SÁMI REINDEER herders in Sweden have won their case in the Swedish supreme court - and retained their exclusive right to manage hunting and fishing on a huge area of upland grazing known as Girjas Sameby.

The Sámi groups successfully argued that their historic control of the 2000-square-miles of grazing, just south of the country's northernmost city, Kiruna, had been undermined by Sweden's 1993 reform of hunting regulations, which had transferred the power to grant permits to the state.

While this conclusion to a legal battle which began back in 2009 applies only to the Girjas Sameby, the Sámi herders are hoping it will set a precedent in other cases where they are challenging state authority over their 'traditional' lands.

“Rights that emerged in the past based on traditional use do not come to an end,” said Justice Sten Andersson. “Yes, Girjas Sameby has the right to regulate hunting and fishing because of its traditional rights.”

The state had argued that its own authority stemmed from its ownership of the land, which it could document back to the nineteenth century. However, the court found that this documentation had accepted the Sámi’s exclusive right to hunt and fish in the area, and with that exclusivity, gave them the right to authorize hunting and fishing by others.