A snapshot of contemporary indigenous life – with emphasis on Sámi perspectives

A new publication on Arctic Indigenous Peoples from The Sámi Council and German Arctic Office (at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research) was just recently launched. While shortly browsing through it, I found that it is written very shortly and concisively and for a broad lay audience including decision makers. It is a publication written mostly by indigenous representatives (mostly Sámi) who are active politically in promoting Arctic indigenous rights. I particularly liked the illustrations.

“This collaborative project between the Sámi Council and the German Arctic Office depicts the ways of life Indigenous Peoples lead in the Arctic. As resilient cultures, Arctic Indigenous Peoples hold distinct knowledge on how to respectfully use the environment to co-exist within the ecosystems. Even though resilience is enclosed within these cultures, the challenge of coping with both environmental changes and domestic regulations affects the practice and development of Indigenous Knowledge. This text describes how Arctic Indigenous Peoples use Indigenous Knowledge as a generationally refined way of knowing to ensure the vivid development of cultures and livelihoods. It further illustrates how Indigenous Peoples have traditionally developed circular governance systems that sustainably care for the environment instead of dominating it. Indigenous Knowledge, as the foundation of these ways of life, is therefore central for Arctic Indigenous Peoples cultures and how they collectively preserve the stability of Arctic and sub-Arctic environments.”

From an anthropological point of view, it catches our eyes that the publication does not really have identifiable authors. It bears the name of the two organisations – the Saami Council and the German Arctic Office. Then there is an editorial team consisting mostly of interns. Not sure was the editorial team actually responsible for the content and wrote the text? Was it reviewed by someone? I found it slightly irritating that the sources they cite are actually not part of the pdf of the publication, but you need to click on their website on a separate link. Looking at the sources, it caught my eye that most of them is literature intended for a general or professional audience. Of over 40 sources, less than 10 were scholarly publications, including from the IPCC or the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment. A lot of the sources are published by indigenous peoples organisations, the Arctic Council, the Nordic Council of ministers etc. So this piece is a good source for us to make sense of the view of indigenous peoples and decision makers.

The Experience of Displacement and Social Engineering in Kola Saami Oral Histories

Public defence of the doctoral dissertation by blog contributor Lukas Allemann on 15 Oct 2020

Our team member and periodic blog contributor Lukas Allemann examines in his thesis people’s experiences of Soviet-time, state-initiated displacement and (re)emplacement on the Kola Peninsula as well as the consequences of these developments. Sources show that Saami communities bore the brunt of these processes. The work seeks to draw – for the first time – a holistic picture of the social transformation among the Kola Saami, while nevertheless respecting the reality of mixed and multiple ethnic belongings as well as other categories of identity in the region.

Continue reading “The Experience of Displacement and Social Engineering in Kola Saami Oral Histories”

Saami rights lecture, Rovaniemi

Our colleague Klemetti Näkkäläjärvi will give a lecture this Friday at 13.15 at the University of Lapland main building, with a title that would sound in english something like “rights and obligations of the Saami community”. Klemetti served as the speaker of the Finnish Saami parliament and has a PhD in anthropology. The lecture is going to be in Finnish (I see that this limits the listeners in this forum). Fore Finnish speakers outside of Rovaniemi, it will be possible to listen at https://connect.eoppimispalvelut.fi/saam0103/

If someone would go and comment on this here at the blog, it would be great.

Oktoberfest Munich – is it all about human-horse relations?

Why would we write about the Oktoberfest on this blog? It turns out that there is an aspect of it that is closely related to the interest in one of our current projects – Arctic Ark – where we are interested in the genetic diversity of agricultural animals and the ways in which people make use of specific animal breeds’ traits. It turns out that a lot in the Oktoberfest is about – human-horse relations, because it goes back to a horse-race on 17 October 1810, as our PhD student Markus Przybyl writes below.

But first some of the basics:

Basic numbers on the Oktoberfest, from the Norwegian inflight magazine September

Here below is Markus’ report, sort of a historical ethnography, with some interesting links to Arctic and Sámi traditions. All opinions expressed below are his, and comments here are welcome! Continue reading “Oktoberfest Munich – is it all about human-horse relations?”

“Linnaeus in Sápmi: Generating Knowledge in Transit”

The Anthropology Research Team is very happy to welcome you all at the Arctic Centre for a joint presentation by Professor Elena Isayev and Professor Staffan Müller-Wille, both from the University of Exeter, UK, on the 28th of May at 14:00 in the Thule seminar room.

Look at or download a poster of the talk on the “lectures and events, Rovaniemi” page.

