Akwé: Kon collects traditional Sámi knowledge

Treaties made by the UN constantly introduce new principles to forest use. Luckily, they do not always cause problems. A good example is Akwé: Kon.

The words Akwé: Kon come from the Mohawk language spoken in North America. The original meaning of the words is "everything in creation”. However, in UN language they mean the principle that indigenous peoples’ traditional relationship to and knowledge about nature must be preserved.

The principle was formulated in the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, but its adoption is voluntary for the participating countries. A Finnish working group planning its adoption suggested that the principle should be followed in all planning and guidance of land use in the Sámi homeland in Finland.

The responsibility for this was delegated to several public authorities: the Ministries of the Environment and of Agriculture and Forestry, the state-owned forestry company Metsähallitus, the Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment for Lapland, the Sámi Parliament, the Regional Council of Lapland and the municipalities in the Sámi homeland in Finland: Enontekiö, Inari, Sodankylä and Utsjoki.

Metsähallitus was the first one to start
While the working group was still dealing with the matter, Metsähallitus decided to test the Akwé: Kon principles in the Hammastunturi wilderness area in Upper Lapland, where the management and land use plan was being updated. Last spring, Metsähallitus and the Sámi Parliament established an Akwé: Kon group, which continues its work until next spring, when the management and land use plan will be finalised.

Simultaneously, the working group responsible for the adoption of the Convention set the target that the Akwé: Kon principles should be adopted in all land use planning in the Sámi homeland. In this context, the experiences gathered from the work in Hammastunturi should be utilized.

As regards Metsähallitus’ cooperation with the Sámi, the Akwé: Kon principles add a new element: conditions are also set for the representation of the Sámi people. Akwé: Kon demands that the representation must be balanced in terms of several aspects: the structure of livelihoods, age and sex, for example.

This can also be seen in the make-up of the Akwé: Kon group. The group will comment on the preparation of the management and land use plan continuously.

The first in the world
Ms. Elina Stolt, Area Manager in Metsähallitus, who is responsible for the Akwé: Kon work in Metsähallitus, says with pride: ”This is the first time in the world that these principles are applied in practice.”

It was expressly suggested that Metsähallitus should prepare permanent guidelines to implement the principles. Even in Canada, where the name of the principles originates from, this has not taken place.

Ms. Pirjo Seurujärvi, Park Superintendent of Metsähallitus in Northern Finland, was a member of the working group planning the adoption of the Convention. She says that Metsähallitus’ management and land use plans are not the only areas where the principles can be utilized.

”Good examples are land use plans for commercial forests and general urban and rural land use plans,” says Seurujärvi.

Metsähallitus’ work has already led to one concrete result. The management and land use plan of the Hammastunturi wilderness area is going to include the right to gather raw materials for traditional Sámi crafts from nature free of charge.

However, there are some exceptions: raw materials cannot be taken from strictly protected parks, and they may not be sold on to third parties – though the products made of them may be sold freely.

”The decision introduces an important principle,” says Stolt. ”Now nobody will need to check whether anyone sees them break off a few small branches for craft work,” says Stolt.

Mr. Klemetti Näkkäläjärvi, Chairman of the Sámi Parliament, also considers this important, although he says he has heard criticism, too, from the Sámi side. ”There has been some suspicion that this is just a way of getting people to shut up about the land ownership disputes, but I myself do not believe that,” says Näkkäläjärvi.

Not everything is new
The adoption of the Akwé: Kon principles does not, however, mean that Metsähallitus has never discussed with the Sámi before. A good example is the 2009 agreement between Metsähallitus and some Sámi reindeer herding cooperatives concerning the forestry use of important reindeer pastures.

The agreement was based on the Sámi knowledge of what is essential for their reindeer herding. Näkkäläjärvi admits that it is a good agreement, but points out that it was not negotiated according to the Akwé: Kon principle of balanced representation on the Sámi side.

Another important body of traditional knowledge consists of place names. Metsähallitus has gathered traditional Sámi names in a special project.

In almost all cultures, traditional toponyms are based on how sites were used in the past. When the names are forgotten, the traditional use of nature is often forgotten as well, although it might again be useful some day.

And once new names have been printed on the map, the Sámi have also started to use them, thus contributing to the disappearance of the original name.

”We hope the work will continue”
Näkkäläjärvi is hopeful for the wider adoption of the Akwé: Kon principles. ”If the results in Hammastunturi are good, Metsähallitus has promised to adopt them in other wilderness areas, too, and even in commercial forests,” says Näkkäläjärvi.

The municipalities could also use them in planning, which they have promised to do. Nevertheless, Näkkäläjärvi has his doubts.

”We will soon start to prepare extensive plans in Kilpisjärvi and Lake Inarinjärvi. Some promises have been heard but I do not necessarily believe in them,” says Näkkäläjärvi.

According to Stolt and Seurujärvi, it is the Sámi reindeer herding that needs special protection in Upper Lapland – although only a small minority of the Sámi depend on large-scale reindeer herding.

”This is important because the Sámi reindeer herding upholds the Sámi culture in terms of language and customs, for example,” says Seurujärvi.

On the other hand, Sámi reindeer herding cannot be different from that of the Finns, because the reindeer roam the land in the same herds, and they are treated in exactly the same way, whether owned by the Sámi or Finns.

This may be so, but it may also be the other way round: ”Maybe one should think that the way Finns herd their reindeer does not differ from the Sámi way. However, protecting Sámi reindeer herding cannot have the result that it is more profitable than it is for Finns,” says Seurujärvi.

By Hannes Mäntyranta

Taittoelementti, vihreä vaaka pisteviiva

WWW-sivusto Akwé: Kon principles according to Secretariat of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity
WWW-sivusto Hammastunturi wilderness area
WWW-sivusto UN Convention on Biological Diversity

Metsähallitus was
the first one to start

The first in the world

Not everything is new

”We hope the work will continue”

Elina Stolt. Photo: Hannes Mäntyranta
 Hearing of the Akwé: Kon principles for the first time, one is struck by the sudden suspicion that this is another new way to hamper state-owned forestry in Upper Lapland. Ms. Elina Stolt, Area Manager of Metsähallitus, says that the thought could not be further off the mark.

Pertti Heikkuri and Pirjo Seurujärvi. Photo: Hannes Mäntyranta
Mr. Pertti Heikkuri, Forestry Manager of Metsähallitus in Upper Lapland, and Ms. Pirjo Seurujärvi, Park Superintendent of Metsähallitus in northern Finland, are themselves Sámi. However, they both think that the Akwé: Kon principles would not allow them to take a Christmas tree from the Hammastunturi wilderness area. ”Decorating a Christmas tree is not an example of a traditional Sámi craft,” laughs Heikkuri.

Hammastunturi wilderness. Photo: Hannes Mäntyranta
Polar light in the Hammastunturi wilderness area at two p.m. on 21 November 2011.

The location of Inari.

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