Assessment and recommendations


The Sami are important to the economic development and quality of life in northern Sweden

The Sami are an Indigenous people who have lived for time immemorial in an area that today extends across four countries consisting of the Kola Peninsula in Russia, northern Finland, northern Norway’s coast and inland and the northern half of Sweden. This area is collectively referred to by the Sami as Sapmi (Samiland). The Sami are the only Indigenous people in Sweden and have an estimated population of around 20 000 to 40 000. A more precise population count is unknown as Sweden does not collect any statistical information on ethnicity. Across the broader Sapmi region, the Sami population is estimated at around 70 000 to 80 000, with the majority residing in Norway.

Northern Sweden faces unique challenges related to sparsity and remoteness and at the same time has unique strengths – the collective assets of the Sami form one of these strengths. The Sami economy in northern Sweden tends to involve small businesses that are grounded in an ethos of sustainability and that emphasise connections to culture. The most visible activity is reindeer husbandry, which is recognised by law as foundational for Sami ventures and culture. However, the Sami are also engaged in other economic activities such as culture (particularly a new “wave” of living culture: film, music, literature, etc.), fishing and hunting, food processing, and handicrafts that contribute to the identity and quality of life of northern Sweden, and its economic competitiveness. In order to ensure the Sami economy is strengthened and maximises its potential, it is important to understand how to make regional and rural development policies more inclusive of them.

Sami economic development is based on a symbiotic relationship with nature and the reproduction of Sami language and cultural traditions

The Sami economy in northern Sweden has a number of characteristics such as the connection between business activities and the reproduction of culture and Sami institutions, the use of traditional knowledge in the management of the landscape and the production of goods and services, balancing market participation with non-market values, and the unique property rights regime associated with reindeer husbandry.

The reindeer industry is seeing growing demand – but it is an industry under stress

The reindeer industry is characterised by the small-scale, ecological production of high-quality reindeer meat in accordance with natural conditions and seasonal changes. Growing consumer demand for sustainably produced and ecological food products has increased demand for reindeer meat and the average price per kilogram is presently at a historical high. A 2014 study estimates the value of the reindeer industry in Finland and Sweden (all aspects including reindeer meat, fur and other by-products like horn) as having an employment impact of 15 000 and a total turnover of about EUR 1.3 billion: Sweden accounts for about one-third of this total. There are an estimated 3 900 reindeer herders in Sweden, out of which 72% have registered companies; approximately 59% of these companies state reindeer husbandry as their main economic activity.

There could be opportunities for growth in this sector by improving access to markets and adopting value-added activities. However, there are also limiting factors to Sami business growth. For example, reindeer herders are faced with the need to coexist with predators, adapt to climate change and declines in lichen, and mediate conflicts with other land uses (the right to herd reindeer is based on usufructuary rights and is carried out in conjunction with other land users). Large infrastructure projects, mining activities, energy installations and forestry activities can negatively impact access to grazing land and the reindeer’s main food – ground and tree lichen. For example, there has been a significant decline (71%) in the area of lichen-abundant forests over the past 60 years in Sweden.

Unlike reindeer husbandry, fishing is at present rarely a main source of livelihoods and has recreational values. Sameby members generally have the right to fish in all lakes in sameby territory for their own use and for commercial market, but not for tourism purposes. Hunting, (mainly moose hunting) is an important activity among members in samebyar and represents a considerable share of samebyar members’ total income.

There is a growing market for tourism in northern Sweden, but there are few Sami-owned tourism businesses

Visitor nights have grown strongly in Sweden over the past decade, and the tourism industry has ambitious goals to achieve 100% growth in the sector by 2020. Tourism-related activities are important to the labour markets of the northern counties. In 2016, accommodation, and arts, entertainment and recreation services employed between 7%-9% of the labour force in the northern counties – with Västerbotten County seeing the fastest growth in this sector in recent years.

There are an estimated 40 individual Sami entrepreneurs active within tourism, most of which have been in business for less than ten years. Most of these entrepreneurs are women and around 50% run businesses combined with reindeer husbandry, or other Sami trades like duodji (Sami handicrafts). Organised Sami tourism is thus a relatively new Sami trade. The vast majority of these companies are small-scale, with only a few employing more than five seasonal workers. A growing nature-based tourism sector with activities such as hunting, fishing, skiing, snowmobiling and dog‐sledding, has the potential to create new sources of income and future employment opportunities for the Sami. These activities need to be carefully managed as they can negatively impact render herding.

