Sami reindeer-herders in Sweden can sue the state

Friday february 18. 2011, original article here
Renskiljning i Mellanbyns sameby i Norrbotten. Foto: Anders Wiklund/Scanpix.

A district court in northern Sweden has ruled there is no reason why indigenous Samis there cannot sue the Swedish state for infringing on their fishing and hunting rights.

The court rejected the argument of state lawyers that there were legal errors in the suit. The Sami parliament, which has only advisory powers, had argued that the Sami people should have a major influence over fishing and hunting rights, rather than the Swedish state.

Speaking with Swedish Radio, Mattias Åhrén of the Sami Council, the organization representing the Samis across the Nordic region, says the ruling will have a major impact.

Castration could save reindeer in warming Arctic

MSNBC – original article here

TROMSOE, Norway — Indigenous Sami peoples in the Arctic may have found a way to help their reindeer herds cope with climate change: more castration.

Research by Sami experts shows that sterilized males can grow larger and so are better at digging for food — as Arctic temperatures vary more, thawing snow often refreezes to form thick ice over lichen pastures.

Alissa de Carbonnel / AFP - Getty Images Reindeer herds like this one in Lovozero, Russia, are part of the native Arctic culture.

Neutered males are more able to break through ice with their hooves or antlers, and seem more willing than other males to move aside and share food with calves that can die of starvation in bad freeze-thaw winters like 2000-01.

“To make herds more resilient in the future, we need to re-learn the traditional knowledge of castration,” said professor Svein Mathiesen, coordinator of the University of the Arctic’s Institute of Circumpolar Reindeer Husbandry.

More castration “could be useful to adapt to climate change,” he told Reuters in the Arctic city of Tromsoe. “These animals are very good diggers for the small calves in the most critical period of the winter.”

Castration has traditionally been used by reindeer herders, partly to make wild animals more docile. Herders on the Yamal peninsula in Russia still neuter about half of all males — usually by biting into the testicles with their teeth.

Far fewer animals are castrated outside Russia. About 100,000 Sami own about 2.5 million reindeer in homelands in the Nordic countries and Russia.

The traditional Sami biting technique aims for “half-castration” — under which the animals become sterile but still produce some of the male hormone testosterone that promotes muscle growth.

Sami in Norway, where laws limit castration to surgery with anesthetics, are now experimenting with a vaccine to recreate the effects of half-castration.

No interest in sex also helps neutered males in winter.

“Males castrated in the traditional way would have an increased chance of survival over other males since they maintain body weight and condition during the rutting season,” according to a research document by Eli Risten Nergaard of Sami University College.

The Arctic region is warming at double the global rate in a trend blamed by the U.N.’s panel of climate scientists on greenhouse gases from mankind’s burning of fossil fuels.

Yamal herders castrate many of their reindeer, partly because they need strong, docile animals to pull heavy sleds. In Norway, Sami have come to rely on snow-scooters and get most money for calf meat, meaning most males are slaughtered young.

The Sami castration study indicates the complexities of adapting to the impacts of climate change. Many other scientists are focusing on issues such as how to cope with river floods or rising sea levels, or ways to develop drought-resistant crops.

Castrated reindeer also keep their antlers for much of the winter while normal males shed their antlers each autumn after the mating season. That implies that Rudolph, pulling Father Christmas’s sled, has been castrated.

Seitas, sacred places of the indigenous Sámi people, have become subjects of renewed interest

The "Päällyskivi" seita rises on the shores of Inari Lake. It has been determined to be a sacred place through the arrangement of the stones on top.

Archaeologists excavate bones of sacrificial animals from the vicinity of sites; the Ukonkivi seita has been nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

By Jussi Konttinen in Inari, Finnish Lapland

The low rays of the sun caress the rough surface of a strange stone arrangement on the shore of Inari Lake in Sápmi, or Finnish Lapland.
In the shallow water sits a boulder, on top of which rests the Päällyskivi (“Top Stone”), the shape of which resembles the head of an elk. The top stone is supported by three smaller stones.
“Everything suggests that this is a seita”, says Inari Sámi seita expert Ilmari Mattus, while observing the construction.
“An old tale that even embraces Christianity supports the notion. According to the tale Päivän Olavi (Olavi of the Day), a famous seita destroyer, would have snatched the rock here.”

