The northern lights are one of the most spectacular natural phenomena in the world, attracting millions of visitors to the Arctic regions every year. But there is much more to discover in these lands than the dazzling auroras. In this article, we will explore the fascinating culture and lifestyle of the Sámi people, the indigenous inhabitants of Lapland, who have a close and ancient connection with reindeer.

What are the Sámi and how do they live?

The Sámi are an ethnic group that live in the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, collectively known as Sápmi or Lapland. They have their own languages, traditions, customs and identity, which have been shaped by the harsh and beautiful environment they inhabit. The Sámi are recognized as an indigenous people by the United Nations and have their own political and cultural institutions.

One of the most distinctive features of the Sámi culture is their reliance on reindeer herding as a source of food, income, clothing and transportation. Reindeer herding has been practiced for centuries by the Sámi, who have developed a deep knowledge and respect for these animals. Reindeer are not only domesticated but also considered as family members and companions by the Sámi.


Reindeer herding is not only a livelihood but also a way of life for many Sámi families, who follow the seasonal migrations of their herds across vast areas of land. Depending on the region, some Sámi still live in traditional dwellings such as lavvus (tents) or goahtis (turf huts), while others have settled in modern houses or apartments. However, they all share a strong sense of belonging to their community and their ancestral lands.

How to become a Sámi reindeer herder?

Reindeer herding is not a profession that anyone can choose or learn easily. It requires a lot of dedication, skills, patience and passion. Most Sámi reindeer herders inherit their herds from their parents or relatives, who pass on their knowledge and experience to the next generation. Reindeer herding is regulated by laws and agreements that determine who can own and manage reindeer, how many reindeer can be kept, where they can graze and how they can be used.


To become a Sámi reindeer herder, one must also have a strong connection with nature and the animals. Reindeer herders spend most of their time outdoors, in all kinds of weather conditions, caring for their reindeer and ensuring their well-being. They must also be able to cope with the challenges and risks that come with living in remote and wild areas, such as predators, diseases, accidents and conflicts.

Reindeer herding is not a glamorous or lucrative job, but it is a rewarding and meaningful one for those who love it. Reindeer herders take pride in their work and their culture, which they consider as a gift and a responsibility. Reindeer herding is not only a way to make a living but also a way to preserve and transmit the Sámi identity and heritage.

What are the benefits and challenges of reindeer herding?

Reindeer herding offers many benefits to the Sámi people and society at large. Reindeer herding contributes to the food security, economic development, social cohesion and cultural diversity of the Arctic regions. Reindeer meat is a nutritious and sustainable source of protein that is consumed locally and exported globally. Reindeer products such as hides, antlers, bones and milk are used for various purposes such as clothing, handicrafts, medicine and cosmetics.

Reindeer herding also plays an important role in maintaining the ecological balance and biodiversity of the Arctic ecosystems. Reindeer grazing helps to prevent overgrowth of vegetation, reduce fire risk, fertilize soil and disperse seeds. Reindeer also serve as indicators of environmental change, as they are sensitive to variations in climate, vegetation and water quality.

However, reindeer herding also faces many challenges in the modern world. Reindeer herding is threatened by climate change, which affects the availability and quality of pasture lands, water sources and snow cover. Climate change also increases the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as storms, floods and droughts that can harm reindeer health and survival.

Reindeer herding is also affected by human activities such as mining, logging, tourism, infrastructure development and military operations that encroach on reindeer habitats and disrupt their migration routes. These activities can cause habitat loss, fragmentation, degradation and pollution that can reduce reindeer productivity and diversity.

Reindeer herding is also subject to social and political pressures such as discrimination, marginalization, assimilation and conflicts that undermine the rights and interests of the Sámi people. These pressures can limit the access and control of the Sámi over their lands, resources and institutions that are essential for their well-being and self-determination.

How to support and learn more about reindeer herding?

Reindeer herding is a valuable and unique cultural practice that deserves respect and recognition from the rest of the world. Reindeer herding is not only a matter of survival but also a matter of pride and identity for the Sámi people, who have a lot to teach and share with others. Reindeer herding is not only a source of income but also a source of inspiration and wisdom for humanity, who can learn from the Sámi how to live in harmony with nature and each other.

There are many ways to support and learn more about reindeer herding, such as:

Visiting Sámi communities and reindeer farms in Lapland, where you can experience the authentic lifestyle and culture of the Sámi people and their reindeer. You can also participate in activities such as feeding, milking, sledding and riding reindeer, as well as enjoying traditional food, music and crafts.

Supporting Sámi organizations and initiatives that promote and protect the rights and interests of the Sámi people and their reindeer. You can also donate or volunteer for projects that aim to improve the living conditions, education, health and empowerment of the Sámi people and their reindeer.

Educating yourself and others about the history, culture, challenges and achievements of the Sámi people and their reindeer. You can also raise awareness and advocate for the recognition and respect of the Sámi people and their reindeer as an indigenous people with a distinct identity and heritage.

Buying Sámi products that are made from reindeer or inspired by reindeer. You can also support Sámi businesses that are based on reindeer or related to reindeer. By doing so, you can help to sustain the economic viability and cultural vitality of reindeer herding.

Common questions about reindeer herding

Here are some common questions that people may have about reindeer herding:

How many reindeer are there in Lapland?

According to the latest statistics from 2019, there are about 1.8 million domesticated reindeer in Lapland, distributed among Norway (250,000), Sweden (250,000), Finland (200,000) and Russia (1.1 million). There are also some wild reindeer populations in Norway (30,000) and Russia (400,000).

How many Sámi are involved in reindeer herding?

According to the latest estimates from 2016, there are about 100,000 Sámi living in Lapland, of which about 10% are directly involved in reindeer herding. However, many more Sámi have indirect or occasional involvement in reindeer herding, such as family members, employees, customers or partners.

How do you tell apart different reindeer?

Reindeer have different physical characteristics such as size, color, shape, horns, ears, tail and markings that can help to distinguish them from each other. Reindeer also have different personalities and behaviors that can make them recognizable to their owners. Reindeer are also given names by their owners that reflect their appearance or character.

How do you count reindeer?

Reindeer are counted by using different methods such as visual observation, ear tags, microchips, GPS collars or drones. Reindeer are also counted by using traditional techniques such as counting hoof prints on snow or estimating numbers based on experience.

How do you communicate with reindeer?

Reindeer communicate with each other by using different sounds such as grunts, snorts, clicks or bellows that convey different messages such as greetings, warnings, threats or invitations. Reindeer also communicate with humans by using body language such as eye contact, head movements or ear positions that indicate different moods such as curiosity, fear, anger or affection. Humans communicate with reindeer by using voice commands such as whistles, calls or names that instruct them to perform different actions such as stop, go or come.


Reindeer herding is a fascinating and important aspect of the Sámi culture and lifestyle that deserves our attention and appreciation. Reindeer herding is not only a way to survive in the Arctic but also a way to thrive in harmony with nature. Reindeer herding is not only a tradition from the past but also a vision for the future.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article and learned something new about reindeer herding. If you have any questions or comments about this topic, please feel free to share them with us. We would love to hear your feedback and suggestions. Thank you for your time and interest.


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