Drawing by Linnaeus, illustrating various episodes from his journal. From the manuscript ‘Oeconomia Lapponica,’ Linnean Society of London, Library and Archives, Linnaean manuscript collection, Call no. GB-110/LM/LP/TRV/1/4/1. Accessable online at http://linnean-online.org/157546/

Elena Isayev is Professor of Ancient History and Place and Staffan Müller-Wille is Associate professor at the Department of Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology.

In the summer of 1732, the Swedish botanist and physician Carl Linnaeus journeyed through the Northern provinces of the Swedish Kingdom, including parts of Sápmi, known to him (and most English speakers today) as Lapland. His travel journal is often cited as the earliest account of Lapland by a naturalist and ethnographer. We are in the planning stages for a Wellcome Trust Collaborative Award application that uses the journal to create a platform for public debate about issues ranging from sustainability and wellbeing to indigeneity and sovereignty. Linnaeus’s travel diary allows to explore how knowledge was created “in transit”, that is, in encounters among people, like Linnaeus himself, who were multi-lingual and moved between cultures: guides and servants, settlers, priests, merchants, reindeer herders. In order to bring out this aspect, we plan to create a new online translation of the journal while re-enacting his journey. Discussing the translation at gatherings with local experts and audiences – a form of collective learning while the journey unfolds – will be our vehicle for exposing the meshwork of interactions through which the North and its supposed healthiness have been, and continue to be, constructed.


Воспоминания коренных жителей Севера о национальных и вспомогательных школах-интернатах – Testimonies about boarding schools among indigenous people in Russia’s North

English text see below.

The native boarding school in Lovozero –
Национальная школа-интернат в Ловозере

Цель данной статьи – предоставить слово бывшим ученикам интернатов Севера России, с особенным упором на вспомогательных школах-интернатах советского периода, в народе приобретавшие печальное прозвище «дебилки». Материалы являются свидетельством событий с 1960-х по 1980-е годы. Я собирал эти материалы в проекте по устной истории в течение последних лет и решил опубликовать здесь небольшую часть в связи с недавним постом на фейсбуке о вспомогательных школах в местах проживания коренного населения Севера России. Пост этот за три дня вызвал более ста реакций и тридцати комментариев. Это было для меня окончательным подтверждением того, что истории о вспомогательной школе в Ловозере Мурманской области не единичные случаи, а вспомогательные школы Советского времени – больная тема для многих жителей по всему Северу России. Ниже приведенные материалы также являются дополнением к моим научным статьям на тему вспомогательных школ на Севере.

В отличии от Канады, Аляски и скандинавских стран, в России тема интернатского школьного обучения коренных детей Севера широкого общественного резонанса пока не получала – хотя есть что обсуждать, как наглядно показала упомянутая дискуссия на фейсбуке. Но особенно для западного читателя важно отметить, что среди бывших учеников в России полностью отсутствует аналог распространенному в Северной Америке дискурсу «сурвайверов», в котором общепринято называть выпускников интернатов «выжившими». Такая терминология казалась бы неуместной большинству бывших учеников в России, так как она заведомо исключает положительные воспоминания и оценки интернатов, а такие воспоминания безусловно присутствуют. К ним относятся, например, положительная оценка профессиональных перспектив и возможность подняться по социальной лестнице; также чувства благодарности и привязанности к бывшим учителям и воспитателям (не ко всем, разумеется!), относившимся к своей работе с приверженностью и с пониманием к стрессу ребенка вдали от дома. К отрицательным моментам в воспоминаниях относятся предвзятость персонала и стигматизация обществом, вклад интернатов в ассимиляцию коренного населения и утерю коренного языка и традиционного образа жизни, психологическое давление и даже насилие, вплоть до отправления подростков в психбольницы в качестве наказания. Для некоторых детей школа показала путь к социальному опусканию.

At the native boarding school in Lovozero –
Национальная школа-интернат в Ловозере

В подборке приведены воспоминания в основном от саамских, но не только, выпускников национальной и вспомогательной школ-интернатов в Ловозере. Кроме того, я включил беседу с бывшим директором вспомогательной школы; она тоже по национальности саами, что само по себе наглядный пример возможностей (или подводных камней) советской системы образования. Отобранные материалы дают представление лишь об одной, но самой темной стороне этой системы среди коренных жителей Севера – попадание здоровых детей во вспомогательные школы, использование этих школ как бы «не по назначению». Определялись такие дети в такие школы в основном в 70-е годы, часто из-за слабых знаний русского языка и советской, городской культуры. Такие «пробелы» соответствующими комиссиями часто определялись как олигофрения. Причины видятся многие, в том числе: предвзятость; заинтересованность в сохранении рабочих мест и повышенной зарплаты; улучшение жилищных показателей (дети выписывались из квартир, многие из которых были переполнены переселенцами из ликвидированных деревень). В связи с данной тематикой отрицательные моменты в этой подборке воспоминаний явно преобладают, но важно еще раз отметить, что в целом среди всех собранных мной материалах об интернатах также присутствует много положительных воспоминаний.