There are further opportunities in industries related to tourism such as food production and duodji. There is a growing demand for high quality and ecological food products worldwide for which Sami food products are well-suited. These activities are quite limited at the moment. For example, out of the 3 700 companies registered in the Sami Parliament business register, less than 2% (65 companies) have stated food production as their main activity. There are very few Sami owned meat processing firms – therefore, the Sami engaged in reindeer husbandry are rarely capturing the value added from the processing of meat. Duodji have a strong symbolic value for the Sami identity and are important for cultural reproduction. Out of the 3 700 companies registered in the Sami Parliament business register, just 2% (78 companies) have stated duodji as their main activity. One of the greatest barriers to the expansion of this industry is the proliferation of products that culturally appropriate duodji in style and substance, but that are in fact mass-produced, largely for the tourist market.

The Sami cultural sector is relatively small – it will likely require seed capital, grants and other supports to flourish

Sami culture and traditions are a unique asset to northern Sweden. This sector includes photo, film, performing arts, literature, music/joik, multimedia, fine art and museum activities. Relatively few Sami businesses note this as a main economic activity. Out of the 3 700 companies registered in the Sami Parliament business register, 2.7% (100 companies) have culture as their main activity. The prospects for the commercialisation for this sector differ and may require either seed capital or grants in order to thrive. Government policies hence play an important role in supporting and encouraging the growth of this sector. Moreover, regional and municipal governments and instrumental in developing and supporting the cultural infrastructure – e.g. workshop space, museums, theatres, performance spaces and community spaces – that helps this industry thrive. Sami actors, musicians, film directors etc. are a small percentage of Sami businesses, but have a large positive impact on Swedish society and have gained international recognition.

A lack of statistical data on the Sami in Sweden makes it difficult to understand the Sami business sector, livelihoods and well-being

There is no official statistical data on the range of the Sami businesses sector and trades, nor data about Sami companies in Sweden. Within the rural economy, Sami participate in a range of sectors and commercial activities outside the traditional trades and culture as both business owners and employees in such industries as mining and forestry but it difficult to gauge the scope and scale of these activities.

This lack of data makes it challenging to present a comprehensive picture of livelihoods and well-being and the nature of change over time. Data privileges traditional activities simply because these are easier to identify as Sami under current data collection practices (these activities are captured by reindeer industry codes in official statistics). It is estimated that less than 20% of the Sami population is connected to reindeer herding. Therefore, the range and diversity of Sami livelihoods are thus poorly captured and this, in turn, has implications for how Sami contributions are recognised and linked with regional policies in northern Sweden.

The Sami Parliament is responsible for the production of some statistics (e.g. on the reindeer industry), but has limited resources and mandate with which to develop and monitor indicators in such areas as industry/business, culture and social development. While the Sami Parliament has a voting list of people which could be a useful source of data, it cannot use this list to produce statistics due to the prohibition of government agencies collecting data on ethnicity.

A wide range of policies across levels of government shape the enabling environment for Sami business development

The enabling environment for Sami businesses is shaped by a range of national sectoral policies (e.g. infrastructure development, natural resources exploitation, environmental policies and supports for business development) and frameworks for regional and rural development alongside policies and services at the regional/county and municipal levels. This policy environment structures how Sami rights are realised in practice, how services are delivered and the types of business support that is on offer.

Sweden’s National Strategy for Sustainable Regional Growth and Attractiveness 2015-20 is the main framework document to guide regional development policies. The strategy integrates economic, social and environmental (ecological) sustainability into all regional growth priorities and establishes national-level priorities for promoting sustainable regional growth. Within the Strategy, Sami businesses are referenced as a unique asset of the northern regions for which it is important to improve cross-border co-ordination.

While the strategic objectives, programmes and funding of the national government structures opportunities at the regional and local level – regions themselves also elaborate regional development strategies (RUS). While the cultural assets of the Sami are identified in all northern regional development strategies – only the Västerbotten region concretely addresses the need for improved engagement with the Sami.