Seitas, or the old sacred places of the Sámi people, have become the subject of renewed interest. The name varies, depending on the local Sámi dialect, and the places are also known as sieidis or Storjunkare.
The Academy of Finland is funding a four-year research project, in connection with which six seitas have already been examined. The archaeologists from the University of Oulu have performed small-scale excavations in the vicinity of the seitas.

The studies have already produced some results.
“Based on radiocarbon dating, the oldest findings have been dated back to the 12th century”, says archaeologist Tiina Äikäs.
Next to most of the examined sacred places the bones of animals, such as reindeer, goats, sheep, or various types of bird and fish species have been located.
Animal offerings were presented to seitas in hopes for better luck with fishing or hunting. Sometimes such proceedings included brushing the stone with blood or fat.
This summer season the excavations will continue in Termisvaara in the far northern municipality of Enontekiö. Divers will start exploring the seitas surrounded by water.
Most known seitas are unusually shaped stones. At one time Christian priests destroyed seitas, but the indigenous Sámi people themselves are also known to have taken them apart, if they have not been propitious.

Behind Inari Lake’s Päällyskivi seita rises the Ukonsaari Island, or Äijih in Sámi, the holiest of the holy places for the Inari Sámi people, The name refers to the highest-ranked of the gods.
A previously unknown seita was discovered on Ukonsaari when the Oulu archaeologists combed through it in 2007.
“It is a stone with a face resembling that of an angry animal. From a nearby hole more than 400 bones were discovered, many of which had been burned. The oldest of them according to dating was the humerus of a swan”, explains Ilmari Mattus.
Another known Äijih is located on Inari Lake closer to the village of Inari itself. It is a peculiarly shaped high island, where there is a sacrificial cave.
Even though the island was already examined in the 19th century, there, too, new discoveries have been made in connection with the recent year’s excavations.
The island has been put forward as a possible UNESCO World Heritage Site.

But how do the present Sámi people view their seitas?
Are the old sacrificial sites perchance still in use today?
“Nobody would admit that they worship nature gods. But I do believe such practices still exist”, says Ilmari Mattus.

In Finland, around 50 seitas have been registered as historic relics, but in reality there are many more.
Some of the sacred places are known only to locals, who do not wish to tell their precise whereabouts.
“A few wooden seitas, so-called keropää seitas, also still exist. I cannot reveal where they are, for I have been told about them in confidence”, says archaeologist Eija Ojanlatva.
“This is a typical problem a researcher can run into. An archaeologist should strictly speaking inform the National Board of Antiquities of his or her findings.”

This Sámi seita at Nitsijärvi Lake has recently been brushed with fish oil. Photo: HARRI NURMINEN

In the ongoing projects only seitas that are publicly known have been studied. The bones that have been collected for closer analysis will be returned later.
In the future the seita studies may be broadened in such a way that sacrificial places are sought based on hints from place-names.
Some of the Sámi people take a reserved stand on the studies.

“One should ask what the benefit of this study is. The Sámi community should first hold an internal dialogue on the subject. When information is entered into a registry by the National Board of Antiquities this speaks volumes of how the situation is not under the control of the Sámi people”, says former chairman of the Sami Council Pauliina Feodoroff.
Feodoroff’s personal opinion is that the sacred portion of what is considered “cultural heritage” should be off-limits to outsiders.

Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 13.6.2010
Original article here

Global warming a growing threat to Arctic reindeer

A reindeer herd walks on the beach in Jarfjord, Norway on November 11. On Norway's border with Russia, the consequences of climate change are affecting the reindeer population as rising temperatures hit food stocks and industry growth eats into vital grazing land. Photograph by: Thomas Nilsen, AFP

JARFJORD, Norway – On Norway’s border with Russia, the consequences of climate change are affecting the reindeer population as rising temperatures hit food stocks and industry growth eats into vital grazing land.

“Over the past three years, I’ve had to give some hay to my 800 reindeer during the coldest months. It’s more expensive and it gives me more work,” said Jan Egil Trasti, a reindeer herder from the native Sami people.

The reason: the lichen his animals graze on has become tougher to find as winter temperatures rise. The snow thaws, and along with rain, then freezes anew — covering the ground in layers impervious to all but the most tenacious reindeer.

Grazing land is also disappearing under the weight of industry as buildings, pipelines, roads and other infrastructure increasingly dot old pastures.

Trasti’s nomadic ancestors have raised these beasts for hundreds of years. His grandfather worked the Russian tundra before moving to the Norwegian coast.

