January 25th, Jokkmokk
Lars-Anders Baer was our last speaker of the week, and he was full of interesting information. He is a lawyer and Sami politician, and he is heavily involved with various UN committees concerning indigenous people. He appeared to be a very important person as he was on the phone when he came into the classroom and had to take a break to do a 30 minute conference call later on. We were obviously very lucky to have him speaking to us for the better part of a morning. He gave us a wealth of information on the recent legal struggles of the Sami people and the different policies affecting their land or animal herding rights. He also seemed to be very familiar with America because he went around the room and asked us what states we were from. Throughout the presentation he would mention different anecdotes or tidbits of information pertaining to a certain American city, oftentimes New York. He also knew a great deal about the plight of Native Americans and offered really interesting comparisons between the two, and he could also include Canada’s native people in the comparisons. Because Sami people are included as Swedish citizens (or Norwegian or Finnish as the case may be), they are included in the socialist welfare system for which Sweden is so famous. The result of this is that Sami people are very well educated and have good healthcare. The main problem people like Lars-Anders are trying to remedy is that the Sami people don’t have fair land rights. In contrast, American and Canadian natives have very good land rights (reservations), but suffer terrible poverty, poor education, and poor healthcare. There are many striking similarities between the stories of our natives and Sweden’s natives, but this was a thought-provoking difference.
In the afternoon, we went with Helena Lanta to her reindeer ranch. As we pulled up, we could see massive reindeer with impressive antlers dotting her land. She told us that some of them would be entered in contests at the Winter Market, contests which I assume are not unlike the contests judging animals at our state fairs. These reindeer were certainly gorgeous, some totally white, some with brown and black coats. She pointed out one reindeer that seemed to be more active than the rest and told us that he would be used in the reindeer races at the Market. I’m predicting that this will be a highlight of the Market. From what I can tell from pictures, reindeer racing consists of humans being pulled behind reindeer in sled type things. It should be very entertaining.
We made our way into the back area of the land she lived on. First we met Rudolph the White-Nosed Reindeer. She told us that he was pretty old, older than 10 if I remember correctly, and that he was sort of the family’s pet. He wouldn’t be going to the market this year, Rudolph appeared to be in a sort of retirement. He hung out in his own fenced off area with only a small, sick calf. Here’s a couple pictures of Rudolph, one with Helena beside him in her traditional Sami shawl, hat, and reindeer skin boots.
He was very tame, as you can see. We continued back further into her land where we came upon a large field full of probably over a hundred reindeer. This was exciting, and certainly the most reindeer we had seen at one time.
At some point they all began running together and went from individual animals to a large herd. They just ran back and forth, back and forth, and it was somehow very entertaining. After they calmed down, one very curious reindeer got closer and closer until Erik, our resident reindeer whisperer, could reach out and pet him/her.
After we spent some more time watching the reindeer, we walked back to a teepee-like structure that Sami people used when they lived more nomadic lives. Helena had a fire going and offered us two different types of dried reindeer meet, along with some delicious, hot blueberry juice that we drank out of Sami traditional cups. We sat by the fire and got to ask her questions about growing up Sami, Sami spirituality, and just general stories from reindeer herding. She had one particularly entertaining story about a bear that popped up right outside their window at their home. We listened to her speak more about the Sami way of life, and what it’s like to be a reindeer herder. After we warmed up, we went back outside to catch one last glimpse at the herd. We walked back towards our van, saying goodbye to Rudolph along the way. It was probably past 3 at this point, which up here means a setting sun. It was mostly cloudy, so I couldn’t get a picture of the brilliant colors we’ve been seeing in the sunsets, but the sky is beautiful as always and it definitely looks like an Arctic sunset. We returned to the school to warm up some more and have an eventful Friday night with our Sami friends!