Reindeer husbandry is practiced in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Mongolia, China, Alaska, Canada and Greenland by more than 20 different ethnic groups. Reindeer herders have managed vast areas in the Arctic through thousands of years. These areas have only recently, in modern times, become significant for other industrial interests such as oil and gas.
The fall of the ‘iron curtain’ and the Brundtland commission’s report to the UN, ‘Our Common Future’, enabled Norwegian Saami reindeer herders to established formal cooperation with the Soviet Scientific Academy and with reindeer herders in the Soviet Union. Already in 1990 a delegation, funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, visited Even reindeer herders in Topolinij in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) in East Siberia. The delegation included representatives from Saami Reindeer Herders’ Association of Norway (NRL), the Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture, the Norwegian Reindeer Administration and the University of Tromsø.
In September 1993 NRL organized an international Reindeer Peoples’ Festival in Tromsø, in cooperation with the Russian Government and reindeer herders in Russia. Approximately 360 representatives from reindeer husbandries in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia and Alaska participated in the Festival. This was the first time in history that the different reindeer peoples were able to meet with each other. This event marked the beginning of unique cross-boarder cooperation between the circumpolar reindeer peoples which eventually resulted in the establishment of the Association of World Reindeer Herders.
The 1st World Reindeer Herders’ Congress took place in the city of Nadym, in the Yamal region of Russia, in 1997, and was hosted and funded by the Russian government together with the regional authorities in Yamal. Participants included representatives from the reindeer husbandry in the Nordic countries and in Russia. The Congress resulted in the establishment of the Association of World Reindeer Herders (WRH). The aim of the association is to promote professional, cultural, social and economic relations between world reindeer peoples, as well as to disseminate information about the reindeer husbandry.
The establishment of WRH provided reindeer herders a forum for contact and cooperation, which contributed to bring reindeer husbandry on the international agenda. Already in 1999, the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Knut Vollebæk, took the initiative to add reindeer husbandry on the agenda of the international Arctic cooperation, which resulted in that WRH was, in 2000, given the status as observer in Arctic Council.
The 2nd World Reindeer Herders’ Congress in Anar (Inari), Finland, in 2001, was funded by the Finnish Government. The Congress adopted the ‘Anar-Declaration’, which is the first statement developed by reindeer herders, and presents guidelines for the development of a sustainable reindeer husbandry for the future.
The 3rd World Reindeer Herders’ Congress took place in the city of Yakutsk, in the Russian Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) in March 2005. The Congress adopted the ‘Yakutsk-Declaration’, which emphasizes reindeer husbandry’s participation in the international cooperation in Arctic. The Congress was hosted and funded by the Government of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) and was part of an outstanding and impressive campaign for promoting the reindeer husbandry and the indigenous peoples’ of the Republic.
Great deals of resources have been invested in the international cooperation between world reindeer herders over the last 15 years. The Saami reindeer husbandry, the Norwegian government, Russian reindeer herders, central and regional authorities in Russia, as well as reindeer herders and authorities in Finland have been especially active in promoting this cooperation. Initiatives designed to secure that the resources invested benefit reindeer husbandry and the Arctic communities in the future are therefore needed.
The establishment of an International Centre for Reindeer Husbandry in Kautokeino represents one measure to secure the future of the unique cooperation in the North. The establishment enjoys wide professional and political support, both nationally and internationally, and is recommended by, among others, the Arctic Council in the report ”Sustainable Reindeer Husbandry” (2002), and by the 3rd World Reindeer Herders’ Congress in the ‘Yakutsk Declaration’ of March 2005. It is also recommended by the Government appointed committee of exports in the report published as NOU 2003:32 (Official Norwegian Report) entitled ‘Look North! Challenges and Opportunities in the Northern Areas’. The Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Jan Petersen, announced in the 4th Arctic Council Ministerial meeting in Iceland, November 2004: ”..Norway has decided to establish an international centre for reindeer herders in Arctic, in Kautokeino, in close co-operation with the World Reindeer Herders. This will be a resource centre for exchange of information between herders in different countries and promoting co-operation between them”. This was followed up by the government in its report nr. 30:2005 to the Storting entitled ‘Opportunities and Challenges in the North’, which recommends establishment of an international information centre in close cooperation with WRH. The Norwegian Storting supported the recommendation by adopting the ‘Proposition to the Storting’ no. 264 (2005), which announces that “… it is important to strengthen the cooperation between northern indigenous communities and other industries”.
The Norwegian Government has followed up its proposal to the Storting. It has been decided that the Centre will be subjected to the Norwegian Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development. The Minister responsible, Ms. Erna Solberg, has, together with WRH and other ministries concerned, facilitated to establish and make the Centre operative within September 2005. The Centre will be established as an independent professional unit, with its own board and budget. The activity is funded by the Norwegian Government through yearly grants from the budgets of the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Centre is to be a knowledge base for providing and exchanging information and documentation between different reindeer peoples, the authorities and research- and academic communities at the national and international levels. The Centre will thus contribute to adding value, improve information and enhance understanding for world reindeer husbandry and reindeer peoples, their traditional knowledge and future development. Information and dissemination will be conducted visually, in written form and electronically.
The establishment of the International Centre for Reindeer Husbandry in Kautokeino is one of Norway’s contributions to strengthen cooperation in the North and in the Arctic Council.