Who owns the land of the reindeer? The indigenous Sami people? Or all Swedish people?
The decision of the country’s top court to award exclusive hunting and fishing rights to Sami in one 19-mile strip of land has prompted an outcry.
For the Sami people, the Supreme Court ruling was an historic moment – the culmination of a decade-long legal battle. Yet it is one that has sparked outrage among some non-indigenous hunters and anglers. Sweden’s top judges conferred exclusive fishing and small game hunting rights to the Sami in the village of Girjas Sameby, persuaded by their argument that Sami people had been hunting, fishing and grazing reindeer here since time immemorial until the Swedish state came and took away more and more land.
Some 20,000 to 40,000 Sami people live in Sweden. Almost 5,000 own reindeer, including Ylva Sarri’s family. She hails the judgement, arguing that the Swedish hunters frighten the reindeer with their dogs and hinder the Sami’s work. The indigenous people regularly capture and slaughter the animals to sell their meat and hides. Joachim Almgren is one of Sweden’s 300,000 hunters who fears the ruling will greatly restrict his hunting opportunities. Both hunting and fishing are very popular leisure activities in Sweden. There are fears other Sami communities could follow the example of Girjas Sameby and take their cases to court. The long-simmering conflict now threatens to escalate. What is more important: the wellbeing of the reindeer and the livelihoods of the Sami people, or the Swedish people’s right to hunt?
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