Keeping the Sámi traditions alive

Keeping the Sámi traditions alive

Lars-Jon Gråik is a reindeer herder. His herd roam lands that span from Jijnjevaerie Sámi village in Northwest Jämtland into parts of Norway, and down to the Hammerdal region.

Lars-Jon was one of three younger reindeer herders that participated in the SVT documentary series "Renskötarna" (translated "The Reindeer Herders"). The series gave a unique look into the everyday life of the present generation reindeer herders in Sweden.

Generation after generation the Sámi are continuing the custom of looking after the reindeer that are native to the region. They are facing challenges that make it increasingly harder to continue their traditions, including climate change, deforestation and predators.

We spoke to Lars-Jon during the autumn gathering of the herd.

Can you describe what you do.

Being a reindeer herder is not an 8 to 5 job, it is a lifestyle. Being a reindeer herder today, does not just mean being in the mountains or in the forest next to the reindeers. We have to be extremely knowledgeable in most things. Everything is a struggle. To be able to preserve our lands, and keep our herds that our ancestors managed for generations before us.

We are located in Jijnjevaerie Sámi village in Northwest Jämtland during the summer, then grazes down towards the Hammerdal area in the winter.

How can one become a reindeer herder?

You must first be a Sámi, then you must be a member of a Sámi village. There is no school or education to become a reindeer herder, it is a tradition and culture that is passed on from generation to generation. So it's something you are born into, and that you grow up with. You get to be involved from the moment you are born and learn that way.

Were you always sure you wanted to continue with the tradition of being a reindeer herder?

I have felt all my life that this is the life I want to live and what I want to work with. I have had my own reindeers since the day of my baptism. And had my own business since I was 18 years old.

What is the most rewarding thing about being a reindeer herder?

The most rewarding thing is being able to live in harmony with nature and the animals.

You get the opportunity to follow nature and animals from mountain to coast and experience all weather phenomena. Wind, sunshine and storm.

The most rewarding thing is being able to live in harmony with nature and the animals.

What is the most difficult?

Becoming a reindeer herder is not easy, it's not something just anyone can become. Reindeer husbandry differs greatly from north to south, and between countries such as Norway and Russia. The only things reindeer herders in general has in common across the countries are the great setbacks such as predators, land exploitation, forestry, growing infrastructures, and incomprehensible politicians.

The conditions for reindeer herders are different depending on how we can operate on the land. More exploitation of nature and more predators means that the job becomes much more difficult for reindeer herders.

Do you see any changes in the conditions of your job in recent years?

We see a big difference in the climate in recent years. It's one of the hardest things to learn to live with today.

The current Swedish predator policy it very difficult for the reindeer industry, we lose up to 50% of the reindeers every year to the predators, while the compensation for predator losses is the same as in the 90’s. This leads to it being very tough to start reindeer husbandry today.

Do you have any advice for other reindeer herders?

My advice to reindeer herders is: Never give up! Do not let yourself be bought. Go in fully!


Lars-Jon is wearing our Jämtland sweatshirt and Jämtland Neckwarmer. Both made from 100% Swedish wool from Jämtland, manufactured in Sweden. On top of the sweatshirt, he is wearing our Findor jacket, also made in Sweden from 100% Swedish wool, with buttons crafted from reindeer antlers.

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