Rendrivning Foto: Tor Lundberg Tuorda
The sameby organizes work efforts like the gathering of the reindeer herd before separation, calf-marking or slaughter. Photo: Tor Lundberg Tuorda

The Samebys organize the reindeer herders

A sameby is not a village and not collection of huts on a mountain - it is more complex than that. It is a financial and administrative union that is regulated by law. There are 51 samebys in Sweden, from Idre in Dalarna to Könkäma in Norrbotten.

A sameby is not a village and not collection of huts on a mountain - it is more complex than that. It is a financial and administrative union that is regulated by law. There are 51 samebys in Sweden, from Idre in Dalarna to Könkäma in Norrbotten.

According to the Reindeer Husbandry Act, the right to conduct reindeer herding in Sweden belongs to the Sami population. However, in order to exercise this right, it is necessary to be a member of a sameby. Of all the Sami in Sweden, only around 10% are members of a sameby. A sameby is an extensive area, often stretching from the inland forest areas to the mountains on the Norwegian border. The sameby areas consequently follow the reindeer's (mountain reindeer's) annual migration from forest to mountain.

A sameby is both an economic association and a specific geographical area. Its members are entitled to engage in reindeer husbandry in this area. In certain parts of this area, they also have fishing and hunting rights. They are also entitled to erect cabins and facilities for reindeer husbandry, as well as to take trees from the forest for fuel and timber for household requirements and handicrafts. The reindeer herding entitlement is founded on the concept of `ancient claims', i.e. that they have hunted, fished and used the reindeer pasture since time immemorial. The rules governing the samebys are regulated in the Reindeer Husbandry Act.

Company-driven
Within a single sameby there are several different reindeer herding companies comprising one or more owners. The sameby is run by a board that is elected at the annual meeting. The board takes collective decisions about pasture, enclosures and joint work that has to be carried out. Each reindeer owner takes decisions concerning his own reindeer, such as how many are to be slaughtered. Anyone who wants to become a member of a sameby has to apply for this, and it is then up to the sameby's annual meeting to decide who may become a member.

The reindeer herding area makes up roughly a third of Sweden's land area, and extends from Idre in the south to Treriksröset in the north. This means that reindeer herding is conducted in a total of six Swedish counties: Norrbotten, Västerbotten, Jämtland, Västernorrland, Dalarna and Gävleborg. The county administrative boards determine the geographical boundaries of each sameby, as well as how many reindeer a sameby may have.

Different types of sameby
There are a total of 51 samebys in Sweden. These are divided into mountain, forest and concessionary samebys. Mountain samebys move with their herds to the mountains in the summer and east to the coniferous forest areas in the winter, while forest samebys remain in the forest all the year round.

Concessionary reindeer herding is conducted in Tornedalen. A unique feature of this arrangement is that non-Sami people are also permitted to own reindeer. The permit is for a limited period, while reindeer herding in the other samebys is conducted on the basis of the 'ancient claims' concept, which entails a stronger and more permanent entitlement.

The area used by a sameby is divided into year-round land and winter grazing land. The right to reindeer husbandry may be exercised on the year-round land throughout the year. Reindeer can graze in the winter grazing lands, which are often located in forest areas, from 1 October to 30 April.

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