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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2020

Early Modern Reindeer Husbandry, Sami Economy, and Grazing Rights

Larsson, Jesper; Sjaunja, Eva-Lotta Paivio


The main historic trajectory in property rights to land was the development of more exclusive rights by the dissolution of common property. In the Swedish lappmarks the opposite occurred, and by the end of the nineteenth century the old system with privately assigned land finally disappeared when Samis obtained lawful common user rights to large areas for reindeer herding. Earlier research focused on the role of the state. We bring together three previously rather neglected perspectives-self-governance, ecology, and the functionality of large-scale reindeer nomadism-to explain changes in property rights. By analysing how Samis from two types of villages in yule lappmark using different ecological settings between 1550 and 1780, we show that the older property-rights system dissolved due to the emergence of large-scale reindeer nomadism. Grazing land became one of the most valued economic assets, and a common-property regime evolved. The institutional change that spurred the development was new trading patterns during the seventeenth century. By taking a self-governing perspective in a common-pool resource (CPR) context we identify the microlevel interactions between users through which property rights evolved in early modern Sami communities. How indigenous people during this time created and negotiated property rights is highlighted. On a higher level, the CPR perspective facilitates a discussion about Sami property rights in the context of property rights elsewhere, especially regarding common property. We emphasize the importance of addressing self-governance in the analysis of historical property rights of indigenous people.


property rights; common-pool resources (CPRs); pastoralism; Sami; early modern; reindeer; trade

Published in

International Journal of the Commons
2020, Volume: 14, number: 1, pages: 91-107