Internationsl Centre for Reindeer HusbandryASsociation of World Reindeer Herderssa-sucAbout Reindeer Husbandry
Inger Marie Gaup Eira
Written by Inger Marie Gaup Eira   
Tuesday, 20 October 2009 10:56
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For the indigenous people of the Arctic, the understanding of snow and ice has always been necessary for survival. Reindeer herders and their reindeer live for 8-9 months a year on snow, in extreme environments with variable climatic conditions.  Reindeer herding is strongly influenced by climatic conditions, and most of all, snow conditions. More than 20. Indigenous peoples have their main income from reindeer husbandry in 9 national states. Sámi reindeer herding represents roughly one third of the world’s reindeer herding. 

Knowledge about snow and snow condition has not been developed by accident, but because it is necessary to survive under extremely challenging and constantly changing climatic conditions.

In Sámi language, particular in reindeer herding, there is a well developed vocabulary regarding reindeer herding, reindeer and topics that are affected by reindeer herding. In addition to snow terminology, there is a rich terminology with reference to body shape, body condition and behavior characteristics.

In EALÁT we are collecting information on concepts, documenting terminological information and documenting terminological diversity. In the dialect of Guovdageaidnu, there were found to be over 1000 individual terms regarding reindeer, primarily regarding their appearance, for ex. there are some 50 words about the shape of the antlers and then there is the color, the feet, the head, the nature of the coat and the earmarks.


Reindeer herlavvu_web_stording terminology and phraseology has a strong foothold in the Sámi language. This knowledge has been accumulated through many generations of reindeer herders.  It is an integrated part of their language. This knowledge is part of the way of life of Sami reindeer herders and it is a part of the individual herder’s actions and decisions.

The Sámi snow terminology shows that it is necessary to differentiate between different snow profiles, its shows their need to characterize guohtun, and it shows that it is important for them to be able to follow traces in the snow and to recognize these traces.

Oppás, čiegar, ceavvi are professional terms that show how reindeer herders describe the possibilities of the reindeer to get to their food. This is a conceptual system with many details and a huge vocabulary in use up to this day.


EALÁT is a project in the International Polar Year program. It is an interdisciplinary intercultural study to assess the vulnerability of coupled human-ecological systems in the Arctic to increasingly significant impacts of global warming and climate change on reindeer, reindeer herding, and herding society – especially, snow change. EALÁT is a Sámi word with the meaning “something to live on (especially for reindeer), and it originates from word eallit which means ‘to live’.

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