Municipalities also matter for regional development; they, for instance, provide services for the Sami related to language rights and are therefore important for cultural reproduction. Municipalities also consult with reindeer herders where any land rights and access issues may arise. Where municipalities have been proactive in their relationship with Sami peoples in support of economic and cultural development, there have been very positive outcomes. The Economic Agency and Development Company in Gällivare (Ávki) is a case in point.


Improving data collection and dissemination

There are ongoing discussions on the need for statistics on minority and ethnic groups in Sweden – Sami included. Ideally, information could be collected through Sweden’s survey on living conditions which examines a range of variables over time and which would facilitate comparative analysis between groups. However, absent legislative change, alternative strategies are needed. Some options to improve data collection and dissemination for Sami are summarised below.

  • Synthesise current data sources and identify data limitations in their use and dissemination. The landscape of data collection on Sami people and communities (and all other ethnic minorities) is fragmented. Resources are needed to determine what is currently captured and known and by whom and to analyse how data from these sources could potentially be compiled in a comparable manner to develop a more robust picture of Sami conditions.

  • Increase research funding for Sami data collection. Given the lack of official statistics on the Sami in Sweden, there is a particular need for research grants directed to fill this gap. Sweden’s largest research funding agency – the Swedish Research Council – does not have any targeted funding programmes for Sami researchers or the study of Sami. This stands in contrast to the research granting councils of Australia, Canada and Norway where there are specific funding streams for research on Indigenous peoples and communities and, in the case of Canada, funding directed specifically to Indigenous researchers.

  • Develop ethical guidelines for research on the Sami. Sami research ethics guidelines should be developed and should be structured to facilitate comparative research across the four countries encompassing Sapmi. Norway’s Sami Parliament is presently developing ethical guidelines on health research which could form the basis of a broader Sapmi-wide framework.

  • Enhance the role and capabilities of the Sami Parliament in statistics collection. Allocating a competency to the Sami Parliament for Sami economic statistics and reporting for policy development and regulatory decision making (with resources) could include: i) a standardised approach to Reindeer Husbandry Plans (which describe how samebyar use land for reindeer husbandry) which could be extended to include strategic priorities for future land use and; ii) an Annual State of the Sami Economy report, which provides an overview of trends in reindeer and non-reindeer related economic activities, and that highlights best practices innovations in different categories (e.g. reindeer herding, duodji, women, youth, etc.). A co-operation agreement between the Sami Parliament and other key state, regional and local economic development agencies (e.g. Agency for Economic and Regional Growth) on economic statistics to govern co-operation on data and information and share expertise/secondment could support such efforts. Such endeavours would require enhanced capacity within the Sami Parliament to fulfil this expanded role and, in the case of reindeer husbandry plans, would need to involve all samebyar.

  • Expand industry codes for Sami businesses. The lack of industry (Standard Industrial Classification, SNI) codes for other Sami-owned companies makes it difficult to maintain and update data and to demonstrate the value of Sami business activities. A prefix for Sami businesses and commercial activity in the SNI system for statistics would help to identify relevant data and monitor changes over time. This would make it possible to describe and demonstrate the importance of Sami businesses.

An enabling environment for Sami businesses and livelihoods

The Swedish government provides a range of supports for Sami businesses including funds which are administered by the Sami Parliament as an agency of government. These funding programmes along with initiatives at the regional and local levels play a critical role in supporting Sami economic development and cultural reproduction. There are a number of ways to improve current policy settings for Sami businesses and economic development.

Make regional and rural development programme design more inclusive of the Sami

Sami businesses and institutions can face some unique challenges in accessing European Union (EU) funds. For example, the minimum threshold size for grants and matching requirements may be too high; the reproduction of traditional knowledge and culture may not be recognised as a legitimate economic development objective; there is a mismatch between the needs of reindeer herders available funding and; there may be administrative burdens associated with grant applications on micro-enterprises.

There are a number of options available to address these challenges and make regional and rural development programmes more inclusive of the Sami which are the purview of the Swedish government but also at the EU-level:

  • Ensure that Sami business and economic development objectives are better reflected in future revisions of Smart Specialisation Strategies, and European Regional Development Funds allocations in Sapmi.

  • Provide support for intermediary organisations that can support collaboration between Sami owned businesses so they can build scale to jointly apply for grants.

  • Redesign rules/create opt-outs in the existing programme framework that create barriers to accessibility for Sami owned businesses.

