This region supports not only the traditional Saami peoples but also Finns who have been settled here long before the Saami, foreigners or 'Southern' Finns came to stay. It is very much a frontier community with quite a few different stakeholder groups in which tourism, Saami reindeer herders, Lappish reindeer herders and other enterprises manage to just about co-exist.
During your time here, you will have the chance to learn – if you are interested - more about the migration patterns of Saami through the different ages, the division of the region during the wars, the infrastructural role that the Germans played when working alongside Finns in the 2nd World War and the challenges of living today in a fairly divided frontier community.
One divisive subject is the potential ratification, or not, of the ILO Convention 169 on indigenous rights. Some believe that it is important for Finland and Sweden to follow Norway in ratifying this convention and that the small number of Saami who still live in the region should have decision rights for everything that happens in the area. Others worry that it will take away the rights of, for instance, Lappish reindeer herders who have the same lifestyle as the Saami reindeer herders, since they already have a lot less rights than the Saami even if they are living the same lifestyle - and the divergence in rights between the two would clearly magnify post ratification. However, one of the main questions locally is, who is actualy Saami? Even people who identify themselves clearly as Saami are not necessarily accepted as such by the c. 4 families who have somehow gained the yeasay power. Hence, all things considered, this is quite a topical discussion.
Some believe that granting a small number of the Saami the right to, for instance, determine land use in a large way, would ultimately lead to the demise of the area which was for a long time in a gradual state of decline. (This was a typical rural area for many years in which the young either moved away or, if they chose to stay, were often at least partially supported by the state in order to enable them to stay since there was very little employment opportunity and only a finite number of people can be supported through the year without support, by reindeer herding. Whilst there are currently still more deaths than births happening annualy, the number of births has finally started to rise again in the last 5 or so years as tourism and linked infrastructural development has led to more people of 'breeding age' moving in.
Which, clearly, some don't necessarily think is a good thing since it will ultimately lead to further land use pressures, but which globally could be argued to be a good thing to counter decades of urbanization. (According to the UN State of the World Population 2007 report, 2007 was predicted to be the 'tipping point' year / Urban Millennium after which the majority of people worldwide would be living in towns or cities, for the first time in history. Many believe that this is unsustainable and therefore re-energizing rural areas is of geographic importance.
As with all things in life, the issues are more complex than the popular press's simple stance and the simple fact that there are probably as many Finnish as Saami reindeer herders in this region (and that both are very much a minority group) is something which very much changes the dynamic in this area. Hence, we encourage any of our clients who are interested to learn about the area we are in through evening chats, visits to the local nature centre, visits to local reindeer farms, etc, so that they can leave with as good an understanding of the area and its current political challenges as possible. For those who are interested, you can learn more about the Reindeer Husbandry Act, here and, since most of the information available about the ILO convention is from the popular press or from a Saami perspective, (and super easy to google), folk can learn about the opposing viewpoints from the blog of Enontekiö's mayor, Mikko Karna, here or through some of the other blogs we have referenced for the sake of objectivity, here.
From a company's perspective, we try to work co-operatively with local reindeer people (whether Saami or Laps) and to show on a day by day basis through our standard actions, the positive benefits which tourism brings to the region. We try at all times, for instance, to use locally-owned accommodation and transport providers for our own products so as to spread financial benefits from the business amongst local people and operators. We also negotiate access for any trails we plan to use with the dogs, since we believe that this fits within a code of 'best practice' even if it isn't a regulatory mandate since using sleddogs either privately or commercially (if unsupported by snowmobiles) falls within 'everyman's rights'.
This subject is quite a hot topic locally but official statements by the Ministry of Environment (which is above the Ministry of Forestry which allocates permits and works between stakeholder groups, locally), makes the position quite clear as you can see, here (Koiravaljakolla ajaminen on jokamiehenoikeutta, siinä missä muukin motorisoimaton liikkuminen. Vähistä suurempaa haittaa ei kuitenkaan saa aiheuttaa toisen omaisuudelle. Mm. latuja ei saa sotkea.)
Pasi also spent time talking with Pekka Tuunanen, the Environment Counsellor for the Ministry of the Environment, prior to setting up the business here, so as to gain an absolutely clear understanding of the current rules, regulations and rights of owners of sleddogs and sleddog businesses (since the everymans' right also applies to enterprises running sleddogs, until such time as preparing tracks by snowmobiles (outside of everymans' rights) comes into play, to ensure that we would (more than) comply with whatever was needed. The paragraph relevant to this from the decree about everyman's rights reads: Sillä, että toisen maalla toimitaan kaupallisella periaatteella tai muutoin järjestäytyneesti, ei ole merkitystä jokamiehenoikeuksien kannalta. Eli liiketoimintaa saa harjoittaa toisen maalla jokamiehenoikeudella, jos siitä ei aiheudu vähäistä suurempaa haittaa (rikoslain hallinnanloukkauspykälä). Siis lupia ei tarvita. Jos liiketoiminta on tärkeätä, on käytännössä syytä neuvotella maanomistajan kanssa toimintaolosuhteista.
We also attempt to drive open communication between the other tour companies who work in the area – particularly the foreign-owned ones - and the wider community to foster mutual understanding since this is to everyone’s benefit. When local people, often inherently resistant to the potential infringement upon their traditional ways of life that tourism can cause, come into contact with companies that do not understand the importance of communication, unnecessary hostility results.
When, by comparison, there is an increased knowledge and awareness of other cultures and the mutual benefits that can arise, direct and meaningful interactions occur and local peoples can even support their household livelihood strategies through financial benefits and direct employment possibilities gained through tourism-related activities. Clearly many local people are now reliant upon tourism as their means of survival. Indeed, tourism is clearly of absolutely critical importance, now, to an otherwise fairly poor municipality as you can see by the table below, which compares first the direct income from tourism, direct employment from tourism, the contribution of the tourism industy and wage tax revenue for each of the municipalities in Finnish Lapland.
Each year, local school children come to us on work practice placements as much to learn how to work with the dogs as to experience an international working culture (and to practise their English). Many return to help us out at key parts of the season or simply come back from time to time to feed or play with the dogs or to have fun with family and friends. Similarly, we choose one or two local groups of people annually (for instance, school children of a certain age, those who work in the supermarket or health centre or hotels etc) to visit the farm for free and to participate in one of our products. In this way, we are culturing an understanding of huskies in the area that was maybe lacking previously.
We also encourage understanding of, and respect for, local customs and beliefs within our staff team and we make a definite point of attending all local cultural events with our guides (reindeer gatherings, craft shows, community events, the local dog walking club, etc) and either contributing our manpower or contributing financially to events that are important for the continued vibrancy of the community and for encouraging a sense of shared responsibility, localised action and open communication.
We also try to provide language training to any international staff member or trainee musher who is with us for a longer time. We also attempt to make any evening classes that guides are interested in participating in open to them, within the constraints of long seasonal working hours. (These tend to be local handicraft or language courses – thus contributing to the continued demand and support for traditional practices and skills). In this way, the guides become, (as much as is possible when effectively divided by language), a part of the community and local people come to understand more about our business and the positive benefits that can accrue from having responsible tourism companies operating in an area.