Gendered Responses to Government Intervention into Sami Reindeer Herding

Report from Dana Bellis, Master Programme in Indigenous Studies, University of Tromsø
Project 2009/1415-24

Financial support to the project: “Gendered Responses to Government Intervention into Sami Reindeer Herding.”


Would I Faint, Vomit, Run, or Come to Love the Sights and Smell’s of the Fall Slaughter?

Standing still in my white diva gumboots, I wait nervously for the slaughter to begin. I have never seen such a large animal slaughtered, and have heard the horror stories of people fainting. I am desperate for this not to be me, not this time. My friend’s organize for the work that is to come, and discuss what reindeer to select. A female, a castrate, or a bull? Each animal has its own role and contribution in the herd. The female’s are nervous by nature, the bulls when in heat will stop eating and fight amongst themselves, and the large castrates with their heavy weight will open the food in the winter pastures for the lighter smaller members of the herd. What to select then from the herd, what will be need to maintain a balance in the herd dynamic in the coming year? The day continues with the fixing of fences and equipment, coffee is drunk, and finally a larger castrate is selected. BANG! The reindeer quietly falls and the slaughter has begun. With precise precision, the process of preparing the reindeer begins. I watch, waiting fearfully for my reaction. Timidly, I ask to help and patiently I am taught the steps of preparing the reindeer. I must have looked foolish and unskilled, as I slowly learned to listen to my friends guiding words. The skin does not fight, and stretches to my fists will. Cleaning the body and scooping the warm blood out into a bowl, I have a revelation. I am still standing in consciousness, white boots painted in warm red, my own stomach contents intact, but left hungry for what will be served tonight.

The researcher in the field

The researcher in the field

Summarizing this  experience highlights the opportunity and discoveries I had on fieldwork. These  opportunities were made possible through the Strategy Funds from the University  of Tromsø’s Sami Center. The focus of my study is on contemporary Sami reindeer  herding history in Norway and Russia. By focusing on Western Finnmark and  Lovozero, I set out to see how or if government intervention has had impact the  gender division of labor within herding. Fieldwork for my thesis was carried out  from June to September 2009 in Sweden, Norway, and Russia. During this time I  conducted interviews, engaged in participant observation, and researched in  various achieves and libraries. The following report will overview the main  activities and accomplishments that I have had.

The first trip was to the University of Umeå in Sweden. I selected this location because of their achieves and active research by the universities Sami Center. Twelve days were spent in the universities archive’s exploring the relevance of the Gustaf Hallström photo collection and other suggested readings by local researchers. Hallström’s collection is noteworthy for his ethnographic depiction of northern Scandinavia and the Kola Peninsula. Images of Kautokeino and the Kola Sami helped to establish a visual context of daily life from the turn of the century. Discussions with local researchers informed me of relevant works from Sweden, and the current ongoing research projects that are expanding into masculinity.

Lovozero Annual Summer Festival

Lovozero Annual Summer Festival

Russian fieldwork was based in Lovozero on the Kola Peninsula. This included a combination of participant observation and formal interviews. Total traveling time surrounding the trip to Russia was one week. My trip was planned to coincide with the Lovozero Annual Summer Festival that would draw crowds from across Scandinavia and the Kola Peninsula. This event provided me with an excellent opportunity for observing the gathering of several communities. Most importantly, local reindeer herders were in town and accessible through my translator. Emerging from this experience was a new perspective on how economic trends have shifted the gendered division of labor.

Within Norway, my fieldwork is still ongoing. To date I have completed two weeks of interviewing and participant observation. Observing the fall slaughter and summer activities occurred on the island of Reinoy. Interviews have been conducted in Kautokeino and are continuing when convent for my informants. Balancing the herd gender dynamic has emerged as a central point in interviews thus far. Steaming from the 1978 Reindeer Herding Act the herd gender structure has shifted to containing primarily female reindeer. This has occurred to gain access to subsidies made available through the act. This is significant for the gendered division of labor through the increased need of mechanized transportation to manage the more nervous herd of female reindeer. In terms of traditional knowledge, having a herd composed of predominately female reindeer affects pasture use and management.

I would like to thank again the Sami Center for helping me with the funding of my fieldwork. Without their support, I would have not been able to pay for accommodation and travel expenses.

By Dana Bellis
MIS 08

Read the thesis online – Munin

About Siri Johnsen

Hovedtillitsvalgt for Akademikerne UiT, Norges arktiske universitet, januar 2006-januar 2017
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