The Sami people are natives of the European continent. For thousands of years they have harvested the reindeer, keeping their traditional lifestyles in the face of opposition from neighbours who saw them as outdated.

Today, the Sami people still herd reindeer in northern Scandinavia. They have felt the effects of civilization in the form of dams blocking their traditional migratory routes. More recently they have had to deal with the effects of Chornobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine on reindeer populations. The effects of radiation fallout have made the Sami people fully aware of the vulnerability of the Arctic and Sub-Arctic environments.

To deal with the issues of today, the Sami have educated themselves and set up the Sami Institute. Bard Berg is a researcher at the institute looking for answers to Sami concerns. “We, the Sami people, have struggled for our land for a long time, and we have seen that, although it is difficult, it is not impossible to win this struggle,” said Bard.

Owning your own reindeer or herding is a custom only started 400 years ago as a result of the depletion of wild reindeer stocks. But the Sami have always had reindeer for milk, food, transportation and other purposes, according to Bard.

Close contact with the Norwegians and Swedes led to an attempt to assimilate the Sami people into mainstream European society.

But the Sami relationship with southerners is better today than they were, say, 30 years ago, said Bard. “It’s much like the situation in the United States and Canada. It’s easier today than it was some years ago,” he remarked.

It was not until 1961 that the Sami and their reindeer received protective status under The Water Act. The Sami people now receive legal assistance from the state, but they still face a system in which Sami interests are defended by a state lawyer against state interests in a state court.

Development has seen the Sami being forced to move out of traditional reindeer herding grounds. To protest their way of life, the Sami have sought alliances with other peoples like the Inuit and environments. As a minority, they actively sought out these alliances and consider them of prime importance. “It is important for native peoples to support each other through all available channels and in every possible way,”said Bard.

These alliances has succeeded in saving large areas from dam construction through the formation of national parks. Often, projects that go through are reduced in size.

The last 10 years have seen the development of Sami Parliaments in Finland, Sweden and Norway. These bodies have some self-government powers, like education and culture. The Sami are currently negotiating to attain more self-determination.

Said Bard, “In the years when we were suppressed, the language and the culture survived. Today, we are happy they survived.”