Sami win case for rights to hunt, fish in Sweden

The Sami flag. (Jonathan Nackstrand / AFP)
The Sami flag in Swedish Lapland. (Jonathan Nackstrand / AFP)
The Gällivare District Court has awarded the Girjas Sami association in Norrbotten County the right to control hunting and fishing permits on their reindeer herding land, which is owned by the Swedish state.

The case involves the “Girjas sameby.” A “sameby” translates to “Sami village” and is a legal entity of indigenous Sami people that is granted a special juridical status that allows members some rights over the grazing areas used for reindeer husbandry.

Members of the Girjas Sami community believe they should be able to decide who fishes and hunts small game in the community’s reindeer herding area in the Gällivare mountains. The state currently manages hunting and fishing through local county administrative boards.

Question of human rights say Sami

Swedish Radio reports that the District Court proceedings in the spring were sometimes heated as the Sami side has painted the case as a debate about rights.

“Even if there is a legal process, there’s been a touch of politics both through the actions of the state but also because we’re highlighting Sami rights issues,” said Jenny Wik-Karlsson, legal advisor at the Swedish Sami Association, SSR, speaking with Swedish Radio. “That’s basically why we decided to file a lawsuit, the state’s unwillingness to clarify their legal position.”

During the five-week trial, Girjas litigants argued that the Sami’s long presence in the area give them those rights. They refer to their “urminnes hävd,” which is analagous to a concept from civil law called usucaption, by which ownership rights are gained by long possession.

What will decision mean for hunters?

But Hans Forsell, the state’s representative from the Office of the Chancellor of Justice, argued that the state owns the land and therefore must have a decisive influence on hunting and fishing.

“Then I ask myself how the Sami community got the notion that they have an exclusive right in relation to the state from the material presented in the case,” said Forsell during the proceedings.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Arctic missing from Paris climate agreement, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Sámi politician calls Finland “racist country”, Yle News

Greenland: What the EU seal ban has meant for Inuit communities in the Arctic, Eye on the Arctic

Norway:  Stop romanticizing Arctic development say indigenous leaders, Eye on the Arctic

Sweden:  Sami demand rights as indigenous people, Radio Sweden

Russia:  Russia brands Arctic indigenous organization as “foreign agent,” Barents Observer

United States:  Arctic conference spotlights indigenous issues, Alaska Dispatch News


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