  • Create a separate Sami economic development programme that would combine funding from the EU rural and regional development funds, and give the Sami Parliament of Sweden the competency to managing it and promoting the Sami economy.

  • Explore the potential of linking focus areas such as language and health within the European Social Fund with the Sami in regional and rural development efforts.

Address regulatory and financial barriers to Sami business development

Some Sami businesses face challenges in accessing capital for business development either because they are small and the types of loans that are available may not be the right fit; because there is a lack of data on industry potential in the case of duodji or; because land use rights for reindeer herders cannot be used as collateral for financial purposes. These types of challenges in accessing financing are common for Indigenous entrepreneurs across the OECD. There are two key options to consider for removing legislative and financial barriers to Sami business development:

  • Remove restrictions in the Reindeer Husbandry Act (1971) to samebyar undertaking other economic activities.

  • Examine the viability of establishing a Sami-led Financial Institution (potentially pan Sapmi) that could provide financial intermediation and capacity building initiatives for Sami entrepreneurs and businesses.

Any review of laws and regulations related to reindeer herding should also consider the differences in rights and access to land between Sami who are members of Sami villages and Sami who are not.

Ensure regional and rural development programmes support clustering activities to support small businesses

By clustering activities in certain sectors, Sami entrepreneurs can build capacity (e.g. pool marketing efforts) and have better access to markets. There are examples for instance of hubs for the development of duodji that have played a critical role in the community. Public funding to support these types of hubs/spaces (e.g. initial project loans or grants) can thus boost both Sami business and cultural development. Options to better support clustering activities by Sami entrepreneurs are:

  • Including a specific reference in programme criteria for the EU rural and regional development funds to support small-scale clusters for Sami businesses.

  • Recognise the role that Sami institutions (schools and cultural centres) can play as business incubators, and in business growth, and ensure they have the funding to provide this role.

Building capacity in the Sami business sector – Strengthening the role of intermediary institutions

Intermediary institutions – those that can act as a bridge between government and other funders and businesses – offer critical supports for Sami entrepreneurship. An effective example of this is the Economic Agency and Development Company in Gällivare (Ávki) which has a specialised competence in supporting the Sami business community. Such organisations are often in a precarious funding position, relying disproportionally on short-term project funding. More stability in their operations would help them improve their services, develop new projects including mentorship for new and aspiring entrepreneurs, and enhance their ability to partner with regional and local development efforts. Policy options to better support Sami-led development organisations are:

  • Provide core funding to these institutions to support projects and support Sami development in society.

  • Consider extending the Ávki model to other municipalities in the Sami language administrative area (or alternatively investigate a shared services model between municipalities).

Expand skills and training opportunities for Sami business development

Growth opportunities for Sami businesses and for northern Sweden more generally in such areas as tourism, cultural industries and food production require training and business skills in order to reach new markets and development, and deliver high-quality products and experiences. Training opportunities in mainstream Swedish education institutions are often too far away from where Sami live, do not offer training in Sami language, or simply do not operate on a timetable sensitive to the annual migration of reindeer that shapes Sami life. In the Rural Development Programme, there are funds managed by the Sami Parliament to support training. However, the reach and specialisation of such training could be expanded and involve a broader array of actors and institutions. Policy options to enhance skills and training opportunities for Sami business development are:

  • Adapt rules related to the delivery of business training programmes to better match the needs of Sami entrepreneurs in rural areas.

  • Expand the availability of culturally sensitive business training opportunities (e.g. in Sami language, and/or led by the Sami community and institutions).

Developing a sustainable Sami-led tourism industry

The tourism industry has been identified as a growth opportunity in Northern Sweden. There is potential to develop this industry further – particularly among Sami entrepreneurs. Regional governments are taking a great interest in how they can support tourism efforts together with local governments and key stakeholders, the Sami among them. For example, the region of Norrbotten is investing in Swedish Lapland in tourism in order to strengthen work in this area with Sami entrepreneurs. There is a need to better link Sami tourism with broader efforts.

Part of building a sustainable tourism industry in north Sweden requires addressing land use conflicts. The County Administrative Boards (CABs) should provide better guidance to tourism operators about regulatory compliance issues prior to their engagement with Sami. More generally, there is a need for awareness building and cultural training for tourism operations.