Транскрипция ненаучная, является компромиссом между легкой читаемостью и близостью к оригинальной речи. Это значит, что оборванные предложения, отражающие перескакивание мысли, передаются без сглаживания. Одним словом, передаются все обычные признаки живой речи. Жирный шрифт означает громкую речь, троеточие – оборванную речь (незаконченное предложение). Все имена в текстах изменены. О=отвечающий, И=интервьюер.

Публикуя данную сборку воспоминаний, хочется в первую очередь благодарить всех, кто со мной поделился. Я надеюсь, что эти голоса дадут толчок дальнейшему развитию обсуждения интернатской истории Севера и ее последствий для местного населения.

Цитаты из интервью на русском языке опубликованы ниже после англоязычного перевода этого текста.


In this contribution, which will be mainly in Russian, I want to give the floor to the numerous voices about boarding schools among indigenous people in Russia and the former Soviet Union, which I have collected during the past years during my oral history research. The discussed period is mainly the 1960s to 1980s.

At the native boarding school in Lovozero –
Национальная школа-интернат в Ловозеро

This is complementary material to my research articles on the oral history of boarding schools (references below) and to a discussion on facebook, which I came across recently. To this day, in Russia there have been far less public discussions on the past of residential schooling among indigenous children than in Canada, Alaska and the Nordic countries. The mentioned discussion on facebook, which gathered over one hundred reactions and thirty comments within the first three days, shows, however, that there is a need to sort out the matter.

At the native boarding school in Lovozero –
Национальная школа-интернат в Ловозере

There seems not to be a demand for a discourse coined by the concept of “survivance”, contrary to for instance Canada. Such a terminology would seem inadequate to most former pupils in Russia as it would preclude the widespread recollections on the positive sides of the system. But this doesn’t mean there is no demand for talking about those schools, which heavily changed the lives of individuals and communities to this day. In my research in Lovozero, Murmansk Region, North-West Russia (also known as Russian Lapland) one of the most negative aspects of the Soviet boarding school system among indigenous children was the local, so-called remedial school for mentally disabled children, which officially had no ethnic dimension whatsoever. It existed from 1970 to 1994. The bigger school though in the village was the native boarding school, which was opened in 1959 and closed a few years ago. This was a general school with some additional elements focusing on (mostly visual and material) features of the local indigenous cultures. This latter type of schools was designed for healthy children. During my oral history research, I found out that there were many wrong appointments to the remedial school among indigenous children due to their lower level of knowledge of the majority language and culture (more information on this in my articles, see references below). However, as this was a qualitative case study in a spatially limited area and there is no other research on those schools, I had difficulties in assessing how widespread this practice was across the whole, immense Soviet North. The timely discussion on facebook gave me an answer. The initial post was about one such school in Russia’s Far East, and it triggered a cascade of comments and accounts on exactly such schools and such practices in many different places of Russia’s North. Continue reading “Воспоминания коренных жителей Севера о национальных и вспомогательных школах-интернатах – Testimonies about boarding schools among indigenous people in Russia’s North”

Care, assimilation and revitalization in Deanuleahki, Sápmi

We have the pleasure to host at the anthropology team Annikki Herranen-Tabibi, Doctoral Candidate, Department of Anthropology, Harvard University.

She is doing research on  kin-based forms of care, and the ecological and political context thereof, in Deanoleahki, Sápmi, and going to talk about her anthropological fieldwork plan, as well as answering any possible questions someone might have about Harvard.

The talk will be at 23 November, 14:00 in Rovaniemi, Finland in the Arktikum house, in the meeting room “THULE”. Coffee and cookies will be served.

A Memory Stick Packed With Memory – Карта памяти, заполненная памятью

2015-10-14 12.57.41***Русский текст ниже***

As a major outcome of the ORHELIA project (Oral History of Empires by Elders in the Arctic), our research team is proud to present a USB-Stick with oral history recollections from the different indigenous communities where we have been doing research during the past four years. The stick contains audio-visual and written materials from conversations we had with elders out in the tundra and in tiny kitchens over tea and sweets, all over the Eurasian Arctic from the mouth of the Lena River till Finnish Lapland.

