University of Oulu

Sarkki S., Heikkinen H.I., Löf A. (2021) Reindeer Herders as Stakeholders or Rights-Holders? Introducing a Social Equity-Based Conceptualization Relevant for Indigenous and Local Communities. In: Nord D.C. (eds) Nordic Perspectives on the Responsible Development of the Arctic: Pathways to Action. Springer Polar Sciences. Springer, Cham.

Reindeer herders as stakeholders or rights-holders? : introducing a social equity-based conceptualization relevant for indigenous and local communities

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Author: Sarkki, Simo1,2; Heikkinen, Hannu I.1; Löf, Annette2,3
Organizations: 1Cultural Anthropology Programme, PO Box 1000, FI-90014 University of Oulu, Finland
2Várdduo – Centre for Sámi Research, Umeå University, Sweden
3Division of Environmental Communication, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden
Format: article
Version: accepted version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 0.9 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Springer Nature, 2021
Publish Date: 2022-11-02


The stakeholder concept has dominated academic discussions for a number of years and has functioned as a normative guide for natural resource management. However, there are at least three characteristics in stakeholder approaches: (1) all-inclusivity; (2) prioritization of economic interests; (3) ahistorical view on rights, which risk continued marginalization of indigenous people and the practitioners of traditional livelihoods despite of the intention to nurture indigenous and local participation by acknowledging them as stakeholders. We propose, in the context of natural resource governance, to address these biases by recognising indigenous and local traditional livelihood practitioners as rights-holders. We examine in turn: (1) how to conceptualise rights-holders in governance through a social equity perspective (2) why indigenous and local traditional livelihood practitioners should be considered as rights-holders instead of stakeholders, and (3) some of the implications and tensions associated with considering traditional livelihood practitioners, including both indigenous and non-indigenous groups and individuals, as rights-holders. We illustrate and examine these questions in a case study of reindeer herding in Finland. In Finland, today, reindeer herding is practiced by both Sámi and Finn herders and, based on a social equity perspective, both groups can be considered rights-holders if we acknowledge reindeer herding as a traditional livelihood practice. As traditional livelihood practitioners, herder have their whole way of life at stake and ultimately depend on access to land. In addition, herders have (had) detailed systems of customary rights preceding effective state-based governance in the north. Such institutions are particularly pronounced for Sámi reindeer herders but are applicable to both groups. Our conceptualisation of rights-holders thus recognises herders as categorically different from stakeholders, whose stakes are typically economic. It provides an incentive to increase the efforts of recognizing and treating herders as rights-holders in land use governance and thereby addresses some of the apparent gaps when it comes to implementation of indigenous rights and rights to participation in environmental governance. In this essay we also discuss differences in rights between Sámi and ethnic Finn reindeer herders and some of the conceptual and practical tensions that arise as a consequence of our approach. We conclude that efforts to recognise and reframe herders as rights-holders rather than stakeholders in land use governance are important and a potential tool to increase social equity of land use for reindeer herders.

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Series: Springer polar sciences
ISSN: 2510-0475
ISSN-L: 2510-0475
ISBN: 978-3-030-52324-4
ISBN Print: 978-3-030-52323-7
Pages: 271 - 292
DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-52324-4_13
Host publication: Nordic perspectives on the responsible development of the arctic : pathways to action
Host publication editor: Nord, Douglas C.
Type of Publication: A3 Book chapter
Field of Science: 616 Other humanities
520 Other social sciences
Funding: This paper was supported by Nordforsk under two of its Nordic Centres of Excellence: Reindeer husbandry in a Globalizing North – resilience adaptations and pathways for actions (ReiGN: project number 76915), and Resource Extraction and Sustainable Arctic Communities (REXSAC: project number 76938) as well as by the University of Oulu under the Transformation and Social Innovation for Sustainable Arctic Communities (TransArct) project.
Copyright information: © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021. This is a post-peer-review, pre-copyedit version of an article published in Springer Polar Sciences. The final authenticated version is available online at