Oyvind Ravna - A Critical Evaluation of the Land Consolidation Act and Reindeer Husbandry
Written by Philip Burgess   
Wednesday, 10 December 2008 11:34
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oyvinf-ravna-250-pxOyvind Ravna recently defended his PhD thesis at the University of Tromso, in the faculty of law. Born in Tana, Ravna has worked for over a decade as a Land Consolidation Judge (jordskifterettsleder ved Finnmark jordskifterett). In September he will taking up a new position at the University of Tromso as an associate professor (førsteamanuensis ved Det juridiske fakultetet, Universitetet i Tromsø), investigating themes related to Sami land rights in general, with a focus on the land rights of reindeer herders. He is also an accomplished writer and photographer with several titles to his name on themes related to Sami and Nenets reindeer husbandry in the. At the moment he divides his time between Vadso and Tromso.


His thesis (in Norwegian) was entitled Rettsutgreiing og bruksordning i reindriftsområder. En undersøkelse av om beitebruk i reindriftsom¬råder kan gjøres mer tjenlig ved bruk av jordskiftelovgivningens virkemidlar. It was a detailed investigation into the working of the Land Consolidation Act from 1979 and especially the amendment to the same act from 1996, which introduced land consolidation as a means of solving disputes in reindeer husbandry. Ravna found that while the Court operates effectively for farmers and other land owners, it has been deficient when it comes to the rights and interests of reindeer herders when it comes settling disputes between reindeer herders and farmers. Ravna made a series of proposals as to how the Act might better service reindeer herders – the establishment of a special reindeer court along the lines of the current court, special education to improve lawyers and judges knowledge about reindeer husbandry and their cultural competence related to Sami issues and language, and he suggested how the legislation might be reworked to take account of its current deficiencies.

Interview by Philip Burgess, 2008.

You have just completed your PhD?

I defended my thesis on the 22 April. I feel that the defence went very well - easier than I had suspected. Doing a PhD felt like a natural step in my professional and research development.  My profession is as a Land Consolidation Judge (jordskiftedommer), which is a special education from the Agricultural University the goal of which is the solving of land disputes and improves the land tenure. I took four years off from this position to complete my research.  There are quite similar positions in Sweden and Finland but what is unique in the Norwegian system is that it is organized into a land court, rather than being simply part of the governmental administrative system, which may be a result of the lack of clarity when it comes to property boundaries and land ownership in Norway. So people who work in these cases need to have the authority to pass judgments on boundaries and landownership. We work with the law as it stands and pass sentences; we research old documents that show how the land was measured out 100-200 years ago. Also in Norwegian law, there is a law of immemorial usage. This is quite frequently the case for land owners, where documents are difficult to find or difficult to read. I should mention that the position of Land Consolidation Judge is mostly connected with land owners such as farmers who have disputes about boundaries or road ways, or who wish to exchange plots of land through land consolidation so as to make a property more convenient for agriculture. Another variant is also cases related to prescribing rules for the use of land where there are several land holders or users.  In Norway, reindeer herders do not own the land as farmers do; instead they have a usufructory right to land and pastures.

Was that the beginning of your interest of the land question as it relates to reindeer husbandry?

Yes, already earlier I had written a smaller thesis about the rules related to the construction of roads and so on in reindeer husbandry areas and how reindeer owners should be compensated.

So how did the issues of reindeer husbandry impact on your work?

Well of course, as a resident of and working in Finnmark County, you are often dealing with cases that relate to the land rights question and the rights of reindeer herders. It is a question that is always in the background, though not necessarily the primary focus of my job.

The Land Consolidation Act which mostly covers situations that arise for farmers and other land owners was altered in 1996 where it was decided that it should also cover reindeer husbandry. This formed the basis of my research – to see how this Act has been working and if it has managed to solve problems for reindeer owners as it was envisaged in the preparatory work for the law.

What happened before 1996?

Before 1996 there were not any formal articles in the law about reindeer husbandry but also before the amendment to the act, persons who have land use rights had the possibility to be participants so there were cases where reindeer owners participated but primarily they were included in cases in order that the problems of farmers could be solved. The aims of such cases then were not to solve the problems of reindeer herders. Reindeer herders entered into these cases on an ad hoc basis.

How did you go about your research? By looking at cases that had been taken since 1996?

Yes. I used juridical methods, which means that you are studying court cases and the preparatory work for the Act. Those were the main sources, though of course you should also know the literature and background in order to be able to suggest solutions and recommendations.

Did you also interview some of the protagonists?

Yes. I have done some interviews, after discussions with my supervisors, as it is not the traditional way to conduct legal researching lawyers. Interviews are useful, but you need to be careful how and in what way they are used, as the main thing in juridical science, traditionally has been to investigate how the Supreme Court makes a sentence, not what an individuals opinion is.

What did you find out in your research?

