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indigenous peoples

Keeping a healthy tradition

Published tisdag 3 maj 2011 kl 16.26
There is a downside to the findings
(4:22 min)

The United Nations did a comparison of various indigenous people in 2010, and the Swedish Sami came out top, as regards health.

The original settlers in the north of Sweden are the Sami people. They are also spread across the whole of north Scandinavia and nearby parts of Russia.

The Sami living in Sweden are the healthiest indigenous people in the world - but researchers say there is a down side to the Samis' situation.

Professor Peter Sköld works at the Centre for Sami Research, in Umeå. He says that an important reason for Sami health is that they live integrated in Swedish society, not in specifically indigenous communities.

One major difference that exists is that, by law, only Sami people are allowed to herd reindeer, organised into specific Sami cooperatives, misleadingly called "villages".

This is a very risky occupation. Although only a few thousand Sami are involved in the business, 150 have died in the last 40 years, making it the most dangerous profession in this country, according to Sweden's Sami Radio.

But there is also a less visible component to health. Sami mental health has been studied by Lotta Omma, a psychologist at Gällivare who has done a survey on how young Sami see themselves in Swedish society.

She says that young Sami often feel under pressure to 'explain themselves' and their culture to other Swedes. But, she adds, strong family bonds are a major reason why this stress does not cause mental health problems.

Another important part of the Sami cultural heritage is the food - Peter Sköld says that this diet, based mostly on meat and fish - has turned out to be surprisingly healthy.

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