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Reindeer Running Herder Smoking at Sunset Council Members Meeting Lodge Shaped Government Building

Rough Cut
Norway: Reindeer Men
Mythic nomads in a modern world
 

 

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Length: 9:56

Chet Chabuk and Ole Tangen

Ole Tangen Jr. (right) is an independent filmmaker and journalist. Growing up, he spent summers visiting family in Norway. The trip back to make "Reindeer Men" was only his second visit to Norway's frozen north. Tangen earned his M.A. in documentary production from Emerson College in Boston and is currently developing other documentary projects in Germany and Indonesia.

Chetin Chabuk is an independent filmmaker. He, too, has an M.A. from Emerson College in Visual Media Arts. Chabuk lives in Boston, where he works as assistant editor for PBS's FRONTLINE.

There is something otherworldly about the windswept, frozen tundra of northern Norway.

"When I was young, my Norwegian parents told me tales of a people who roamed these lands for centuries, following and living off their flocks of reindeer," recalls FRONTLINE/World reporter Ole Tangen as he drives through this Arctic landscape. "They were mythical figures, remnants of time past."

Welcome to the land of the Sami.

On Rough Cut this week, filmmakers Chetin Chabuk and Ole Tangen Jr. take us into this land of fabled reindeer herders. For those of us raised on visions of Santa Claus and his flying reindeer, it's a bracing reality check. Just don't tell your Rudolf-the-Red-Nosed-Reindeer-loving children that reindeer meat is considered a delicacy in Norway.

Sometimes called "the people with four countries," the indigenous Sami roam across the northern borders of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. In Finland, in particular, they are also known as Lapps. A century ago, Sami author and artist Johan Tuuri wrote: "We, the Sami people, come from nowhere. We have always been here, long before anybody else."

Today, only a small number of the 60,000 to 80,000 Sami continue to make their living by herding reindeer, and their traditional nomadic way of life is endangered. The modern world is closing in on them. Recreational snowmobilers, mining companies, even NATO military bases are encroaching on their remote domain.

But all is not lost. Chabuk and Tangen Jr. visit the Sami parliament -- an architecturally striking building, designed to resemble a Sami tent, or lavvu -- where they meet Sami politician and scholar Ole Henrik Magga, who tells them how the Sami people have organized to protect their rights and campaign for more self-determination. He describes how the Sami first mobilized in the early 1980s in opposition to a proposed hydroelectric dam, which would have submerged Sami grazing lands and the Sami town of Maze. A hunger strike in front of the Norwegian parliament in Oslo helped win the day for the Sami.

And in 2005, the Norwegian government passed legislation giving the Sami a more direct role in managing their lands and natural resources -- a victory that offers hope that the "reindeer men" will be able to continue their ancient way of life for generations to come.

Meanwhile, the hard-working Sami will take a break for the winter holidays. When Chabuk asked his Sami guide, Risten Lango, what she'll be doing for Christmas, she emailed back: "I'm in the mountains right now checking mail on my cell phone. Our Christmas traditions are silence from December 24 to 26. Only necessary activities should be done. All firewood for Christmas days should be brought in the house before Christmas evening. We have some Western traditional gifts. The elder people go to church, and, of course, they invite all of us to be with them. On the New Year eve, we predict how the summer will be ... exciting to consider, especially when its about 30 below."

During this winter season (at least in the northern hemisphere of our small planet), we invite you to gather 'round the warm glow of your computer screen and watch "Reindeer Men." And all of us at FRONTLINE/World wish you a Buorrit Juovllat -- Happy Christmas in Sami.

Peace and goodwill toward all,

Stephen Talbot
Series Editor

REACTIONS

Virginia Schultz - Martinsburg, West Virginia
It was a great video! Hearing the language that is strangely familiar to me makes me choke up a little. I'm part Sami and have been to Finland, Sweden and Norway.

Ja Fl - Allen, Texas
The contradictory similarities and contrasts between these everlasting nomadic Norwegians compared to any nomads or reindeer we've been taught in America are quite astounding. Whereas a reindeer always seems like some mythic or extremely rare creature to most Americans, they're as common as...well...deer in some ports of Norway. Not to mention the strange, ancient nomads of the Native Americans seem merely a memory in America. A once great people brought down by another race's greed, with the descendents struggling to keep their culture as the land they've been given by the government shriveling away, most children in America truly have no clue about their real past. It's quite intriguing to discover that such a lifestyle is still possible, and existing in Europe! ...The little huts the Sami stayed in were quite reminiscent of wigwams as well. But of course, I had a good chuckle that everything still revolves around technology. I can't imagine trekking through the beyond freezing weather on foot, lacking contact with anyone at all. I was kind of relieved to hear that, unfortunately unlike our own government so many years back, the Norwegian government is a bit more open-minded to preserving this culture. This is just one of those aspects of life that, despite technological innovation, will always be there for men to mull over.

(anonymous)
It is good that the Sami have become technologically advanced since their ancestors had started the culture. It gives way to progress. With accepting the way the world is now, instead of being stubborn and refusing to move forward, the Sami have utilized technology for advantageous transportation and communication. It has made their job a lot easier and will also help preserve their way of life.

