Human expansion is threatening the traditions and customs of Sami culture. A study in Norway found that in the last century, undisturbed reindeer habitat had shrunk by 70%. These traditional reindeer grazing lands were taken for logging, mining, and flooded for hydroelectric dams. Even as recent as a few months ago, Greta Thunburg criticized a decision by the Swedish government to allow a UK firm to mine on Sami land.
The Sami are said to have hundreds of terms for snow. These differ based on texture, depth, and density. Tjaevi is snow that is made up of flakes stuck together, and is hard to dig through. Seaŋáš is fluffy and grainy, easily manipulated. However, there is no name for the recent snow the Sami have been seeing. It is the result of traditionally semi-permanent snow melting due to hotter temperatures, turning to rain, which then freezes on the ground as ice.
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The Sami’s reindeer herds feed predominantly on lichen, plus other arctic plants growing under the snow. They use their hooves to scoop and dig through the snow to get to their food, but recently, things have changed. The lichen is trapped under this new, frozen ice, which the reindeer cannot dig through.
This threat to accessing food supplies is deadly when combined with the reindeer’s loss of habitat to human expansion. A Sami herder notes that previous herding generations used skis to go to the reindeer, now they use snowmobiles because the distances are greater, as the reindeer must go further and work harder to find food. Modern society is causing mass reindeer starvation, threatening the Sami’s sacred customs and herding culture.