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Sami Reindeer Herders

October 10, 2012 by  

Sami Reindeer Herders, Two hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle, near the jagged tips of Norway’s crown, the sun does not set for weeks on end during the summer months. The Sami reindeer herders are too busy to pay much attention. “We’re always in the middle of calf marking at this time,” Ingrid Gaup says, referring to the yearly ritual in which the herding families carve their ancient marks into the ears of the new calves.

In the Sami’s homeland, spread across northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, the notion of time is yoked instead to something more important than the cycles of the sun: the movement of the reindeer.

The Gaups are among the few Sami – a population estimated at around 70,000 – who still herd reindeer. Sami herders call their work boazov?zzi, which translates as “reindeer walker”, and that’s exactly what herders once did, following the animals on foot or wooden skis as they sought out the best grazing grounds over hundreds of miles of terrain. Times have changed. Herders are now assigned to specific parcels of the reindeer’s grazing territories at designated times of the year; they need expensive all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles to maintain hundreds of miles of fences and move large herds. Sara, the youngest of the Gaups’ five children, spends much of the calf- marking period texting her friends.

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