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Lihkku beivviin, Sápmi! - Happy Sámi National Day!

Kathrine Johnsen

Story by GRID-Arendal February 6th, 2017

This year marks the 100th anniversary of a meeting that launched Sámi political activity.

Today, the 6th of February, we celebrate the National Day of the Sámi people. This year is special as it also marks the 100 years since the first Sámi congress, an event that gathered people from Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. The congress, organized by the Sámi Women's Association, was the first time Sámi got together to discuss common issues and concerns.

A century ago there was no official recognition of Sámi culture or language. While much has changed over the decades since this first meeting, the struggle for Sámi rights continues.

However, one of the major changes is the increasing recognition of the importance of Indigenous Knowledge and the way Sámi use it to manage their environment, and how it contributes to cultural stability.

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With this important date in the background, my colleague Levi Westerveld and I travelled last week to Kautokeino (referred to as the cultural capital of Sápmi) in northern Norway. The purpose of the visit was to work on the Nomadic Herders Sápmi project led by the International Centre for Reindeer Husbandry and funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Climate and Environment. Long, but interesting days were spent at the Sámi University College sharing perspectives and assessing links between conservation of biodiversity, the resilience of reindeer herders’ ecosystems and livelihoods, traditional knowledge and food security.

One of the tools we are using in this work is GLOBIO3, a model that assesses past, present and future human-induced changes in terrestrial biodiversity. To refine the model to better address the Arctic and reindeer herders' concerns, we work closely with herders who share their own observations gathered when they move across the tundra. In this way, herders' knowledge helps assess whether the data used in the model reflects reality on the ground.


During the evenings, we experienced Arctic life and were invited to a feast of reindeer meat in a lavvu. A lavvu is a traditional Sámi tent used as a temporary dwelling.

For several nights we were mesmerized by the northern lights (Aurora Borealis) over Kautokeino. We were lucky with the aurora being particularly strong during our visit to the north.

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One evening, Levi watched the slaughtering of a reindeer by a Sámi colleague and herder. The meat, blood and all the rest of the animal was used to demonstrate and compare traditional techniques and knowledge about food preparation and preservation around the Arctic.


Embedded in the herders' knowledge about food, is wisdom about reindeer husbandry and ecosystem management. Reindeer herders, as well as pastoralists other places in the world, contribute to conservation and sustainable use of ecosystems.

However, all over the world pastures – the material basis for pastoralism – are under threat from encroachment, fragmentation and degradation from industrial development and other human activities.

For this reason, GRID-Arendal is supporting a call for an International Year of Rangelands and Pastoralists to increase the global awareness of the needs and rights of pastoralists.

Footnote: Photos by Levi Westerveld