Buorre beaivi, buorit davviguovllu verddet! Good day, dear friends of the North!
I would like to start by making sure you really know where you are. I don’t know is someone already wished you welcome to Ǩeȃrkknjargg or Girkonjárga, which are the names of this town in Skolt and North Sami languages. You might even wonder why this town has Sami names, because entering the town it is not obvious that these are traditional Sami homelands, and that this part of Máttá-Várjját belonged to the Skolt Sámi siida Paččvei. For about 00-150 years ago this was a vibrant Sami community, this is well documented by the magnificent photos taken by Elisif Wessel.
The Sami of Máttá-Várjját are not so visible today, but they are here if you know what to look for. You might spot a Sami flag, a Sami sign, a Sami place name. Sami language is taught in the schools here. There are Sami children in the preschools, and the Culture School has done a big difference when it comes to celebrating Sami culture and language.
When driving out of town you might spot reindeers grazing, because Sami reindeer herding is still an important livelihood, with many families producing sustainable, healthy and delicious reindeer meat, which I hope you will get to taste. The Indigenous cultures of the North are smart and advanced cultures. They have to be, to be able to survive in sometimes quite harsh climate conditions. We have traditionally relied upon hunting, freshwater and sea fish, herbs and berries, that have developed into livelihoods and small scale industries like arctic farming, reindeer herding, fisheries. Protecting the resource base for our traditional livelihoods is of great importance for the Sami Parliament, and have prevented an even greater emigration from Sami areas than is the case today.
You have already heard lots about the natural resources in the North. But the rich cultures and beautiful landscapes of the North are also resource bases to be counted on. Many of you might have seen the Disney Animation film Frozen – or the sequel Frozen II. Frozen II, which is also the first major animation film released in a Sami Language, Jikŋon II, is inspired among other by Sami nature and culture. Can you imagine the power of such storytelling reaching out to millions all over the world? If only a tiny percentage of the viewers would like to see the areas or experience the cultures that inspired that film we would be overflowed by tourists. Or would we? I visited Paris in December. The Metro was pasted with giant posters of Frozen II, inviting tourists to the land of Frozen II. Icleand.
I think we might have some work to do if we want to benifit from the exposure of Frozen II...
There is great potential for business development within creative industries and cultural industries We want business development without exploiting the Sami culture. The Sami Parliament have development programs for creative industries, where competence building and networking are key elements. We have initiated a process on ethical guidelines for Sami tourism together with the municipality of Romsa/Tromsø. We want to set a standard for what is acceptable when presenting Sami culture to tourists. We want ethical and respectful tourism.
Last week we invited to a Sami design fair in Romsa- Šoop Šoop. Sami designers met with distributors on an ethical platform to help gain knowledge about managing Sami identity and culture in a commercial setting. Sami cultural expressions should be promoted in a respectful way. It is important to know that traditional clothing follow family and cultural affiliation, while Sami design objects such as scarves, clothing and jewelry are available to everyone.
I am from Guovdageaidnu, a five hour drive west. It is kind of puzzling to imagine that 150 years ago Máttá-Várjját and Guovdageaidnu were both small, sparsely populated majority Sami communities. Guovdageaidnu has certainly changed, but it is still a community where you can hear Sami language spoken everywhere. You might ask whatever happened here to make it different? Well, the answer is kind of obvious. Syd-Varanger mining company happened. It changed this community, the demography, the language, the landscape. Generations have built their lives around the mining, and the community has certainly prospered from it. But you might understand that when I partake in these kinds of conferences, and politicians and industrialists tell me about the great possibilities in the North, and how Extractive Industries will make our culture prosper, I remember Máttá-Várjját, and I think “no, maybe not so much”.
Sami culture and language is gaining more acceptance. It has been silenced and hidden, but is evolving out of its hiding places. Also here in Máttá-Várjját. It might even be celebrated and showcased at cultural events like Barents Spektakel. I believe it is easier to be a Sami today than 30 years ago.
But the paradox is, that even if Sami culture and language is not stigmatized like it was only a generation ago. Even if many from the majority culture acknowledges, supports and celebrates with us. Even now, our livelihoods, that have carried our languages and cultures all through time, are severely endangered. Yesterday Sami reindeer herders from both the Norwegian and Finnish side of the border were crying on the stage just 200 meters way from here, when they told about how the plans of an Arctic railway would affect their futures. Can you even imagine? They were crying. While others were probably close by toasting in champagne for the glorious prospects of the future.
I am here to say that we should solve this paradox. That the different cultures and languages of these areas are a gift, and a sustainable source for creativity and innovation. We can do better. Development should not always be at the expense of the minority. We should choose a path forward that isn’t just a copy of paths chosen in the past, a history that almost eradicated the Sami culture and languages in this area. Development should benefit Indigenous peoples also, and then it shouldn’t be forced on us. We have to build trust for the future. We are not objects in museums, or mascots for tourists. We are living cultures, we are your neighbours, your partners. Please make room for us at the table.
Giitu. Thank you.
Aili Keskitalo, President of Sami Parliament