Policy options to develop a more sustainable Sami-led tourism industry are:

  • Provide a sustainable financing solution for Sami-led efforts related to certification, raising awareness, and capacity building for tourism operators.

  • The northern counties together with local destination companies collaborate with the Sami Parliament, regional tourism organisations, regional and local destination companies as Swedish Lapland and Visit Sapmi to ensure visibility for Sami tourism assets in local and regional promotional material. It is noted that Visit Sapmi no longer operational due to a lack of funding.

  • For the CABs to develop and promote guidance regarding how tourism operators should engage with reindeer herders and monitor compliance in relation to it (including providing information about reindeer migration timing and routes).

Investments in Sami culture and education are investments in Sami economic development

Sami economic development is linked to Sami culture. Northern regional development strategies all mention the importance of Sami culture as a key asset. However, there are relevantly few institutions that promote Sami culture in Sweden in comparison to, for example, Norway. Sami organisations that support the cultural sector are highly reliant on project funding and volunteer efforts. It is very difficult to build robust cultural institutions with these constraints. The precarious nature of funding in this sector means that employees of Sami cultural institutions often have limited job security and tend to supplement this income with duodji. Policy options to develop stronger Sami cultural institutions to support economic development efforts are:

  • Work with the Sami Duodji Foundation to develop a strategy to raise awareness about the Duodji mark of authentication in Sweden, particularly with the tourism sector.

  • Undertake an audit of access to cultural institutions in northern Sweden for Sami people, and identify options for sustainable funding related to their community and economic development functions.

Better linking the Sami with regional and rural development efforts

Improve engagement with Sami society in the context of regional and rural development

Recent regional reforms in Sweden present new opportunities for engagement and inclusion of the Sami in decision making in northern Sweden. While the unique assets of the Sami for northern development are recognised at a general level, regional strategies for development do not have clear mechanisms (policies/programmes) through which to support these assets and promote their development and there are limited incentives for the regional level to engage with the Sami.

A greater understanding and awareness about Sami society and livelihoods is needed. Sami society is characterised by many local and small-scale institutions (samebyar, community associations, educational, arts and cultural institutions) that provide an important function in the reproduction of Sami language and culture, kinship relations, and identity. However, these institutions tend to lack capacity and scale to meaningfully engage in (and influence) decision-making, and attract and organise resources to promote cultural activities and exchange, and economic development. The Sami Parliament and other national organisations do play an important role at a national level; however, this tends to be framed in terms of culture and language (and not economic development), and connections with the municipal and regional levels are weak.

Engagement takes many forms – from information to consultation and at the most involved level, co-decision making. More structured engagement processes where there is a real impact on outcomes for those involved will help to build trust among actors. Policy options to improve engagement with Sami society in the context of regional and rural development are:

  • Establish an annual dialogue and agreement between the Sami Parliament and the northern counties (CABs and regions) to govern strategic co-operation in areas such as economic development, culture and language, land management, and health and education services.

  • Implement a framework and tools for the duty of public bodies (CABs, regions, municipalities) to consult with the Sami, and complement this with initiatives to build governance capacity and cross-cultural understanding.

  • Assess the resourcing implications of the duty to consult on the administrative capacities of the Sami Parliament to ensure it is effectively implemented.

  • Growing competencies for regional planning offer a unique opportunity for regions to adopt a strong spatial vision for development. This spatial vision should include the Sami. The Sami Parliament in Sweden has expressed an interest in a regional co-operation agreement of the type that is used in Norway which could be used to consider land use issues from this integrated perspective.

Land management and regional development

Rights to consultation on land use issues should be clarified and capacity building for Sami institutions/organisations

The question of how land is used, how land rights and consultations on new developments are structured and who is and should be involved in this process are among the most challenging issues to address in terms of how the Sami are included in regional and rural development. An analysis by the Sami Parliament of the threats faced by Sami in relation to their traditional lands and Sami society more generally puts the issue of rights to land and natural resources front and centre. Other top threats identified all also relate to land use and the environment: these include the commercial use of land for resource exploitation and extractive industries is seen as a threat to traditional livelihoods; the impact of increased recreational activities and tourism; the management of nature reserves and national parks which can restrict reindeer movement; a growth in the large carnivore population and; climate change.