ORHELIA Stick Screenshot 2

The stick offers a selection of remembrances both of happy and sad stories from people who have witnessed huge social, political and economic changes during their lives. There are stories about Stalinist terror and the Germans on the Arctic front during World War II, about boarding schools for indigenous children, about lethally poisonous rocket parts falling from the sky onto the soil of the tundra, as well as about playing Saami football, bear hunting stories, multilinguality or giving birth out in the tundra. A dominant topic throughout many stories from all regions are relocations by the state. This has turned out to be a common thread for many indigenous communities during the many upheavals of the 20th century. For understandable reasons, we couldn’t pack all stories on a stick – during our project we recorded several hundreds of hours of conversation – but any choice has something arbitrary and is regrettable, for no story is better than another. What we tried is to give a glimpse of the thematic, geographic and temporal broadness of the stories collected. Another aim was to show that there are not only stories of sufferance. Both the happy and the difficult moments in life should be present on the stick, as was the case in our conversations.


But why a USB stick and not, for instance, a web site? The USB stick is the first step in the popular dissemination of the results of our project. From the outset of our four-year oral history endeavour, it was a primary goal to bring our results back to those people who made our research possible at first hand. The USB stick is a format which allows accessing the information wherever there is a device like a computer or a tablet, even without an internet connection. In fact, even in the remotest tent on Yamal peninsula, families today have such devices, but due to the absence of mobile network coverage they mostly don’t have internet. For the younger generation, it will be a fun way to explore their elders’ past, which – as many told us – is interesting to them, but in the everyday routine only rarely becomes a matter of common conversations. For all generations it will be interesting to compare the stories from their community with fates from other people and places of the North. In the next months, we will go back to our corresponding research areas and disseminate the stick among all our contributors. By bringing back some of our results we also want to express our gratitude to our interlocutors. Special acknowledgement also goes to Stephan Dudeck and Antti Tenetz who dedicated many hours to designing and correcting the actual content of the stick. Without them, our common baby would never have become reality!

ORHELIA Stick Screenshot 3

The current edition of the stick is in Russian. Translated Finnish and English versions will follow. For broader public dissemination, we also plan an internet site with similar content. When we will go online we will announce it here on our blog, so stay tuned!


2015-10-14 12.59.30Наша команда исследователей от проекта ORHELIA (Oral History of Empires by Elders in the Arctic / Устная история империй, рассказанная стариками Арктики) рада сообщить об издании флеш-накопителя с историями из разных коренных народов Севера, собранными нами в течение последних четырех лет. На этой «флешке» последнего поколения в формате кредитной карточки содержатся видео-, аудио- и письменные материалы из бесед с пожилыми жителями всей евразийской части Арктики, от устья реки Лены до финской Лапландии, записанных то в чуме где-нибудь в тундре, то за чаем на уютной квартире в селе.

В коллекцию мы включили как веселые, так и грустные истории от людей, ставших свидетелями огромных социальных, политических и экономических перемен в течение их жизней. Можно посмотреть и послушать рассказы о Второй мировой войне и о сталинских репрессиях, о жизни детей в школах-интернатах, о ядовитых частях ракет, падавших на просторы тундры, о саамском футболе, о медвежьей охоте, о многоязычности в повседневной жизни, о родах в тундре, а также обо многом другом. Однако красной нитью по многим историям из всех исследованных регионов проходит тема переселений коренного населения. Она оказалась самым наболевшим из множества потрясений, принесенных ХХ веком.

ORHELIA Stick Screenshot 6

По понятным причинам, мы не смогли «кинуть» на флешку все собранные нами истории – проект собрал несколько сотен часов записи. Пришлось выбирать, и, к сожалению, любой выбор является произвольным, потому что в принципе нет плохих или хороших историй. В своей вынужденной выборке мы попытались передать тематическую, географическую и временную обширность собранных историй. Другая важная цель была включить не только истории о страданиях, а передать тот баланс между счастливыми и трудными моментами в жизнях людей, который мы встречали в беседах.

