As the world heats up, the reindeer in the Arctic Circle are under threat, unable to dig for food in winter due to the changes in weather conditions. Not only that, but their home is being destroyed by deforestation—the reindeer population has declined by nearly 50 per cent in the past two decades alone.
That’s why singer and activist Sofia Jannok has launched a campaign to protect the forests in Sápmi, the region inhabited by the Indigenous Sámi people in northern Europe, after discovering that 1,000 football pitches-worth of trees in her community, Luokta-Mávas, in Sweden were earmarked to be cut down. So far, more than 30,000 people have signed the petition, which has been backed by the likes of Greta Thunberg.
Herding reindeer is central to the Sámi way of living—not only as a source of food, but as part of their cultural identity. For centuries, the Indigenous community has managed to live in harmony with nature, but their existence is in danger due to deforestation and the climate crisis.
Here, Sofia Jannok explains why it’s so crucial to protect the reindeer so that the Sámi people can survive:
“We, the Indigenous Sámi people of Europe, have always lived in Sápmi. We come from nowhere else but here. And without the reindeer, which have adapted to survive in the harsh Arctic, we would never have made it. That’s why we need to protect the land of the reindeer.
“But since the 1970s, the area has been so badly logged that there are now just small islands of natural forest left. This transformation of the landscape has reduced reindeer lichen, their food, by 70 per cent. Logging companies are also planting a dense and invasive species of pine tree, which the reindeer can’t pass through.
“The old forests are even more crucial for the reindeer’s survival now, as we’ve been affected so badly by climate change for decades. In the Paris Agreement, countries said they would try to keep global warming to 1.5C. In Sápmi, we are already way past 1.5C—here, it’s now passed 2C, according to the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute (SMHI). It’s especially in winter that we see the effect. When it rains on the snow, it turns to ice and it’s impossible for the reindeer to dig underneath to get their food. Then, the reindeer need to find food above the snow, such as lichen hanging down from the centuries-old trees. Last winter, our herd survived thanks to the natural forests.
“Protecting the reindeer is about our whole existence. In Swedish law, reindeer husbandry is considered a traditional Sámi livelihood. This way of living is protected by the Indigenous rights, which the Swedish government refuses to respect, despite criticism from the UN. That’s why reindeer are so important, not only to the reindeer herding Sámis, but to all of us. It’s our only chance to protect our ancestral home, and our homes for future generations.
“The reindeer are a fundamental part of our culture. Where reindeer husbandry is still strong, traditional knowledge, handicraft, and singing continues to be passed on. Our language reveals how essential the surroundings are to us. There are countless descriptions of the reindeer, the snow and the varieties of landscape. We never mention the word ‘nature’. We are nature.
“My mother always says, and her father said before her, as long as the reindeer can live here, so can we. Now we’re facing a scenario where the reindeer will starve to death if this logging continues. As Indigenous people, our identity is in our surroundings. That’s why seeing all these forests getting cut down is like a wound to our heart. This land is our story—in destroying these forests, our home, they are not only destroying our history, but also our future.”
How you can help
You can sign the petition to stop the logging at: Respect Luokta-Mávas Right to Protect Ancestral Land.
You can donate to the Arvas Foundation, which supports projects for and by the Sámi people and other Indigenous groups across the world.