Norway’s Christmas cheer includes mandatory mass reindeer slaughter

DCNFJoshua Gill, DCNF

Reindeer herd in mid-winter, Norwegian Arctic (Photo by Scott Wallace/Getty Images)

Santa’s sleigh may be a few reindeer short as Norway’s Supreme Court has ordered a reindeer herder to slaughter much of his herd just days before Christmas.

The supreme court in Oslo ordered Jovsset Ante Sara, a reindeer herder of the semi-nomadic Sami people, to slaughter 41 of his herd of 116 on the grounds that a herd of his size is unsustainable and contributes to overgrazing, according to the New York Post.

Sara has successfully defended against the order twice since it was originally given in 2014 and says he will appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) since killing that many of his herd would make it impossible for him to make a living, according to The Guardian.

“It shows the court does not believe the Sami people can decide on their own destiny,” Trond Pedersen Biti, Sara’s lawyer, told The Guardian. “The government seems to believe that the reindeer herders do not know best.”

The Norwegian government’s lawyer, Stein-Erik Jahr Dahl, argued that making a living from reindeer herding was not a right, and that the government was well within its jurisdiction to keep the reindeer population at “ecologically, economically and culturally sustainable” levels.

Dahl claimed that reindeer herders are not entitled “to keep a specific number of reindeer, nor to keep enough reindeer to enjoy a financial return or do it as a full-time job,” according to The Guardian.

The government’s position garnered strong disapproval from the Sami people, for whom reindeer herding is an ancestral trade. Maret Anne Sara, Jovsset’s sister, installed an art exhibit earlier in December in the entrance of Norway’s parliament comprised of 400 reindeer skulls each bearing gun shots, to protest the government’s interference in the Sami people’s practice.

The government’s policies concerning reindeer population and overgrazing also drew criticism from scholars who say the laws are not based on facts. Tor A Benjaminson, professor of environmental sciences, lambasted the laws, saying they “bore no relation to the facts” and that the evidence did not suggest that the size of reindeer herds were adversely affecting Norway’s ecology.

Sara said he will make his appeal to the ECHR not only on the basis that the policies governing reindeer population are faulty, but also on the fact that reindeer herding is a culturally significant tradition to the Sami people, who are one of northern Europe’s oldest indigenous people groups.

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