EGU General Assembly 2022
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Contemporary Colonialism and Marginalized Indigenous Practice in Sweden’s Northern Forests: A Case Study on Reindeer Husbandry in Gällivare Forest Sámi Community

Elaine Mumford1, May-Britt Öhman2, and Henrik Andersson3
Elaine Mumford et al.
  • 1CEMUS - Centre for Environment and Development Studies, Department of Earth Sciences, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden (
  • 2CEMFOR - Centre for Multidisciplinary Studies on Racism, Department of Theology, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden
  • 3Gällivare Forest Sámi Community, Sweden

Reindeer husbandry in Sweden is a traditional livelihood activity conducted exclusively by the Sámi, an Indigenous people whose land – a region called Sápmi – is broadly understood to extend across northern Fennoscandia (Norway, Sweden, and Finland) and the Kola Peninsula in contemporary Russia. Reindeer husbandry in contemporary Sweden occurs in both the western mountainous regions and the eastern forests, but the concerns and challenges of reindeer herders in the forested regions are largely neglected in academic, political, economic, and other discourses. According to the traditional knowledge of Sámi reindeer herders, industrial forest landscape exploitation, including large-scale clear-cutting for timber and vast wind power developments, will have a profound impact on both reindeer and the herders themselves, threatening the viability of reindeer husbandry as a livelihood activity and a locus of Sámi cultural identity.

Research into the complex and compounding impacts of forest use projects and policies was undertaken under the auspices of the Dálkke: Indigenous Climate Change project, led by Dr. May-Britt Öhman, at Uppsala University’s Centre for Multidisciplinary Studies on Racism. It included four weeks of close collaboration between the first author and Henrik Andersson, a Sámi reindeer herder, activist, and board member from the Gällivare Skogssameby (Forest Sámi community). Fieldwork methodologies included participatory observation and semi-structured interviews and complexity theory was used as the basis to develop a case study, which was then contextualized within Sweden’s colonial history and contemporary political and economic paradigm. This research was based on the understanding that the structural limitations of the Swedish settler-colonial state hinder the ability of Sámi people to engage in the traditional livelihood of reindeer husbandry and benefit from traditional uses of non-timber forest products. The state promotes corporate intrusion onto reindeer grazing and calving land and seizure of natural forest resources and this is encouraged by a combination of anti-Sámi racism and a sense of entitlement to these resources.

The case study details the various compounding and interrelated system-level challenges to the survival of Henrik Andersson's reindeer and Indigenous way of life. These challenges and encroachments include (1) the development of vast wind power farms on calving and grazing land, (2) the devaluation of traditional knowledge in response to reindeer overpredation (particularly by bears), (3) industrial timber harvesting and unsuitable woodland plantation methods, (4) habitat fragmentation caused by transportation infrastructure, and (5) local hostility toward reindeer and the Sámi people. The impacts on traditional Sámi livelihood and cultural activities have been described individually in academic literature, but rarely as a complex system. Taken together, these encroachments may have impacts that are greater than the sum of their parts and must be addressed as interrelated expressions of a complex system rather than as a series of disparate and unrelated pressures.

How to cite: Mumford, E., Öhman, M.-B., and Andersson, H.: Contemporary Colonialism and Marginalized Indigenous Practice in Sweden’s Northern Forests: A Case Study on Reindeer Husbandry in Gällivare Forest Sámi Community, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-10413,, 2022.