High North

Post written by Michael Adams

Linnaeus in Sámi dress, portrait by Martin Hoffman, 1737.

Linnaeus in Sámi dress, portrait by Martin Hoffman, 1737.

Two hundred and eighty years ago, the founder of modern taxonomy, Carl Linnaeus, travelled from Luleå to Jokkmokk, both towns in northern Sweden, and connected by the Lule River (jokkmokk, or in the Lule Sami language, Jåhkåmåhkke, means ‘bend in the river’). Linnaeus was on his ‘journey to Lapland’ documenting the ethnobiology of Sami reindeer herders in their ancestral home, Sápmi. I have just returned to Australia after retracing part of his trip.

Lesley’s blog from Gothenburg explored some interesting issues around naming, and the power of names was part of the discussions on my Sweden visit. American environmental historian Karl Jacoby, Maori lawyer Jacinta Ruru, and myself were invited as keynote speakers for a specialized conference on ‘Sami Customary Rights in Modern Landscapes’ developed from a joint research project of Umeå University, (including the Centre for Sami Studies) and Luleå University

Meeting at Luleå, researchers from 12 countries and many disciplines (law, history, political science, geography) explored a wide range of issues facing Sami and other Indigenous peoples in contemporary struggles over rights to culture and land. There were some AUSCCER friends (Elsa Reimerson, Rebecca Lawrence, Camilla Sandström) and many others, including Scandinavian colleagues I haven’t seen for five years. It became an affectionate and tight-knit group, as we debated, dined on reindeer and arctic char, and travelled across the Arctic Circle on a field trip to the Laponia World Heritage Area.

Laponia was listed by UNESCO for both its natural values and continuing Indigenous cultural values in 1996, but it took a decade to resolve a management approach that would appropriately acknowledge the centrality of Sami culture. As I’ve previously blogged, it is now over 40 years since the creation of the World Heritage Convention, and there is still no formal mechanism for Indigenous input to the listing process. The newly established organization Laponiatjuottjudus is trying to negotiate a new and experimental approach to ensuring a Sami vision is embodied in Laponia. There are many challenges. ‘Laponia’ is a made-up word, Sami call this large landscape mija ednam, my country, and most Swedes are more likely to recognize the names of the individual national parks that make up the World Heritage Area. Sami face resistance to dual naming (eg Muttos Muddus), let alone re-establishing the ancient Sami names. Ironically, the topographic maps are densely named with local Sami place names. Even though Sami are now in a majority on the Board of Management for Laponia, Laponiatjuottjudus, with a tiny but inspired staff complement, are using consensus decision-making, as well as other customary Sami practices, to develop a shared commitment for the future of the region.

Fieldtrip to Muttos. The forest and trees.

Fieldtrip to Muttos (Photo credit: M.Adams)

The negotiations to change the policy climate to enable the creation of Laponiatjuottjudus took place while the economic climate and the actual climate were also changing. Rates of climate change in the arctic are double the rate of the rest of the planet, with significant impacts for reindeer herders and others. Lesley Head, Helen McGregor, Stephanie Toole and I have just written about climate change in Australia (forthcoming in WIREs Climate Change), and the sobering conclusions we reached are even more intensely felt in the high north. As a stark reminder of ‘business as usual’ scenarios, some of the discussion about this in the Nordic countries focuses on the ‘new resource opportunities’ created by ice-free zones in the north. The Brookings Institute, criticizing the Finnish Arctic Policy, argues that ‘the era of a …policy centered on the protection of the Sami people and the environment has ended’. In Jokkmokk we heard from local protestors resisting a suite of mining proposals on ancestral Sami lands.

Protest sign at Jokkmokk.

Protest sign at Jokkmokk (Photo credit: M.Adams)

The experience reminded me just how beautiful the high north of Scandinavia is, and how AUSCCER researchers have built strong, continuing and expanding relationships with academics and activists in the Nordic countries. We will be publishing an edited book of the conference insights, and I am hoping to help host Sami delegates to the 6th World Parks Congress in Sydney next year.

A lake in Laponia.

Laponia (Photo credit: M.Adams)

Michael Adams is on Twitter @DrMichaelAdams. Other posts by Michael include ‘Journeys in Japan’‘Redneck, barbaric, cashed-up bogan? I don’t think so: hunting and nature in Australia’, and ’Landscapes of uncertainty in California‘.

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  1. Pingback: Layers of heritage | Conversations with AUSCCER

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