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Reindeer Husbandry in Finland
Borders and Rights
Reindeer Areas and Management
Number of Reindeer
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Challenges to Reindeer Husbandry
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Reindeer and people have a connection that is thousands of years old in what is today called Finland. First by hunting, then through domestication and herding. Archaeological sources such as hunting pits, stone carvings and settlement excavations speak to this connection. In 98 AD, the Roman historian Tacitus wrote about a strange people in Thule, who used fur clothes, hunted reindeer and travelled with skis.

In the 800s the Norwegian chief Ottar visited King Alfred and the English court and Ottar told the king about the Sámi and that reindeer were domesticated and managed in herds. This is the first written source of domesticated reindeer herding and is often referred to. However archaeological research is consistently pushing the date of domestication of reindeer and the development of reindeer herding further back in time. Writings after that time tell that the Sami are using domesticated reindeer for transport and milking.

In the 16th 17th and 18th centuries, Sweden, which then included Finland, had imperial ambitions and this increased tax burden on Sámi reindeer herding, which would appear to have stimulated a shift in reindeer herding practices. Sámi reindeer herders where nomadic and moved with their reindeer herds between winter and summer pastures. In the mountain areas an intensive reindeer herding took shape – where reindeer where monitored daily.

The Sámi people lived and worked in so-called “siiddat” (reindeer herding groups) and reindeer where used for transport, milk and meat production. The Siida is an ancient Sámi community system within a designated area but it can also be defined as a working partnership where the members had individual rights to resources but helped each other with the management of the herds, or when hunting and fishing. The Siida could consist of several families and their herds.

Reindeer herding in Finland is based on traditional Sámi reindeer herding and the system of Siiddat. Compared to Norway and Sweden the reindeer husbandry developed in a different manner in Finland. Finnish settlers and peasants adopted reindeer herding as a livelihood from the Sámi and Finnish reindeer herding became organized already in in the 1700’s. Nowadays it is based on herding in districts (paliskunnatbálgosiin). In 1898, state authorities obligated reindeer owners to establish geographically defined herding districts and the first Reindeer Herding act in Finland was enacted in 1932.

During the 1900’s reindeer herding became more extensive and meat production increasingly important. In the 1960’s, reindeer herders began to introduce new technologies – the so called snow mobile revolution in their work with reindeer. Later other mechanical aids, such as ATV’s and motorbikes came. Today such tools are major feature of modern reindeer herding in Finland. This has had a variety of impacts on reindeer herding and as herders no longer ski or walk with reindeer, the relationship with their animals has changed considerably. Today's reindeer herding requires large areas, reindeer are often frightened and are forced to flee from natural pastures. Reindeer are not currently watched year-round and reindeer move with relative freedom during certain periods.

However, reindeer herding would not be possible without the maintenance of traditional knowledge which dates back millennia and is transferred from generation to generation. Its significance remains for reindeer herders because it contains important knowledge about how for instance land should be used during times of extreme weather fluctuation, for example.

Reindeer husbandry today in Finland is a small industry on a national scale, but both in a Sámi and local Finnish context, it has great importance. Reindeer husbandry remains one of the most parts of the Sámi culture

(The Encycloapedia of Saami Culture)

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