunting and fishing in the area than the State but the Sami village cannot give the right to anyone else without the agreement from the state. The final decision is basically going back to as it was before the Sami sued the State. But the hope for these kinds of court cases are that they re-shape the policy towards Sami issues in Sweden.
The court case of Girjas brought up emotions and old conflicts even nationally, and made people react. In one of the Swedish most read newspapers, 59 Swedish scientists wrote a debate letter where they discussed the Girjas court case. They argued that in the Girjas court case, the Swedish state neglected research about the Sami since the State argued that current research was biased by the international trends that take notice Indigenous Peoples' rights and the focus of Sami interests in the current debate in society. The Swedish state uses a racial and out-of-date language which means that they use the word “lapp” and defines lapp as the nomadic people that was an ethnic group which should not be connected to the Sami of today which is not an ethnic group. The statement is a question whether the Sami is a Swedish Indigenous People or not and whether it will mean anything in the Girjas court case. Further the State has said that Sweden does not have any International pressure to acknowledge the Sami as an Indigenous Peoples which is not true since the Swedish state has acknowledge the Sami as Indigenous in 1977 (prop. 1976/77:80).
Nordmaling court case (Nordmalingsmålet)
The Nordmaling court case, which was dealt with in the Supreme Court (Högsta domstolen) in 2011, was a turning point for the Sami in the fight for rights to the land. About 100 small property owners in Nordmaling, in northern Sweden, sued three Sami villages (Ran, Ubmeje Tjeälddie (Umbyn) and Vapsten) in 1998 and 2005 because of reindeer disturbance on their land. They claimed that the reindeer were sweeping their antlers towards young trees in regeneration areas, compacting the snow on pastures which reduces the insulating layer of snow from the undergrowth vegetation resulting in that the vegetation therefore may die and cause bare soil spots. The property owners also argued that the reindeer made it difficult to hunt. The three Sami villages won the case because they have used the land since time immemorial and they could prove it by researching in old written documents. The documents come from National Land Survey (Lantmäteriet), old court cases and they hired a historian that created the report “300 years of Sami and reindeer husbandry in Nordmaling”. The court ordered that Sami villages were entitled to winter pastures on the properties in question on the basis of ancient custom. The Nordmaling case has resulted in similar rights' issues being settled out of court between the parties concerned.
Reindeer herders and forestry
Reindeer grazing areas cover about 50% of the land area of northern Sweden and that area is shared with many other interests but forestry is one of the most widespread and therefore most common cause of conflicts for the Sami reindeer herders. In the reindeer grazing area there are several stakeholders from the forest sector to consider. About 25% of the forests are owned by large private corporations, 41% by small private owners, and about 34% is owned by the State. The reindeer herders do not own the land that belongs to the geographical area of the Sami village, but they do have prescriptive rights from time immemorial which is a legal right because the Sami have always used the land.
In Sweden, forestry is of high economic importance and the forest industry is also one of the most important employers in northern Sweden. The high economic importance of the Swedish forest industry can be shown by the fact that the Forest Agency is controlled by the Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation (Näringsdepartementet) and, for example, not by the Ministry of the Environment (Miljödepartementet) which handles issues about biodiversity. The division is quite unique for Sweden. In 1993, there was a new law in the Forest Act. The law says that the forestry have two equal goals; 1. production of timber (and other products) to ensure a sustainable yield; and 2. safeguarding the environment. Forestry in Sweden have been highly rationalized and clear-cut is the most common method but it is criticized to affect biological diversity negatively. The Forest Act says that consideration to reindeer husbandry can only be taken to the degree where it is not affecting rational forestry.
Small forest owners are the largest group of forest owners in Sweden, as well as in Europe. The small forest owners are usually members of a forest producer association to have a better position when negotiating wood prices. The largest producers' association in northern Sweden is Norra Skogsägarna which has about 17.000 members and the second largest is Norrskog which has 12.000 members. Rights to title of the land is strong in Sweden and therefore small forest owners do not have the same obligations as larger forest owners to consider reindeer husbandry. For example, in all year round areas for reindeer, and in mountain woodland, the Forest Act says that if you own less than 500 hectares of productive woodland and if the harvested area is smaller than 20 hectares you do not have to consult with the Sami village before clear cutting or constructing a road. Within the regulations of the Forest Act, the stakeholders can freely choose how they want to manage the forest. Therefore, the customary rights of access and use of forest products for the reindeer herders are threatened by small forest owners.
The forest industry and reindeer herders do not share the same perception about how a forest should be managed. Today the majority of the forests are managed in a way where the forest industry benefits the most and reindeer herders adapt to the conditions which not always are favorable for them. Conflicts between reindeer herders and the forest sector usually occur when the forest management operation interferes with an important area of the migration route for the reindeer. Building roads, clear cutting forests that are rich in lichens are just some examples of when forestry and reindeer husbandry collides.
In favor of lichen growth on the ground and in the trees, the reindeer herders have set out the requirements below in how to manage the forests.
- No soil scarification
- Early pre-commercial thinning
- Longer forest rotation periods (120- 210 years)
- No planting of exotic tree species (eg. Lodepole pine (Pinus contorta L.))
