Swedish Sámi fear a fresh wave of reindeer killings is linked to a recent court ruling

A decision earlier this year gave a Sámi group the right to regulate hunting and fishing in a historical region.

By Kevin McGwin - March 2, 2020
Reindeer eat supplementary feed given to them by herders during a recent winter. (Ilona Kater)

Police in northern Sweden say it is too early to tell whether reindeer found dead in various parts of the region are linked to a supreme court decision earlier this year granting a Sámi group control of fishing and small-game hunting in its territory.

Police in the Norra Lappland police district are treating the killings as a crime, but they say they have no evidence tying the killings to the Girjas Sameby ruling or to threats made to members of the group after it was handed down.

“If it turns out there is a connection, then it could be that it is a hate crime, and the investigation would be given extra high priority,” Emma Lindberg, an investigator, told SVT, a broadcaster.

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As many as 10 reindeer carcasses have been found in the past week in the area around Girjas Sameby. The first reindeer were found dead on February 22, when two plastic bags containing the remains of three reindeer that had been killed in an unidentified manner and dismembered were found discarded at roadside site used by herders to feed their animals.

Later, two reindeer were found dead, apparently after bleeding to death from gunshot wounds.

In the most recent incident, several dead and wounded reindeer were discovered over the weekend in the villages of Kalix and Järpen. According to local news outlets, one of the reindeer bled to death after being shot in the neck, while the other had been shot in the stomach and needed to be put down. A third reindeer was found dismembered and disposed of in a plastic bag.

After the supreme court handed down its decision on January 23, the Girjas Sameby reindeer herding association and its members had received threats, both online and in person. Some Swedish residents have expressed anger about the prospect of not being able to hunt or fish in the Girjas region.

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Those threats, combined with the similarity between the recent killings, as well as a series of unsolved reindeer killings five years ago to the date of the first incident last week, has led some reindeer owners to fear that they are linked.

“I’m afraid of what this might mean,” Matti Blind Berg, the president of Girjas Sameby, told Expressen, a news outlet.