Tuesday 27 February 2024

Indigenous Sami reindeer herders support Gaza in protesting against Israel

The Sami reindeer herders are descendants of northern Europe's nomadic people and it said they can trace their roots back to the end of the last Ice Age about 10,000 years ago. They have been practising traditional reindeer herding since the 17th century. It is much more than a job. It is a way of life. Their historical lands have been divided up by the creation of four different countries across which the Sami people now live: Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia.

Indigenous Sami reindeer herders support Gaza in protesting against Israel
Sami child. Image: MikeB under license.

"Our bodies know the pain"

The words above where spoken by Ella Marie Haetta Isaksen, a Sami activist and artist widely known for her singing.

The Al Jazeera article by Shafi Musaddique about the reindeer herders of Norway is, I think, very poignant. The journalist says that the Sami people of Norway sympathise with the Palestinians in Gaza because "our bodies know the pain". 

The Sami's work and lifestyle defines them. They are very connected to nature in an old fashion way; something which the modern human does not follow. It's one of the great problems of modern life. People are disconnected from nature.

Connected to nature

The Sami people are respected for their connection with nature. They say that they don't live off the land but live within it. The problem is they are seeing their lands being destroyed. Europe's oldest and last remaining indigenous people are under very severe threat because of a range of issues impacting their lifestyle.

Huma rights abuses against the Sami

Arguably, there's been a long line of historical abuses perpetrated against the Sami people including:

Forced assimilation: the Sami faced policies designed to erase their culture, traditional way of life and languages. The programmes included forced relocations and boarding schools where Sami children were forbidden to speak their language. There was a suppression of cultural practices.

"Scientific" racism: the Sami people were subjected to dehumanising research. It was practised under the guise of "racial science", a concept which has now been discredited. It involved measuring skulls and forced sterilisation under the guise of eugenics.

Land dispossession: the Sami's traditional lands were seized for forestry and mining and later for green energy projects like wind farms. The core of their lives, reindeer herding was severely disrupted. This negatively impacted their culture and livelihood.

Present-day challenges

We can move forward to the present and there are further challenges which are gradually chipping away at the lifestyle of the Sami people.

Environmental threats: as mentioned wind farms, resource extraction and mining and other industrial projects are taking place on Sami lands which is destroying their culture. The projects damage grazing, disrupt migration routes for the reindeer and pollute water sources.

Limited self-determination: there has been some recognition of Sami rights but governments (four governments as mentioned) often make decisions affecting the Sami people without proper consultation and without respecting their lifestyles and traditional land use.

Discrimination and hate speech: there is prejudice against the Sami people, discrimination and hate speech. This, as can be imagined affects their well-being, emotional health, mental health and has a negative impact upon their general lifestyle.


These human rights abuses and injustices have far-reaching consequences on them.

Loss of culture and identity: their language has been suppressed together with traditional practices. There is a loss of cultural heritage. A weakening of Sami identity.

Economic hardship: being dispossessed of their lands has caused economic hardship. It has disrupted their livelihoods resulting in them being dependent on government support. This undermines their integrity and their self-esteem.

Health issues: having suffered a loss of culture and discrimination, there are mental health problems and high rates of suicide within some Sami communities.

Resisting these abuses

The Sami people appear to be fighting back in resisting these human rights abuses. What they are doing includes the following.

International advocacy: they are bringing their causes to international bodies such as the UN in order to pressure the countries in which they live to force them to respect their rights.

Land rights activism: they are fighting against the developers of the projects that damage their lands by taking legal action such as a landmark case against the Fosen wind farm company in Norway.

Cultural revitalisation: they are working to revive traditional practices and to promote the Sami culture and their languages within their communities and further afield.

They are described as not being a monolithic group and people had different points of view about their human rights and their existence.

My comment: personally, I am very sympathetic towards them. It's a great shame that these traditional peoples are abused like this. It brings to mind the Aboriginal Australians, who've been abused and the Native Americans in the United States. They've all been abused by Europeans. The Europeans travelled to North America and abused the wildlife and the Native Americans. The Europeans were transported to Australia where they abused the Aboriginal Australians who were there tens of thousands of years before them. It's a great shame that a so-called civilised race, the Europeans, were so badly behaved towards indigenous people and their lifestyles. Pure ignorance and arrogance. The same attitude which resulted in the mass slaughter of the tiger (as pests) in India during the Raj.


P.S. please forgive the occasional typo. These articles are written at breakneck speed using Dragon Dictate. I have to prepare them in around 20 mins.

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