Sustainability from the Perspective of Reindeer – pt 2

When global media are reporting on climate change and indigenous peoples, I often hear the phrase “the most vulnerable”. Often It comes off as Indigenous peoples are weaker, and therefore more exposed to the challenges of a changing climate. That the reindeer is starving and dying because its helpless. That’s why we need help.

I find that a bit arrogant. It’s rooted in the fact that most people do not understand what indigenous peoples are. Have no knowledge of our worldviews and knowledge systems. That we mirror nature. When nature is sick. We are sick.

Neither nature nor the reindeer or indigenous peoples are standing clueless and overwhelmed. However, over centuries we have evolved into specialists. Learnt how to survive and thrive in conditions difficult for others to survive in. We are indigenous to one place. Not the other. I would not have the same chance of surviving in Amazonas jungle as I do in the Arctic as a saami. Nor would my friend Hindou from the Mbroro peoples in Chad having of surviving in Sápmi. She who knows the dusty sand dunes, and not how to make shoes out of the reindeer. I who cannot find water with the help of a cow but I can read the storm from the stars. As indigenous peoples we have adjusted. We have been resilient. But in this state of climate change happening at an unprecedented rate, our inner and outer systems are struggling to keep up. Yours are too.

How amazing isn’t it really. In the middle of a stormy winter, one can find such a big mammal, as the reindeer, high up in the mountain tops. Surviving. Sometimes I catch myself thinking “how can you even find something to eat in that harsh moon landscape”. During perfect conditions she would love to migrate from coast to coast during the year. Spending the winter down in the forest, grazing lichen from the ground and occasionally whenever a storm toss down lichen from the high old trees, she would eat that as well. However, if she does get caught in the mountains during the winter she will spend it walking from stone to stone, eating lichen that has been growing there for some time. The wind will help her clear the stones from snow and ice. Not many other big mammals are depending on stone and the wind quite like her.

In our area there isn’t the same amount of different herbs, plants or other species that can be found in the deep forest of Aoteora. Our biodiversity is some what more limited. We do not have an abundance. But we do have little of some, and more of other during our eight seasons. That’s how the reindeer sustain herself. She can try a piece of the herb, but not take the leaf. She will taste the root but not the stem. Continue on to a flower. Chew of the whole plant but never take the entire system of roots. Always walking, always on the move. Leaving some and never taking all of what’s to offer. She does that to more than 250 different species. Sustaining herself and the landscape so that other will find food when they arrive. Where she graze the landscape will be nourished with the leftover processed food of hers, while she maintains the landscape an open place. Where she travels other birds and mammals will follow. She feeds the ecosystem that feeds her.  

That is what she teach. Always be on the move not to leave traces. Migrate and share. Never take all of what you like, some other might be arriving soon too, in need of food. It is the small movement that will keep you and others alive, the small change. Do not become dependant on the same thing everyone else is depending on. That wouldn’t create for a sustainable environment. There is a limit of how specialised one should become. The reindeer is targeting a specific area to sustain herself. Becoming a specialist in that area, where not many other bigger mammals are living and can force her to move. She has made that possible by becoming dependant on many many creations and species over a years cycle. Its somewhat like that advice one so often hear in the beginning of saving money in shares. “Spread the risks”. That’s what she does. She is spreading her risks and being a good citizen. At the same time.


By living a healthy life the reindeer has become healthy. She contains omega 3 fatty acids, where other meat does not. Even her blood is healthy. Humans need vitamin-c in our diet. During the summer season vitamin-c is easy to come by, as it is located in plants and herbs. But during the snowy winter its made more difficult. By drinking the fresh blood gifted by the reindeer you will be provided for. That’s how many indigenous peoples in sibiria survives.

Mimicking reindeer and our animal- and plant relatives will help us to learn how to survive. It will help us create those sustainable societies we so desperately need. Not leaving big poisonous wounds in the land for generations to be sickened by. Instead leaving food for our generations to come.

Become dependant of each other.

Give back to land

and create family.  

Blog by Jannie Staffansson, Jokkmokk, for the GRUDE project
Photos by Jannie Staffansson