At the Well blog


Our Relationship with Nature

Once a sámi man told me that he could see by the way that I walked that I had not lived my whole life within Sápmi. He said that my pace was way too quick. As I moved back home to live with my grandfather in Ohcejohka, where I had lived the first years of my life, I begun to understand what he meant. The pace of life is different. While fishing, you need to patiently wait for the Salmon to be willing to come to you; when you go to feed the reindeer, you have to wait for the pack of reindeer to come, sometimes you need to go and search for them. The weather does not always serve, you need to wait for the bad weather to pass, or for the daylight to arrive. You live to a another kind of rhythm.

Rhythm of the cities is the rhythm of the industrialized world, everything beats to the sound of machines, tirelessly producing, endlessly pacing forward. That was the rhythm my body had adjusted to within the years of living in the city, my steps mimicking the pounding of the factory machine.

It is the surroundings that shape our identities, create our beat.

In the times before, the life of the Sámi people was completely intertwined with the surrounding nature, as cultural habits and livelihoods were connected to it, but then the rhythm of another kind of world spread to Sápmi. As a result of modernization, colonisation and assimilation, the livelihoods changed, and as a result of that, we changed.

Something must be understood of the change. We did not choose the change, it was chosen by Western people, and those who are able to make a change, have the most ability to adapt to the change. Those who have not chosen the change, who have not grown into that change, struggle to survive and meet the needs of the changed world. To be able to survive in capitalist, industrial world, was no longer enough to just survive by traditional livelihoods, not all of us were able to live from traditional livelihoods, and the livelihoods changed. Now we have the motor sledges, and all-terrain vehicles, for which we are criticized. Now the debate is whether the mountains can hold the amounts of reindeer we have, or whether the traditional fishing method, throw net, is killing all the salmon in the Deatnu river.

Because we are seen as the protectors of the nature, we are also put a lot of more pressure to hold that responsibility, and we are asked to stick to our traditional ways of living. In the pressure of the changing world, we are pulled into two directions. Keeping the traditional and adjusting to the change. For some parts, integrating into western culture has been inevitable.

We work in modern workplaces, and consume different kinds of products. This changes the understanding of our surroundings, and the relationship we have with the nature and environment through our actions. When living locally, it is possible to track and understand how you are affecting through your consumption; when consuming globally, the relations between consuming and producing become more complicated. As we entered into a global not local world, we also entered into a different set of responsibilities. Before, we carried the responsibility of the surrounding nature, which provided us life, now we have a global responsibility that entails the whole world. Yet, how are we to carry that responsibility, is it possible?

Our material world has dimensions that are hard for us to understand. In order to be able to make ethical and ecological choices of purchase, we should be able to track the materials used, where they came from and how they are produced. But as consumers, we are rarely given such information. We live in a world, where the effects of production are enormous and crushing, yet the responsibilities seem to be forgotten or moved from one actor to another.

The difficult questions also rises when within ourselves we have different opinions or perspectives to an issue concerning the protection and preservation of the nature. Artist Marja Helander talked about the fact that our consuming affects the need to open new mines, and the Ozas group criticized the excessive usage of jewellery in gáktis – our traditional outfit. The question of whether or not to bottle out the sacred Suttesája spring divides us. Are we held responsible to be of one mind, with only one opinion? As we live in a more and more individualistic world, and make individual choices of consuming, how much are we to have a collective nature relationship?

To which extent are we responsible to have a united front, so that the outsiders will take our will to protect the nature as sincere? And how do we negotiate with those amongst us that aim for change?

Even though the discussion of how much jewellery we use with our gákti is a good way for us to examine our own culture and our ways of consuming, I think it is more crucial for us to examine our ways of consuming other products. For our cultural survival it is crucial that we have reindeer herding, but do we need to eat overproduced brazilian beef? And for our cultural survival we need our fishing waters and rights, but do we really need to eat tuna, on the brink of extinction? Duodji – Sámi traditional handicrafts and gáktis are essential to our culture and identity, but do we need to buy the latest design cups or clothes that may be produced with child labour and materials stolen from someone else’s backyard?

We should refuse those machinary steps, those capitalistic rhythms that invade our veins. Live to the rhythm that is our own, the core we are as Sámi, we are as humans. We are, no matter where we live, in connection to Sápmi through our relatives and memories, the connection to the local livelihoods and surroundings continue to live on even when we are far away from home. But for our understanding and relationship with the nature to continue as it has been, we need to be able to access the traditional livelihoods back home, our nature relationship is dependent and intertwined with Sápmi. It is the place which shapes our identities and is carried in our hearts, to which we are first and foremost responsible.



Stina Aletta Aikio

Stina Aletta Aikio works as an artist in Viidon Sieddit – New Measures of Sámi Nature Relationships -project. Examines in their work how global consumption changes our material reality and turns our nature relationship into multidimensional and complex relations in which we need to reconsider our actions and responsibilities.