“I have it in my blood. I hope one of my sons will take over,” the herder said. He has, though, a hint of doubt in his eyes, his meagre earnings well below the average Norwegian salary.

Only a minority of Sami — some 3,000 — make their living raising and herding in Norway, home to around 240,000 reindeer.

In this month of November, just weeks ahead of a key UN climate summit in Denmark, snow has not yet blanketed the flora in the Far North.

Indeed temperatures in this region near the Barents Sea are unseasonably mild, above zero degrees Celsius.

In the past, when the snows have come, they have generally fallen on dry ground, whereas now they fall on lichen engorged with water.

Trasti is no scientist, and environmental experts hesitate to link specific weather events to long-term climate change, but trends over the last several decades have clearly shown the Arctic hit hard by global warming.

In September, a study in the journal Science reported dramatic effects on animals in the Arctic due to a one-degree Celsius warming over the past 150 years.

The Arctic tends to warm three times faster than elsewhere in the Northern Hemisphere because of a phenomenon called Arctic amplification — a separate study in the same journal noted that summer temperatures were some 1.4 degrees Celsius warmer than they should have been by the year 2000.

Jonathan Colman, specialist in “reindeer ecology” at the University of Oslo, explained that sometimes “there’s wet ice in the lichen.”

“It gets into their stomachs and they can’t digest the food.”

To avoid losing precious livestock, the Sami are forced to move reindeer to drier ground, meaning it is more important than ever to respect the tradition of driving herds across the entire north of the nation.

An animal can sell for 240 euros (359 dollars), and its meat for around seven euros a kilogramme (10.46 dollars per 2.2 pounds).

Trasti can make extra money selling the hides or antlers to tourists, and also gets compensation if his animals are killed by predators.

Norwegian Sami follow the herd with vehicles, but their cousins in Russia still accompany the animals with sleds, camping as they go.

But the drive, and the ability to follow the reindeer, has been increasingly hampered by industrialisation.

An iron ore mine which was closed down 15 years ago has re-opened nearby, while elsewhere liquid gas terminals, wind farms and roads are dotted across, or separate, traditional pastures.

The International Centre for Reindeer Husbandry has expressed regret that “the herders have only a marginal influence on the development of their own traditional lands.”

That’s despite a law that “Norway was built on the territory of two people, the Sami and the Norwegians,” said Christina Henriksen, a Sami who coordinates an aid programme for native peoples in the Arctic region.

“For me, being a Sami means herding reindeer,” said Trasti, who does not speak his native language.

“My parents weren’t allowed to speak Sami at school in the 60’s,” he said, and out of guilt, they “didn’t teach us the language.”

For the moment though, reindeer numbers are holding up under the strain of global warming, but that’s a fact Colman puts down to their very resilience.

“If reindeer weren’t as adaptable, there wouldn’t be any left,” he said.

© Copyright (c) Canwest News Service
Original article here

Ánde Somby performed wolf-joik at Malcom McLarens funeral

Ánde Somby wearing a green traditional gakti from Buolbmát (Polmak). It is from 1840 - before the famous preacher Lestadius got his breakthrough and made the Sami designs very spartanic.
A young Ánde Somby might already have heard The Sex Pistols when he performed at the Jokkmokk Festival in 1976.

Sami joik singer Ánde Somby (51, Norway) performed a version of the “Wolf joik” at Malcolm McLarens funeral in London April 22nd. About 400 people attended the closed ceremony at One Marleybone Curch in London.

McLaren, sometimes called “The Godfather of Punk”, invented and managed the popular punk band The Sex Pistols. He managed and produced many other bands before and after the Pistols, and he worked with film, visual art and fashion, his main point of entry to pop culture. He had a rare grip on media spin and a keen sense for picking out important undercurrents in culture.

“Bob Geldof jumped in his seat when I started my wolf joik. It is quite moving once it gets started.” Somby told Dagbladet.

A joik is not a song but a resonant melodic phrase, sung unaccompanied and repeated through various iterations with no fixed beginning or end. Traditionally utilised to induce a trance state in Sami shamans, it is a music essentially animist in nature. Joiks are not sung about something but considered a rhythmic signifier of the actual thing itself, be it a place, an event, a family member, associate or an animal, especially reindeer.

