Arctic Reindeer Herders Surviving On The Edge Of The Earth

For its 100th birthday, Norway wanted to give Finland a gift – the peak of a mountain. Although the gesture turned out to be unconstitutional, it saw overwhelming popular support – attracting tens of thousands of Facebook likes on both sides of the border. But there was one group that wasn’t so excited – The Sami.

This indigenous community has lived across parts of what is today Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia for thousands of years. To them, the border gift was just another encroachment on land that is rightfully theirs. Sami lands cover multiple borders, causing them endless legal problems. But border disputes are just one of the many challenges facing Sami communities. The population, which is estimated to be around 70,000, has for centuries endured marginalization, federal land grabbing and outright racial discrimination—not to mention harsh winters. But today, Sami people are confronting a force that could have far more dire consequences: climate change. The Arctic, which includes the Sami region, is warming more than twice as fast as the rest of the world.

The reindeer that have survived tend to be malnourished and are, as a result, smaller

2016 saw the lowest levels of Arctic ice in at least the last 40 years. For Sami communities this is a big problem. As ice continues to melt, plants and other food sources die off and worst of all, the reindeer population is declining. The Sami base their entire livelihood on reindeer, even the Sami word for “herd”, has the same root as their word for “life”. Some Nordic regions grant the Sami exclusive legal rights to use the protected animal for food, shelter, and transportation. They wear reindeer leather clothes and live in reindeer skin homes. Reindeer racing is a staple at Sami festivals. But the warmer temperatures are threatening the Sami-reindeer relationship. Shorter winters mean more rain and less snow and this extra precipitation creates a wall of ice, blocking reindeer from the plants they need to survive. Starvation and accidental deaths have decreased reindeer populations by roughly 40 percent in one study. The reindeer that have survived tend to be malnourished and are, as a result, smaller. Scientists found that the average adult reindeer in 2010 was 15 pounds lighter than it was in 1994.

Thankfully, the Sami people are excellent at adapting. The community has an intimate relationship with nature, which serves as not only its livelihood but the foundation of its culture and spirituality. Sami people are revered for their ability to acclimate to new conditions by charting local geography, weather, food sources and ecology. In response to climate change, for instance, they’ve been able to keep some reindeer safe by mapping snow stability for herding. Even commercial efforts to bring roads and pipelines far north rely on Sami knowledge of the area to build safely and preserve the natural wildlife. And International organizations like the Arctic Council have looked to the Sami people as a model for climate change adaption. As the effects of climate change continue to surface around the world, there is a lot to be learned from the Sami community.

People around the world are feeling the effects of climate change. Nations bordering the Pacific Ocean have been completely destroyed by winds and tides, so what happens to the people who live there? Find out in this video. I have seen villages completely destroyed by strong winds and huge storms. People who have risked their lives and communities have been dispalced from places where their families have lived for generations.