I found rather clear evidence that the Act has not been working for reindeer owners. First there have been very few cases. Second, in the preparatory law, the government office had not done the necessary research and preparations so that this law could work in a predictable way. In land consolidation cases, the land use rights might be changed or divided (where there are several shareholders), but no one can incur expenses or economical losses. That means that the court should make a valuation of the rights before you changes so that the rights holders do not suffer loss. For the land rights of farmers there have been long established methods how this should be done and how value should be assigned to land plots, but for reindeer owners, this is a new process, so due to the insufficient preparatory work, it meant that the legal results were not predictable. Then it is up to the individual judge or court what the sentence is, as he/she/they will not have sufficient input or instructions from the Act. With a good judge of course, the result could be good, but this may not be the case.

Why have there been very few cases?

It is difficult to say, but the first reason is surely because the 1996 Act is designed to solve problems between reindeer herders and other interests, such as farmers. It is not designed to solve problems within reindeer husbandry. From my experience, most of today’s challenges in reindeer husbandry are related to the winter pastures - when farmers have their animals indoors. Therefore the primary challenge in reindeer husbandry was not addressed by this Act. In the summer pastures there are some cases, but I think that there has been too much focus on the conflict that exists between reindeer herders and farmers.
Do you think that this idea is fed by the media (Re. the current dispute in Alta between reindeer herders and farmers)?
Well – of course there are some areas where there are serious conflicts and Alta is one of those places. And there are probably some other places, too. Alta is the hotspot for this kind of conflict in Finnmark. This is also connected to the level of communication that exists between reindeer owners and farmers.

How many cases have there been under the new Act?

You can divide them in different groups, but, cases where rules for usage have been prescribed, there have been only three. So there have been few cases to work with for my research but of course these questions impinge on other court cases which discuss similar problems.

What recommendations did you make so that the Act can be improved?

Yes, most particularly where there are cases where there are reindeer herders on one side and farmers on the other. I have also written recommendations about how the Act can be used if it is opened up for cases that are between reindeer herders.

So one of your recommendations is that the Act be expanded to include such cases?

Yes. Of course for the law to be changed, it means that the Norwegian Parliament needs to be involved. My job is to lay out the arguments in case the Parliament would do such a thing. When the Act was established in 1996, the first proposal included issues internal to reindeer husbandry, but at some stage in the process, in my opinion, those preparing the legislation, became reluctant to include this and decided that the Act be restricted to cases between reindeer herders and farmers, as this meant a great deal fewer cases.  At some stage in the process it looks like there was a change of mind.

What will your new position in Tromso entail?

I will work with the questions related to Sami land rights and reindeer herders land rights. The land question in Northern Norway affects nearly everyone in the region. There are a lot of issues that have also arisen as a result of the new (2007) reindeer husbandry Act in Norway. This did not directly impact on my research but the question about a kind of land consolidation, or prescribing rules related to use, is in the law. Reindeer owners suppose that the Act might be used to settle cases that arose between themselves. In this case they just wanted what farmers have been able to demand for a long time. According to my point of view reindeer herders have the  right to demand that rules be proscribed for them as it can be difficult for people involved in a case to divide the land rights and settle disputes. In such way the Land consolidation Act has been a service to farmers, but reindeer owners have not been given this possibility yet.

What do reindeer herders do then in these cases?

The question is still open as the 2007 Reindeer Husbandry Act is so new. The different Siida should come to a consensus how the land should be used. After that the District Board, which consists of reindeer owners, should make the decision regarding the use of pastures. These might be complicated, for example when the person in the District Board and the Siida is the user of the land in question, difficulties can arise when settling disputes such as which land can be used, how many reindeer can graze on a given pasture and so on. The goal of the new Act is to devolve decision making powers to reindeer owners, but in some cases this may prove difficult. In the past, it was the Reindeer Husbandry Administration that prescribed such decisions.

One of the proposals from my research is that reindeer herders, if they desire, should have right to ask for a settlement from the Land Consolidation Court. However, and I make this point in my research, the way the Land Consolidation Court is working today, it is not competent enough to undertake this kind of work. So one of my proposals is that there should be a special Court for issues related to reindeer husbandry. This would work along the same principals, but would recruit personnel who have experience and education from reindeer husbandry and they should probably also speak the Sami language. The general lack of knowledge about reindeer husbandry is a barrier – on the one hand there is a shortage of knowledge about the profession and on the other, a lack of knowledge regarding the cultural sphere in which it operates, which includes language competence. My proposals then include the establishment of a special Court, but also a specific education so that in the future, lawyers and judges with these skills can be recruited.


You can contact Oyvind at  Oyvind.Ravna(@)jus.uit.no

For a list of his publications, see: http://uit.no/jus/911/76
You can also visit his website:  www.ravna.no, and the English page http://www.ravna.com/english/Default.htm

ICR Interview, Land rights, Law, Oyvind Ravna, Research