OECD study: How can Sweden include the Sami population in regional development?

On March 27 the OECD published a study about Sweden’s indigenous peoples, the Sami’s opportunities for business activities in regional development. The OECD believes that a clearer political framework is needed in Sweden, where resources should be put aside for Sami organizations. This in order to develop Sami business and activities which would contribute to a higher quality of life in the entire region and promote Sami research as there is a lack of data on the Sami population.

The OECD´s study on the Sami population is a follow up study on the one that took place 2015-2016 on the Northern Sparsely Populates Areas (NSPA). The study is a part of the OECD´s broader project that investigates how indigenous populations in Australia, Canada, Norway and Sweden can be more included in national and regional development strategies.

The Sami population is estimated at around 20 000 to 40 000 people in Sweden, and one reason why this isn’t known is the lack of data and research on the indigenous Sami groups. The OECD study states that the most important sectors within Sami communities are reindeer husbandry, tourism and culture. Meanwhile northern Sweden’s regions are described as facing a number of challenges, for example through the sparse population perspective, the OECD highlights the regions unique strength thanks to the Sami populations collective assets. A big part of the Sami businesses and activities builds on the traditional and cultural knowledge connected to landscape preservation and production of goods and services, that Sweden according to the OECD should make better use of and learn from.

The reindeer husbandry sector has growth opportunities according to the OECD

The study highlights the reindeer husbandry sector as central to the Sami peoples as it is a central part of the Sami lifestyle and an important source of income for many people. The OECD emphasizes that the reindeer husbandry that is characterized by being small scale and ecological in its production of high-quality meat in natural environments, is unique in its kind. With a higher demand for sustainable and ecologically produced food, the reindeer meat industry has also seen a growing demand, which has led to the kilo price for reindeer meat is now historically high. The reindeer industry in Sweden and Finland collectively contributes to around 15 000 jobs and has a 1.3 billion kronor turnover.

The sector is though facing challenges. For example, attacks from predators, climate change and large infrastructure projects that effect land. OECD means that the Swedish government increasingly should specify geographical areas for the Sami people as it’s not uncommon that there are conflicts of land use between the reindeer husbandry sector and actors extracting natural resources and infrastructure developments.

Growth in tourism in northern Sweden should involve Sami people more

Tourism is a growing sector in the counties of Norr- and Västerbotten and around 8-9 of jobs are within tourism. On the other hand, there are few Sami people who own and runt their own tourism businesses. According to the report, only 40 people. The OECD sees a great potential for development for Swedish Sami people in Sápmi as an increasing number of tourists are interested in nature-based activities such as hunting, fishing, dog sledding and culture tourism. The prospects of an increase commercialization within these sectors are differing and might need funding capital to take off. Government policy plays a central role according to the OECD, to support and encourage growth within the sector. Some regional and local efforts to promote Sami cultural infrastructure have in some cases gained international attention, for instance thanks to Sami actors, musicians and move makers. The problem is that these examples represent relatively few percent of the overarching Sami business that according to the OECD have a big impact on both the Sami and Swedish community. Therefor Sami businesses should be more encouraged on both a regional and national level.

A lack of data- more targeted Sami research is needed

In the study some criticism is aimed at the Swedish state that has not supported or made it possible to gather data on ethnicity. There is no data on ethnicity connected to business or opportunities to support yourself or households which means there is a lack of data on Sami business representation. The OECD therefore gives a recommendation to the Swedish government on targeted research about Sami people is needed to fill these gaps.

In conclusion Sweden needs to fix its lack of a national political framework

The OECD suggest an increase in cooperation between different sectors in Sweden to utilize the development potential within tourism and cultural sectors for Sami communities.

It is problematic according to the OECD that there is a general lack of resources and institutional capacity for Sami organizations to participate and influence future development, and the Swedish state is encouraged to contribute more resources to this.

Finally, the OECD believes that an extensive national Sami policy is needed, with the purpose of making a Sami political framework in cooperation between the Government the Sami Council and the different Sami institutions.

/Hannes Wigerfelt

Read the OECD-study in full here.


North Sweden in the EU

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