My name is Anne-Marie Lapointe, and I am currently doing fieldwork in the Sámi community of Inari, Finland under the supervision of Dr Nuccio Mazzullo. I am a socio-cultural anthropology student at Laval University in Quebec City, Canada. The aim of my research project in Inari is to look at the dynamics between tourism and reindeer herding and how they influence the construction of Sámi identity.
My interest in the Arctic began when I first traveled to the Yukon Territory in Northern Canada. Like many other people who find their way to the North, I was instantly charmed by its amazing beauty and the strong culture of its peoples. To deepen my knowledge about the North, last year I attended the Arctic Studies Program (ASP) at the University of Lapland to familiarize myself with the diverse livelihoods and issues of the circumpolar regions. My studies and participation in some of the cultural aspects related to reindeer herding inspired me to prolong my stay in Finland, in order to obtain a closer perspective on the reality of life in northern communities.
A few weeks have passed, and I can say that my time in Inari has been filled with great acquaintances and experiences. At the same time, there is no doubt that challenges and questions have emerged over the weeks; trying to be part of a community is always tough, especially without local language skills. However, I can say that my fieldwork has already taught me a lot and allowed me to gather plenty of information from various sources, both from locals and tourists.
So far in terms of my research, I can say that the relationships between the Sámi, tourism, and reindeer herding are complex and multifaceted, and by no means as simple as one might at first believe. I am amazed at the Sámi’s capacity to innovate and create in the face of constantly changing times, and have been particularly struck by their ability to participate actively in the tourism industry while at the same time staying true to their identities and traditions. In other words, the Sámi appear to have adapted to tourism while retaining, to some degree at least, control of the process.
However, to understand the dynamics existing within the industry, it is necessary to also look at things also from the perspective of the tourist: that person’s expectations, knowledge and background, as well as the social imageries carried from his or her culture. All these aspects shape not only the visitor’s experience and relationship to the Sámi, but that of later tourists as well, as the person returns home to share impressions, memories and anecdotes with friends and family.
I look forward to sharing more of my experiences and reflections about my research in the coming days.