As Christmas nears, we are reminded of the symbolism of reindeer, the magical creatures who pull Santa's sleigh in Western stories. But beyond the festive tradition is the backdrop of a struggle for the rights of indigenous communities in a place where fantasy meets reality. In Norway, a controversial court ruling may hinder the rights of an indigenous community.
The Sami people, an indigenous community in Norway, are best known for their reindeer husbandry, or the use of reindeer for needs such as food and transportation. The Guardian reported that the Oslo Supreme Court had rejected an appeal made by Jovsset Ante Sara, a Sami small reindeer herder in the Norwegian Arctic. The court ruled that he must comply with an earlier order to cull 41 of his 116-strong herd. Sara has successfully challenged the order twice previously, but he says the current order, which mandates an elimination in the number of reindeer that a herder can have, will significantly impact Sara's ability to provide for himself and his family, along with infringing on indigenous rights.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Food has defended their policy, saying that "it's necessary to prevent Norway's estimated 220,000 reindeer from overgrazing." In turn, the Supreme Court asserts that Sara's rights were not violated, as the reduction policy was "in the interests of the whole reindeer husbandry industry”, thus making the regulation "reasonable."
In protest of the controversial culling laws gaining traction in the country, bullet-ridden reindeer heads have been installed outside of Norway's Parliment in protest of a Supreme Court case challenging the Norwegian government's policy on reindeer reduction, as The New York Times reports. The protest of the appeal using art was led by Marat Anne Sara, who is the artist and activist behind the installation of reindeer skulls and Sara's older sister. Her artwork included 400 reindeer skulls hanging from a macabre curtain outside of Norwegian Parliament, as an attempt to raise public awareness about the effects this decision has made on the indigenous community who are harmed the most by reindeer reduction policies.
The case has roused strong feelings amongst the Sami community, bringing to question the necessity of tradition and upholding community rights. Though the Norway government's reduction policy was aimed to keep the herd down to levels that were economically and culturally sustainable, the question still remains on the importance of doing so while not infringing on the rights of citizens.