2nd World Congress of the Association of World Reindeer Herders (WRH)

Nils Ole Gaup
(reprinted with permission from the Arctic Council Indigenous Peoples' Secretariat, IPS Update Vol.1, No.2, Fall 2001)

The Association of World Reindeer Herders held its 2nd World Congress in Inari, Northern Finland18-23 June, 2001, attracting more than 200 individuals including the official delegates. In his welcome speech, chair Johan Mathis Turi gave a thorough overview on the reindeer husbandry, emphasising its global scope. Even in China and down south to the border of Japan reindeer people are found.

One estimates that in the whole world the number of semi-domesticated reindeer exceeds 6 million. In recent years the number has been on a steep decrease, in particular, in Russia, due to a fast and significant growth of the wild reindeer and the vast social and economical transitions still prevailing in post Soviet Russia. As much as 1/4 of the soil of the world is used as pastures, the exploitation extending all over the Northern Hemisphere. This Congress served as a forum for the professional indigenous peoples and other local groups in the trade to come together. It is clear that the subsistence itself is more than merely a meat industry. It is a way of life for many Arctic peoples. Therefore cultural identity is intrinsic in the husbandry, which was also transparent through the presentations, and very accurately expressed in the final statement, the so-called Anar Declaration. Concrete remedial measures are being taken in the Arctic Council projects: Sustainable Reindeer Husbandry, Sustainable Development in Northern Timberline Forests and Survey of Living Conditions in the Arctic.

Due attention must be given to co-ordinated research in a broad sense, however, with particular focus on the socio-economic situation. In this research, the situation of women, children, traditional knowledge and indigenous languages should be adequately addressed. WRH sees the next AC /AMAP report on the status of the Arctic environment an important instrument also for the reindeer peoples. The EU policy on the Arctic and Sub-Arctic region under the name Northern Dimension is highly appreciated. States where reindeer herders live are urged to ratify as soon as possible and implement the relevant international documents, the most prominent of these being the ILO Convention 169. Also to get better access to modern markets, it is necessary to improve meat processing and infrastructures. The action plan developed by indigenous peoples themselves within the Barents Co-operation should get support from regional and central authorities. Both the reindeer herding societies and the responsible governments should strive to capture the sustainable development principles lined out in the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Agenda 21.

Many developments influence reindeer herding, some with serious adverse impacts. To mention some; encroachment on pastures, pollution and contamination, legislation, lack of right to self-determination, political ignorance and poor competence at central authority level. Furthermore, and, perhaps the most conspicuous: the management of predators, wild reindeer and resource exploitation without active involvement by reindeer peoples.

However, many positive trends can be noted that will benefit the reindeer herding societies. WRH has been granted observer status by the Arctic Council. Through this forum, concerns can be channelled outwards internationally e.g. to the EU, which has a strong influence on reindeer husbandry in Finland and Sweden. These two countries are members of the union.

In this gathering, cultural entertainments were one of the important events. It was wonderful to watch performances of the folk dance group from Kamchatka, the Saami song presentation and the world lasso championship.

The Secretariat of the Association of the WRH has informed us that their official report in English of the 2nd Congress will be published in November, 2001. Translations into Russian, Finnish and Saami will subsequently be prepared.

-- The Editor