Smörboll med fjällen i bakgrunden
The globeflower is happily unaware of the hardships suffered by the Sami who were forcibly displaced. Photo: Tor Lundberg.

Closed borders and unknown land

Nomadic people have never found it easy when it comes to maintaining their rights to their territory. The authorities have frequently failed to understand how and where they live, and just as often they have failed to consider that nomads can claim the right to the land on which they live.

Borders have become obstacles or been closed. Occasionally this has led to those affected choosing to move to other areas, or to the authorities moving them away by force. There are various examples of forcible displacement in Sápmi.

The Iron Curtain
Before the Second World War, the Skolt Sami lived on both sides of the Finnish/Russian border. After the end of the war, the border was not only moved, but an impenetrable border fence was built on it, occasionally with a mined buffer zone. The Iron Curtain, as it came to be called, remained there for half a century. The Sami who were divided by this barrier were initially allowed to decide whether they wanted to be Finnish citizens or Russian subjects. After they had made their decision, the border was closed.

Cross-border contact was impossible. Siblings and relatives neither heard from each other nor met for several decades. For the Skolt Sami who chose the Finnish side, a small village was built for them. The Skolt Sami who were now going to be Finns gathered in Ceavetjávri. This was not entirely problem-free, as the village was built on land previously used by the Enare Sami.

Dissolution of the union
The Sami who migrated across the Swedish/Norwegian border were also affected by political developments between the countries. When the dissolution of the union was completed, the Sami living in these two countries were faced with major problems. In northernmost Sweden, the Sami had moved with their reindeer herds to the Norwegian coast and islands every spring for many years. During the late autumn they returned to their winter pasture in Sweden.

At the beginning of the 20th century the number of farmers began to increase. The reindeer herds that came down to the coastal strip were therefore viewed as a problem, as there was now competition for the land. Nationalism was a powerful phenomenon in Norway at this time, and it was not difficult for politicians to maintain that "Swedish" Sami should keep to their side of the border. In negotiations between the countries, a new convention was drawn up that regulated the entitlement of these Sami to use the land in Norway. When it came into force in 1919, the convention entailed severe restrictions for the Sami. Some areas were closed off, and in the others the number of reindeer allowed was greatly reduced.

Forcible displacement
As a consequence, many Sami had no summer pasture for their reindeer. The Swedish authorities solved this by selecting a large number of families in the Karesuando area who had to move to more southerly areas of Sweden.

The movement of Sami to the south from Karesuando was nothing new. The land around Guovdageaidnu and Karesuando is very good for the reindeer herds, and this often resulted in people being forced to look for new land. This occasionally took the form of voluntary moves to the south to the areas around Kiruna and Gällivare, but the Sami who were now being forcibly displaced ended up in Jokkmokk or even further south.

For the Sami who were already living on this land, the newcomers were often seen as unwelcome intruders. Nobody had asked them whether they wanted to accept new groups of reindeer herders. Another problem was that the different groups employed different methods of reindeer herding. In the Jokkmokk area, reindeer herding was conducted in a more intensive fashion. The animals were kept together during the summer months as well. The newcomers on the other hand tended to release their animals to graze freely in the spring. After a number of years, this extensive form of reindeer tending meant that it was no longer possible to conduct intensive herding.

Modern borders
Today the Iron Curtain is a dark memory, and the descendants of the Sami who had been forcibly displaced are still living in the areas to which their forefathers were forced to move. Despite this, the borders in Sápmi that have been drawn up by the various countries are often an obstacle, both from an economic and a cultural perspective. The Skolt Sami in Ceavetjávri have adapted to life in their new home. It has been possible to resume the interchange and contact between "Russian" and "Finnish" kinsmen. Today's reindeer pasture convention between Norway and Sweden is viewed as an obstacle, at least by the Swedish Sami. Many feel that reindeer herding in the border regions would have been more effective without the convention.

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