ORHELIA Stick Screenshot 1

А вот почему мы сделали флешку, а не сайт? Сайт несомненно будет, но флешка была для нас первым приоритетом при реализации очень важной цели нашего проекта: вернуть собранные знания тем людям, которые нам их давали. С самого начала нашего четырехлетнего проекта по устной истории Арктики это было одной из главных целей. Флешка – это формат, который соединяет два требования: интерактивность и в то же время доступность из любого места, где есть компьютер, ноутбук или планшет. Такие устройства сейчас можно встретить даже в самых отдаленных оленеводческих бригадах, а вот с интернетом из-за отсутствия мобильной сети во многих местах труднее. Для представителей более молодых поколений это будет познавательный, а иногда даже забавный способ узнать о жизнях своих предков. Многие нам признавались, что им истории бабушек и дедушек интересны, но в суете повседневной жизни стариков просто некогда расспрашивать. А если свободное время все-таки появляется, то хочется посмотреть «видик» или полазать в планшете. С флешкой можно будет соединить одно с другим. А для всех, включая старших, будет интересно сравнивать истории своего народа с человеческими судьбами в других арктических регионах, во многом, кстати, удивительно похожих.

ORHELIA Stick Screenshot 4

В течение следующих месяцев мы собираемся вернуться в те места, где мы собирали материалы и раздать флешки участникам проекта, а также другим заинтересованным людям. Возвращая людям истории из Арктики, мы выражаем всем участникам свою глубокую благодарность. Отдельное спасибо также заслужили Штефан Дудек и Антти Тенец из нашей команды. В основном они провели много часов за созданием дизайна, форматированием и корректированием материалов. Без них наше детище не получилось бы!

Текущее, первое издание сделано на русском языке. Попозже выйдут финская и английская версии. А вот для широкой публики позже мы планируем создать сайт с теми же материалами. Мы объявим об этом здесь, так что подпишитесь к нашему блогу и следите за новостями!


Stereotypes die hard!

Last week, an advertising campaign by Visit Finland and Finnair produced images of Sàmi in traditional clothes dancing around the fire during a shamanic ritual in the tent. In discussions following the publication, many rejected the representation of Sàmi in that video, not least because Sàmi were depicted rather dirty-looking (“Likaiset lappalaiset”, YLE 17-09-2015,

The article published in the YLE Sámi website
The article published in the YLE Sámi website

Supposedly, the actors in the film were not Sàmi themselves, and the setting as well as the stage props were invented. At the time of writing, the Finnish as well as the English version of the debated video are offline and replaced with an apology, but the German and Japanese versions are still accessible.
Two years ago at the International Conference of Arctic Social Sciences in Prince George, BC, I gave a paper about the persistence of stereotypes about the Sàmi as being drunk and dirty, and how these images are being reproduced in tourism and society at large (e.g. as postcoards of Uuttu-Kalle, or in the past in popular comedies, for instance pulttibois, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lbUFhKuMfCg). At first, the international audience at the conference could not believe that the images I was showing were actually available, such as the post card of Uuttu-Kalle, on sale in local supermarkets in north Finland. Instead, the audience seemed to think that I was talking about representations of the Sami in the past. The video now broadcast by Visit Finland – the national tourism enterprise – and Finnair – the national airline – is yet another reproduction of that popular, persisting image and, as the president of the Sámi Parliament Tiina Saanila-Aikio mentions in the YLE interview (“Likaiset lappalaiset”,YLE 17-09-2015), all attempts that have been made in the past two decades to raise awareness of its problematic implications seem to have been in vain. Agreeably, a step forward in getting rid of the stereotypes would be to follow Tiina Sanila-Aikio’s advice and film real Sàmi in their daily activities (“Likaiset lappalaiset”, YLE 17-09-2015). However, a wider societal effort is required to change this understandings and attitudes and that should span across all national public institutions, starting from schools.
In addition, it is interesting to notice that among the foci of the discussion, dirtiness figures as a main point of criticism. From a theoretical perspective, but also on a more pragmatic level, such debate conveys a very urban understanding of cleanness/dirtiness, a division that bring us to the structuralist analysis as with Mary Douglas where she remarks that “Dirt is the by-product of a systematic ordering and classification of matter, in so far as ordering involves rejecting inappropriate elements”(Douglas, 2003:36) and hence refers to other symbolic taxonomies . On the contrary, in a real Sàmi lávu, or any other teepee/chum condition, face and hands marked by the ashes would not be regarded as dirty, but as Ingold would have it, ” inheres in the pattern of dwelling activities that I call the taskscape” (Ingold, 1993:153), in other words, it would be understood as a sign that one has been taking care of the fire within a daily nomad taskscape and we all know that the fire has a central “focus” for the survival in the tundra.

Nuccio Mazzullo

Douglas Mary, 2003 (1966), Purity and Danger. An analysis of concept of pollution and taboo. Routledge, London

Ingold Tim 1993, The Temporality of the Landscape, in Conceptions of Time and Ancient Society, World Archaeology, Vol. 25, No. 2, pp. 152-174