“My wolf joik fitted the circumstances quite well, as Malcolm McLaren was, in the best sense of the word, a wolf-like artist.” Somby said.

Somby was personally invited by Vivienne Westwood and McLarens son Joseph Corré to perform in the church ceremony before McLarens coffin was paraded through London to High Gate Cemetery.

Ánde Somby holds a post doctoral sholarship at the Law faculty at Tromsö University and sometimes practises as a legal professional outside the University. He has been an active joik performer since 1974, and has worked on albums with Inga Juusso and Nils Porsanger. His website has information about joik and Sami culture, and links to sound samples of different joiks, including the wolf joik. Read his terms of use and proceed to the joik samples here.

Rebels WITH a cause

Though no longer politically active, Ánde Somby once fronted young Sami activists “Samefront” (Sami Front) or ČSV for an interview with national newspaper VG in 1976. The letters ČSV (meaning “show Sami strength”) were understood in the press at the time to be an equivalent to AIM (American Indian Movement).

A young radical Ánde Somby in 1976. Fuelled, perhaps, by the energy of punk?

Official Norway had nearly wiped out Sami culture and treated Sami people like second-rate citizens, much like the authorities in the United States and Canada did to the American Indians and Inuits, but in the seventies a new cultural awareness was growing. Fuelled by the general civil rights movement of the late sixties and early seventies, but no doubt also by the energy of punk, young Samis picked up forbidden and forgotten cultural traditions and demanded actual rights to decide over their land. This movement culminated in the Alta Dam demonstrations 1979-81 where the whole norwegian environmental movement joined them and united over a common cause. The demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience were widely publicized and for the first time since the German occupation during World War II, Norwegians were arrested charged with violating laws “against rioting”. The hunger strikers in front of the parliament in the capital included Ándes brother Niillas Somby. People from all over Norway, including prominent intellectual figures, chained themselves to construction equipment in Alta to halt the proceedings. The demonstrations put the rights of Sami people to their lands on the national political agenda, even if the supreme court finally ruled the development of the Alta River legal in 1982 and construction started again.

When all was lost after the supreme court ruling, Niillas Somby and two other men decided to sabotage the construction of the dam with dynamite, but a faulty timing device set off the dynamite prematurely. Niillas Somby lost his arm and damaged an eye, and was initially charged with homicidal arson looking at a penalty of up to 21 years, even though the sabotage was to an uninhabited construction site. On leave from prison he escaped to Canada where he was adopted by the Nuxalk Nation in British Columbia. He was expelled from Canada in 1985 to serve a five month sentence for the sabotage.

Fittingly, McLarens final words were said to be “Free Leonard Peltier”. Leonard Peltier (born September 12, 1944) is an American activist and member of the American Indian Movement (AIM) who was convicted and sentenced in 1977 to two consecutive terms of life imprisonment for the murder of two Federal Bureau of Investigation agents during a 1975 shootout on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Jonas Qvale/Hornorkesteret

Restricting Kola reindeers

Barents Observer 2010-04-07

Photo: Thomas Nilsen

Photo: Thomas Nilsen

Regional authorities in Murmansk want to limit the free movement of reindeer herds to 100-200 km wide zones.

In an interview with newspaper Vedomosti, regional Governor Dmitry Dmitriyenko said that his administration plans to establish 100-200 km wide zones for the regional reindeer herds. This will help raise productivity, the governor argues.

Today, reindeer herds migrate over major parts of the peninsula.

Governor Dmitriyenko says the changing climate makes it increasingly difficult to gather the herds at slaughter time because the rivers now freeze later than before.

It is the indigenous Sami population which has the reindeer herding as its main industry. The main Sami settlements are located in the central parts of the peninsula with the town of Lovozero as the main centre.

Original article here

Shaman with drum after Knud Leem (Wikipedia)

Ein samisk sjaman med runebomme (meavrresgárri). Illustrasjonane er stukne i koppar av O.H. von Lode i Firenze, etter eigenhendige «levende Tegninger» av Knud Leem sjølv, for hans Beskrivelse over Finnmarkens Lapper, deres Tungemaal, Levemaade og forrige Afgudsdyrkelse, (1767).
A Sami Shaman with a runebomme (frame drum). The illustrations are copper etchings by O. H. von Lode in Florence, from “live drawings” by Knud Leem himself, for his work The Lapplanders of Finnmark, their tongue, their way of life and their former false idol worship (1767).