Stronger and more consistent parameters around how and when consultation should occur and with whom are needed. This is important not just for the Sami but for the industries pursuing development in the north for whom it is unclear who they should consult with and how. The absence of Sami rights to the ownership of land coupled with co-existence of Sami rights related to reindeer herding along with minerals extraction as issues of national interest generates uncertainty and conflict for all parties in northern Sweden.

In the absence of legislation that clarifies unresolved questions regarding Sami land rights, there are several actions can help to better structure the engagement process with the Sami for natural resources exploration and development:

  • Develop a guideline for the mining, forestry and energy industries together with the Sami Parliament and other Sami stakeholders on how the engagement process should proceed and who should be involved in the process that are clear and consistent, including parameters around what type of information is provided to communities at each step of the process.

  • Ensure upstream engagement and rules around how and when notifications should proceed and the nature of the engagement (format, etc.) within the framework of the Minerals Act and Environmental Code.

  • Strengthen the capacity of samebyar to be effective partners for engagement; this may entail financial resources alongside some greater overall institutional and analytical capacity to manage demands for consultation.

The management of the Laponia World Heritage site is noted as a best practice for co-management in Sweden. Laponia’s co-management model has meaningfully included Sami in decision making and while operational issues remain (such as the need of enhancing capacity for Sami to engage), it is a model that should be strengthened and emulated in other areas.

Enhanced regional spatial planning and an integrated perspective

Reindeer husbandry activities are part of the national framework for land use planning but aspects of land use management practices, which are important for reindeer herding, are embedded in sectoral policies which can be siloed (e.g. across tourism, large predators, transportation and energy investments). There is a need for an integrated perspective across spatial and land use planning and sectoral dimensions – transportation, infrastructure, and critically, natural resources and extractive industries (energy, mining, forestry). The land use needs of Sami communities should be considered within land use and management impact analysis and this should be done in all sectoral permitting processes. Presently, the weight of Sami perspectives within the permit decision-making processes is often weak and/or treated in an inconsistent manner.

One important resource to help develop an integrated perspective on land use which incorporates the Sami perspective is reindeer management plans. Reindeer management plans describe how the Sami use land for reindeer herding and are used to inform others of these activities in order to co-ordinate multiple land uses and manage any conflicts. Samebyar can be hesitant to share their detailed data on how land is used by their herders because it can be misconstrued. The Government of Sweden provides yearly financial support to the Sami Parliament to update Reindeer Management Plans.

Regional spatial planning that is better integrated, and more inclusive of the Sami, can be achieved by:

  • Incorporate Reindeer Management Plans into strategic spatial and land use planning, and permitting decision-making.

  • Allocating a competency to the body responsible for regional development to produce a regional spatial plan and ensure it is integrated with planning for future natural resource use, and Sami land use.

Towards a comprehensive national Sami policy

The policies directed to the Sami are limited to a subset of issues related to the manner in which rights frameworks are structured – namely reindeer husbandry and culture and language rights related to national minority status. There are policy siloes that make it difficult to have a comprehensive understanding of the manner in which the Sami are engaged and how policies are directed to them.

A comprehensive national Sami policy is needed. Policy options to improve the policy framework for the Sami in Sweden are:

  • That the Government of Sweden, in partnership with the Sami Parliament and Sami institutions, move toward the development of a National Sami Policy that can:

    1. 1. Identify future priorities for the development of Sami society.

    2. 2. Assess the current policy framework in an integrated way and identify actions to improve it.

    3. 3. Clarify responsibilities for Sami society between different agencies and levels of government.

    4. 4. Establish mechanisms to build the capacity of the Sami Parliament (such as MOUs to govern data, information and resource sharing).

    5. 5. Establish agreed mechanisms for co-ordination and dialogue between different levels of government.

  • Establish an annual strategic dialogue between the Swedish Government and the Sami Parliament to assess progress in the implementation of this policy, and to identify priorities for future action.

  • In the medium to longer term, Sweden should consider how this rights framework could evolve to meet the contemporary needs of Sami people and to better support their unique cultural identity and self-determination. Opening up rights frameworks to reform is extremely political and undoubtedly a long and challenging process. However, there is growing recognition in many countries that their evolution is critical in order to improve relations and support Indigenous self-determination.

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