Mel Flu - Allen, TX
This report was very informative and well shot. The reindeer crossing the road, and the reindeer grazing in the field were especially well shown, depicting the beauty of the animals. It makes me understand why people might wish to work with the reindeer. I had never heard of the Sami people before, but now that I have, I really respect them. Working outside in subzero temperatures for weeks at a time would be the epitome of misery from my perspective, but they do it, and seem to enjoy their work. Learning of their struggle for rights to land that should be rightfully theirs--because they have lived and worked on it for generations--is inspiring, though is just another reflection of many state's disregard for indigenous cultures. Now that I've seen this video I'm interested in what a reindeer herder actually does besides sell reindeer for their meat value. I think I'll look into it.

(anonymous)
Having spent many years as a reindeer herder in Northern Norway, I found this video journal accurately depicting a slice of modern herder life.

Oystein Boveng - Kalispell, MT
Thank you for a beautiful story. I am struck by the similarity of the Sami lavvu and the American Native tepee. Also there seems to be a resemblance between Sami and American Native songs and drumbeats.

Maryville, TN
Wonderful! Showed it to my 9th grade geography class. They really liked it.

John Kappus - Cleveland, Ohio
Great work and a wonderful compelling story!

Arild and Margareth Gilja - Bergen, Norway
Interesting story told and seen by eyes from abroad. We are familiar with the scenery. We loved the beautiful filming and the refreshing touch.

Christopher Horner - Venice, CA
An interesting story ... well filmed, well told. Congratulations to the film makers. Keep 'em coming !

Meghann Remick - Lexington, MA
Wonderful film! Really enjoyed learning about the Sami people. The imagery was beautiful: the Northern Lights, the landscapes, the reindeer and the people themselves. Well done Chetin & Ole. Hope to see more from you in the future.

Daniel Peraino - Somerville, MA
Great piece guys! I wish it was longer ... would love to learn more about the Sami culture.

FRONTLINE/World's editors respond:
Please check out the facts and links section of this web story for more info on the Sami.

New York, NY
Wonderfully made and very informative piece. I wonder if the Sami have coordinated their efforts with those of other indigenous peoples who also depend on the reindeer for their way of life. I'm thinking specifically of the native peoples who live in and around the Arctic Wildlife Refuge in the U.S. I'd love to hear more about coordinated global efforts to advocate for indigenous land rights and justice. Thanks so much!

Brooklyn, NY
I enjoyed this film and learned much from it -- the footage was gorgeous. Anything else on Frontline from these filmmakers?

FRONTLINE/World's editors respond:
Nothing yet, but encouraging words are certainly motivating! Thanks for the response.

Missoula, Montana
I have been fortunate enough to have traveled to this region of the world and am very glad to see an informative and visually evocative piece done on it. Thanks.

Gloria Wurm - Coeur d'Alene, Idaho
These people have always fascinated me and your documentary has given me an even better insight into their way of life. Excellent job!

Devon Slattery - San Francisco, CA
Beautiful camera work -- it is so impressive to see filiming take place in such a desolate environment -- keep up the great work!

Serdar Tumgoren - Gilroy, CA
Fascinating glimpse into the lives of the reindeer men. I never even knew they existed. Great visuals. Would love to see a more in-depth exploration of the clash between the traditional ways of the reindeer culture and modern Norwegian society. Overall - great job. Bravo!

Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Awesome, good, beautiful story.

Mindy Antol - Ocean Beach, CA
Very smooth film. Enjoyed listening to the story and wished it were longer. These film makers have great careers ahead of them and look forward to future productions.

(anonymous)
Gorgeous film! It is wonderful to see some coverage of this little known culture. I am fascinated with how modern technology has been integrated into their traditional culture and now helps to support traditional ways.

William Rumford - British Columbia, Canada
Very interesting and well presented. There are some parallel issues as experienced in Alaska and Canada.

Natalie Fowler - Houston, TX
What an interesting story for the season ...The footage of the reindeer was just beatiful. Well done!

Bert M - New York, Ny
I liked this video very much. The subject matter is something I had no knowledge of and would like to hear more about. It would be great to have a more in-depth look into the everyday lives of the reindeer men and how they contrast to their conterparts in modern Norwegian society. I loved the visuals. The land was really another character in the piece. I hope we see more from these filmmakers.

Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Enjoyed this site ... thanks!

Nicholas Melissinos - Brooklyn, NY
it was the best 10 minutes I have ever experienced. NEED to see more of this on the website. Looking forward to their next project.

Ian Hartnett - Sonoma, CA
Cheers to Ole and Chetin. . . thanks for a true 3-dimensional view of an all too common cultural plight. My only wish was for 20 more minutes...

Kris Britt Montag - Boston, MA
I am very interested in the subject of Reindeer Men and very glad to have had the opportunity to see it here. I thought it was very informative and well done. I'd like to know when this program will be broadcast on television? I can think of a number of relatives/friends who would definitely want to watch this on TV.

Allison W - Nirtheast Harbor, ME, OR
Amazing work! Beautiful footage and a well told story!

New York, NY
Fantastic to see work focused on indigenous cultural survival and the conflicts with the modern world. Reindeer men gives you a good sense of the historical humanity that indigenous people are often associated with, but it also treats them with respect and gives them a sense of empowerment and a voice in the world. Kiitu-Takk-Thank you.