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Herdswoman Length: 58mins
Published: 19 Sep, 2008
An exquisitely crafted, melodic doc following three Sami women as they summon the strength of their ancient heritage to ward off a threat to their livelihood. The Sami, traditionally reindeer keepers, migrate with their herds according to the rhythm of the seasons. Travelling across vast swathes of the Scandinavian hinterland, this timeless life is now under threat from the ruthless global appetite for resources.

Elizabeth, Lisa and Aina are sorting their reindeer. It’s physically tough, the reindeer more powerful than the ladies struggling to control them. “It’s all about your attitude. Even if you don’t feel strong, a strong will can be powerful.” And then, “Anders…go from this side….get him!” As a deer tries to make a bid for freedom.

This Sami community are going to need all the inner strength of their hardy communities. Mining companies, hungry for quick profits, are prowling the Sami’s traditional grazing areas, pressurising government to wrest the land away from its ancestral owners.

Lisa takes us to visit one of the hated mines. She is young, and returned home from the city to convalesce from a serious car crash. Gradually as she recovered she helped out more and more with the reindeer. Now she can’t imagine a different life. “Here is the old reindeer trail…a migrating route. It’s been cut off by this opencast mine.” The scar cut into this beautiful snow covered landscape by the mine causes palpable grief amongst the Sami community. “If this goes on, it could all come to a sad end."

Aina is 74. When she was young she used to ski many miles - child and provisions on her back. Now, still active, she gets about on a snow scooter. She is the embodiment of this ancient community, still tending the reindeer as she did as a child. She takes us up to the pastures to where the reindeer go for summer. Lisa is there too, screaming with laughter as a deer shakes off her lasoo.

Aina points to the scene as if it provides proof, “We Sami know there has always been reindeer herding here, those who could tell about the life 100 years ago, they’re all dead.” Now they’re fighting in the courts to prove they have a right to this way of life but it’s a tough case as ownership of the land has never been established.

In many respects the Sami are a modern people. They combine modern and traditional techniques to take care of their reindeer: helicopters and snow mobiles make herding more efficient, antibiotics and anti-parasitical sprays keep the herds healthy. But as Lisa explains the Sami world is distinct from modernity, “I have compared it to two soap bubbles. Two soap bubbles can meet and join, but they never become one soap bubble.”

What the Sami have can be easily lost, bulldozed by a modernity beset by greed. It is this that has made them, “grit their teeth.” And the reason? “Because it’s in your bones. It’s your identity.” And somewhere within this magical story we realise, just as the extinction of any tribe in the world is a tragedy, the Sami are no different. Without them the world will be just a little smaller but who will notice one mining company less?


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