Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The reindeer is best described as semidomesticated and half wild. Dogs assist in reindeer herding and are sometimes kept as pets. Less frequently, goats may provide milk for household consumption. Commercial farmers may raise sheep and cattle. Pets other than dogs are seldom encountered. Originally hunters, especially of wild reindeer, some Saami converted to domestic reindeer breeding in the most recent half-millennium. Today, several forms of reindeer management, all essentially oriented to a cash market, support as much as 35 percent of the Population in some regions, while other regions have only some combination of farming, fishing, hunting, and commercial activity. Even though reindeer management is a minority Occupation of this ethnic minority group, it has largely shaped the stereotype of Saamihood and has been recognized in law as the only justification for special Saami rights. Through both indigenous identification with the reindeer and extrinsic policies controlling but also privileging reindeer management, this occupation continues to be an emblem of the Saami despite some ambivalence and even resentment by the sedentary majority of Saami and other northern dwellers. Farming centers on sheep- and bovine-meat production and some dairy cattle; these animals require shelter and provisioning up to eight months a year. No grains other than barley thrive at these latitudes, but potatoes have been grown since their arrival in the early 1800s. Freshwater fishing focuses on salmon, char, trout, and whitefish, the smaller species available year-round and not just in the open water of summer. Ocean fishing brings in greater quantities of cod, halibut, haddock, coalfish, and sole. Some Saami hunt ptarmigan, small mammals, European elk, and reindeer predators. Wild berries, abundant in season, are collected by all.
Industrial Arts and Trade. Reindeer hide, antler, and bone provide raw materials for footwear, clothing, and utensils. Saami men etch distinctive decorations on the antler sheaths of their knives. Wood is also an important material, especially burls from birch for the carving of shallow cups and containers. Basketry and root-weaving artisans execute utilitarian and decorative wares, and other specialists spin pewter thread to be sewn onto leather and fabric. All these naturally harvested products and manufactures are used in the Household; they are also sold commercially and used in barter Between sedentary and nomadic Saami and among Saami generally, with local and distant non-Saami, and with tourists. The post-World-War II road system has promoted the increase of communications, services, circulation of goods, tourism, and nonindigenous resource extraction. Larger towns have local shops and national chains as well as municipal offices, slaughterhouses, handicraft centers, and museums.
Division of Labor. Today, the sexual division of labor is both more and less pronounced than in earlier times. Reindeer herding and husbandry now falls more into the hands of men, while women are tied down by the need to maintain and utilize the conveniences of modern housing, compulsory schooling for their children, and transportation. In the farming sector, women do most chores with seasonal assistance by men, who may spend other seasons in hunting, fishing, and/or wage labor. Overall, women do the majority of crafts with soft materials, men with hard materials; men slaughter; both genders cook and tend children; men control snowmobiles and women cars. It is common for at least one member of each family to contribute a wage income to the household economy. Higher education and nontraditional professions especially attract sedentary men and nomadic women.
Land Tenure. The Saami reindeer-grazing regions of Fennoscandia are divided into administrative units, only sometimes commensurate with traditional utilization practices. The nation-states grant the Saami special resource privileges (including reindeer grazing, hunting, fishing, and use of timber) on these crown and public lands. However, state ownership of these lands is still contested by Saami organizations. Saami immemorial rights of usufruct have been confirmed in a number of important court cases. The issue of Saami land rights has continually been investigated by government Commissions and brought before international courts of law. With but few exceptions, reindeer management is a right reserved for Saami in Norway and Sweden. Any Finnish citizen living in the Finnish reindeer herding region has the right to manage reindeer. On the Kola Peninsula, Saami herders mix with those of other native herding peoples.