- No fertilization of the forest
If the forest industry considers the needs of the reindeer husbandry in the management of the forest there will be a potential economic improvement for the reindeer herders. The forest industry on the other hand will see a potential decline in annual harvesting volumes. Even if It can be hard to find land-use solutions that benefit both forestry and reindeer herding there can be environmental benefits. Ecologically, consideration to Sami values means that the remaining forest will have a larger carbon stock when considering reindeer husbandry and the forests will probably also have higher biodiversity.
Conflicts between Sami reindeer herders and forest companies occurs because both use the same land and forest companies are the owners of the land and Sami reindeer herders have only usufructuary rights based on immemorial rights. The Swedish Forestry Act does not in detail describe how the forest sector should consult with reindeer herders, neither how the results from consultations should be accounted for.
Forest certification is one way forward for forest companies and forest producer associations to create better prerequisites to consult with Sami reindeer herders. The larger private companies are all FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified, for example SCA, Holmen and Stora Enso as well as the state company Sveaskog. But the small private forest owners are usually just PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) certified by their membership in the forest producer associations, but the certification is not mandatory. With a PEFC certification, consultations with reindeer herders are not compulsory and only are required to follow the Reindeer Husbandry Act. FSC on the other hand, requires consultation and has a three chambered systems which are economic, social and environmental that are all considered equally important in decision making. Before FSC certification came into the picture, only the all-year round areas were up for consultation, but now even the winter grazing areas is included. But the idea of consultations varies between districts and forest companies. Some districts consider consultations as informative meetings in an office, while other districts put time and resources into detailed consultations. According to FSC, forest companies with land within the reindeer husbandry area shall consult with reindeer herders if the forest operation is affecting areas of importance for reindeer husbandry. If the forest company and the reindeer herders disagree, they need to take help from a transparent third party.
Consultations always come with a cost, even though it is a process to strive for. The costs for the Sami are usually higher than for the stakeholders in the forest sector. What is included in the costs for the reindeer herders are time spent on:
- Education and training in forestry issues,
- Planning and coordinating land use to accommodate needs of forestry company
- Actual consultations
- Travelling and site visits
- Conflict resolution, monitoring and evaluation of land users
Ironically, the cost is higher for the reindeer herders when a RHP is present but lower for a forest company. Even though a RHP is increasing the costs for the reindeer herders, most Sami villages have a RHP which hopefully will contribute to a better position in the negotiation process.
Conclusion and suggestions
The position the Sami reindeer herders is in is juridically unclear when it comes to rights to land, waters and traditional livelihoods. Forestry in Sweden has a strong position, but the management methods do not consider other interests like tourism, recreation and Sami reindeer husbandry to a satisfactory degree. Research shows that there is an interest in changing many of the commonly used Swedish forestry management methods such as monocultures, soil scarification, stump extraction, clear-cutting, and the use of non-native tree species. Instead, there is a hope in the future to promote deciduous tree species, new methods for logging and the planting and use of native tree species. That solution would benefit reindeer herders too. At least the larger forest companies, and definitely the state company Sveaskog, should consider more diverse forestry methods that benefit several interests. The consultations between reindeer herders and the forestry sector are improving due to Reindeer Husbandry Plans but are still not on a satisfactory level since different forest companies in different geographical regions work in another way with consultations.
One reason why the Sami in Sweden struggle so much compared to Indigenous Peoples in other parts of the world, like Australia and Canada, is because about half of the land in Sweden is owned by private persons. The small private forest owners do not need to consult at all. On the scale from Notification (no influence), Consultation (limited influence), Co-management (shared influence), to Community-owned (total influence), based e.g. on the 1999 IAIA Principles of Environmental Impact Assessment Best Practice, the reindeer herders are probably in the Notification and Consultation steps which means no influence to limited influence. Small private forest owners associations should at least be certified with FSC, or PEFC should consider certification standards that require consultation with reindeer herders. ILO 169 is not implemented by the Swedish government, but taking a look a the neighbours in Norway, the ILO 169 changed the laws for the better for the Norwegian Sami people. Ratifying ILO 169 needs to happen in Sweden too. International recognition is a strong tool of power that the Sami people can use to receive attention from the government. Non governmental organizations, like WWF and Greenpeace, have a influence on National forestry debates worldwide and in Sweden. In Sweden, the duty to consult with the reindeer herders is mostly brought on by international law obligations and a result of forest certification schemes. There is a risk that foreign regulations about consultation are harder to accept than if the regulations would come from domestic law. Therefore, the Swedish state should take their responsibility and recognize the rights of the Sami. For the Sami people, it is difficult and costly to prove land use rights by going to court, but research required by courts does generate a lot of useful information that is needed by the Sami in future court cases. The Swedish government should also engage with the Sami parliament to a much greater extent to get the opinions and understanding about what the Sami people want before making any decisions that affect their interests.
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- Allard, Christina (2018). [10.23865/arctic.v8.723 "The rationale for the duty to consult Indigenous Peoples: Comparative reflections from Nordic and Canadian legal contexts"] Check
|url=value (help). Arctic Review on Law and Politics.
|This conservation resource was created by Louise Almén. It is shared under a CC-BY 4.0 International License.|