In the reindeer pen. Photo: Benny Jonsson.In the reindeer pen. Photo: Benny Jonsson.

Reindeer herding Sami

From the beginning, the Sami were gatherers, fishers and hunters who hunted wild reindeer and other animals. Later, they started to catch and domesticate the reindeer as draught animals or hunting decoys. With time, they started to keep small herds of domestic reindeer.·

Domestic reindeer in Femundsmarka

The Sami have herded reindeer in Femundsmarka at least since the 17th century, when a few Sami families moved here from reindeer grazing areas further north in Norway. The last winter settlement on the Norwegian side was somewhere near Roasten and was abandoned in the 1920s.

Sami at Slagufjäll and Sylen

In the early 1900s, there was a Sami village with around 40 people living in cots north of Lake Töfsingen. The same families had lived there largely for at least 300 years.

In 1829, Pål and Ella Zakrisson and their family arrived from Jämtland to the Idre mountains. They had their main settlement at Slagufjäll, but in the summers they took their reindeer to the Norwegian side. One of Pål and Ella’s daughters married the Røros Sami Lars Holm, who had his base at Sylen. The family was self-sufficient, milked the reindeer cows, made cheese and prepared hides.

At the end of the 19th century, one more family arrived here from Jämtland; Jonas JoPersgubben and Maria Persson settled at Slagufjäll, where they were based in spring and autumn. In the summers they stayed in the Sami camp at Hävlingskällorna.

Sami at Rogen

Reindeer herding Sami have lived in the Rogen area for a long time. At most, there were 70 Sami living at Käringsjön. They called their village Fjällsjön. North of Myskelsjöarna there was also a summer pasture with Sami cots. This is still used as a summer camp for Sami from Ruhvten Sijte Sami village, although they now live in cottages.

Authority decisions and compulsory transfer

During the latter part of the 19th century, reindeer keeping decreased due to authority regulations. In 1919, a Reindeer Grazing Convention was established between Sweden and Norway. This meant that the borders were closed and reindeer were only permitted to graze in the respective country. It became too limited for the Sami to keep reindeer at Idrefjällen. Some Sami tried to remain as long as possible, but in 1932 the last of the Idre Sami moved to Härjedalen.

In 1955, the Sami from Käringsjön were forced to move to Brändåsen some 20 kilometres south of Tännäs. The authorities felt that their living conditions were too poor since they lacked electricity. The government paid the Sami a modest sum of money for their cots and other buildings, which they were then ordered to demolish.

Idre Sami village

Due to the rich lichen vegetation, the authorities allowed a family from Jämtland to return to the Idre mountains in 1937. This was Anders and Maria Olsson and their family of 14 people. They built cots at Storvätteshogna and on Jakobshöjden just north of the Grövelsjön Mountain Station. The last immigration was in 1984, when Sigvard Jonsson and his family came to Idre Sami village.

Modern reindeer husbandry rooted in tradition

The era of self-sufficiency is over in all sectors of society. Sami live in detached houses and in reindeer herding cottages in the mountains. Reindeer husbandry is carried out with the aid of modern equipment, but even so the reindeer determine the pace. The weather still rules and many Sami traditions live on.

For thousands of years reindeer have provided meat, hides and horn. Photo: Kentaroo Tryman.For thousands of years reindeer have provided meat, hides and horn. Photo: Kentaroo Tryman.

Sylen farm where the Sami Lars Holm lived with his family.Sylen farm where the Sami Lars Holm lived with his family.

Sami cot remains in Långfjället nature reserve. Photo: Marcus Elmerstad.Sami cot remains in Långfjället nature reserve. Photo: Marcus Elmerstad.

Spring-grazing reindeer.Spring-grazing reindeer.

Other photos: Naturcentrum AB.