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Local Environmental Observations in an Arctic Indigenous context: Virtual workshop Day 2

Reindeers in Utsjoki

A two-day virtual workshop on Sámi Food Culture and Environmental Observations

This online workshop was organised as part of the Dialogues and Encounters in the Arctic project and held on May 19th and 20th 2021. The event gathered around 20 participants from Finland, Norway and Sweden to discuss themes and issues connected to sustainable and traditional Sámi cultures and local environmental observations from an Arctic Indigenous perspective. For two days the workshop managed to connect people and projects across the borders to share thoughts, ideas and observations with traditional knowledge holders, reindeer herders, experts, researchers and students. Important questions and themes were discussed and set the ground for further dialogues and cross-border collaboration.

Day 2 : Local Environmental Observations in an Arctic Indigenous context

The second day started with Mika Aromäki’s (from Sogsakk) introduction that highlighted the theme of the day: Local Arctic Environmental Observations in an Arctic Indigenous Context. The panel discussions mainly focused on the contemporary problems of traditional livelihoods and ways to support the Sámi and other Indigenous communities when holding on to traditional livelihoods in changing environments.

Tools for Local Environmental Observations

The first morning panel brought together Pekka Aikio, Jörgen Stenberg, Lena Maria Nilsson, Oddbjørg Hætta Sara and Mika Aromäki with discussions highlighting the challenges brought by green development projects, on the ownership of land and knowledge, impacts of policies on traditional livelihoods and land use and current challenges faced by reindeer herders. In the afternoon, speakers Lasse Björn and Ola Bergdahl presented the LEO and CLEO tools in order to discuss ways in which local environmental observations (LEOs) in the Arctic, and specifically in Sápmi, can be documented and used by local community members to share and report of significant changes occurring in the Arctic environment.

Environmental Observations in a Sámi Context : Highlights From the Panel Discussion

  • Who owns traditional knowledge and how is the Sámi community able to use and protect it? What is the worth of the knowledge and how is it possible to get youth to own it and have trust and confidence using it? When the climate and environment are changing and new problems are arising, it is hard to gather all the knowledge. Moreover, some of the environmental changes are sneaking in slowly; not always dramatically and rapidly. It is a big issue that the knowledge that comes from universities is seen as more valuable than traditional knowledge that connects the land, ancestors and the culture:

“Should we trust to the knowledge that we have or the one that researchers are telling us?”
  • How is climate change affecting to food sovereignty in the Arctic and what other challenges food security is facing in the North? Use of the land and competition was also one of the shared concerns in the conversations. Among other things, this is threatening traditional food systems. Traditional knowledge has always given the know-how to survive in the Arctic. Local food systems and food security are interconnected with the local traditional knowledge. Additionally, climate change is also making sustaining traditional knowledge and food systems a challenge. In this sense, reindeer herding must be supported.

  • How to support Sámi reindeer herding? The topic was discussed from the perspective of law and legislation, unifying the Sámi community and supporting Sámi economy. Legislation in Finland about reindeer herding has not been supportive, so it would be important to influence lawmakers and parliamentarians on this matter. Researchers are also in an important position to describe and produce information that is needed to influence the law and legislation. A profound way to support reindeer herders is to buy meat from Sámi businesses. It can support the herders and Sámi economy directly. This also gives more power to reindeer herders to define what kind of meat is consumed: calves or adults. Instead of exporting the meat outside from Sápmi to restaurant businesses, the food culture and gastronomy should be enhanced in the area.

  • Due to environmental changes caused by climate change and land use, reindeer herding is becoming more expensive these days, as the need for supplementary feeding is increasing. This might end up in a situation where young people might not have the financial means to continue reindeer herding in the future.

  • Green industry is bringing windmills to the Sámi land and it is seen as a environmentally friendly choice, but it is destroying reindeer herding, particularly in Sweden by fragmenting the land and disturbing reindeer. Finland did not have windmills earlier, but with a huge financial and political support from the government the windmill industry is rapidly expanding all over Finland, including Lapland. It is a problem because of land use:

How the land is used and who is allowed to use it, but also the reindeers are changing their behaviour in windmill areas by avoiding them. It is affecting their traditional routes and calving areas.
  • It was noted how green energy is not good will, but a money-making industry. Still, it is seen as a remedy for climate change. Many in the panel discussion stated that this leads into a situation where Sámi people are seen as "bad" when standing against such industries as they try to protect the land and the right to traditional livelihoods. The terms “green washing” and “green colonialism” were used when describing windmill industries’ entering strategies to the Sápmi.

  • The need to unify Sámi community in order to stand for reindeer herding and rights to the land and other traditional livelihoods is seen important. It would be important to get people to work together collectively, politically and culturally, to learn from each other, co-operate and use, hear and share knowledge and stories.

  • Health is related to the land and livelihoods. Due land claim struggles and the stress over the livelihoods there’s a growing number of mental health issues among reindeer herders. There’s a need to gather people and hear their stories, stories of the land and how land is connected to the health of the people and the community. It would be important to state how nature and changes in it are affecting on people and to the communities: we are talking about food and health after all.

  • Land and the ability to use it is the base of Sámi society and culture. Land connects everything from traditional livelihoods all the way to arts and crafts including languages, knowledge systems, health and food.

LEO and CLEO: Bridging Local and Scientific Knowledge

Tools to support environmental observations were introduced by Lasse Björn and Ola Bergdahl. Björn introduced LEO tool, created in Alaska Anchorage by Alaska natives for mapping and documenting local environmental observations similar to Berghdals presentation about CLEO, the circumpolar version that is currently being developed. Small changes might have big impact to the environment and sometimes the changes are lurking in slowly. The data from the changing environment is needed for research purposes, but also to monitor the changes in the environment. Applications and tools like LEO and CLEO are made to serve this purpose emphasising the role of local environmental observations and traditional knowledge.

LEO allows users of the network to map observations on changes in environment (including new articles), for instance fish stocks, bird movements or the appeared of new plant species in an environment. The idea is to identify special and unusual changes to a map and the information can be used later for example for research and scientific purposes. It is useful to share information and make the changes in the environment due to climate change visible. It also shows which areas are in active use even if they might seem to be inhabited. Doing so can provide information for governments that the land is in use. It is also one way of trusting users and Indigenous knowledge, that is often invalidated.

The LEO network website, you can visit it here.

In a circumpolar context (CLEO), one challenge of its application is the completely open access to the information and data, which can be visible across the world. This can be an issue for users who might not want to share exact locations. It also raises questions on how to protect traditional knowledge and share it at the same time.

CLEO is based on the need for a local tool that concludes environmental information, historical background and knowledge about, for example, reindeer herding. How the land has been used across the borders and how climate change has affected on social living conditions? Climate change is affecting on reindeer husbandry and small details have big impact on environment, but there was a lack of a tool to monitor the system. Cleo was created to fulfil this need. The tool also co-operates with other Indigenous projects across the arctic and follows principles that are also used in the Arctic Council, specifically those that addresses the right of Indigenous peoples to be in the decision-making process related to their community, lands and traditional livelihoods. Through projects and workshops, CLEO has tried to reach out to more participants in order to broaden the knowledge network.

Open access applications like LEO raises questions what kind of information should be available for everyone and what information should be protected.

How to support people using the applications, but still keeping sensitive information safe?

However, producing data from the Arctic environment and delivering it for the public is important to visualise and show that the land is a vivid living environment and a base for Sámi culture.


Thank you to all our workshop participants!

Summarised by Mari Viinikainen and Caoimhe Isha Beaulé with help from Teemu Loikkanen and Áilu Valle. University of Lapland

To read our post on the first day of the workshop (Sámi Food Cultures), click here.

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