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The Sami of Scandinavia

The Sami, formerly called Lapps by the Scandinavians, are the indigenous people of the far north of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. Their language is Finno-ugric, related to Estonian, Siberian languages, Finnish, and Hungarian. The Sami people's traditional, semi-nomadic subsistence ways include reindeer herding, and fishing and hunting. Their clothing, handicrafts, and music are distinctive and beautiful - sharing with the Lakota the use of decorated hides/skins, and skin drums. The traditional spirituality involves shamans, and totemic animals (especially the buck reindeer) though many Saami were converted to Christianity. Their social organization is traditionally equalitarian, with women sharing in leadership and ownership within small village communities. Traditional beliefs and livelihood activities still continue, though there has been much assimilation over the past couple centuries. There has also been land theft and encroachment, unscrupulous missionaries, forced loss of language, attacks on Sami villages, and the closing of borders which threatened the Sami culture. Currently, there are Sami political and cultural organizations in Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. There is a Sami Parliment spanning these borders, which participates in the global indigenous peoples' movement at UN, etc.

The following letter appeared originally in English in:

'Sapmelas' (Nr. 7- 8, 1994), a Sami-language newsletter

Benefactor or bully?

The case of G. Loomis against the Kola Same

In 1992 the River Ponoi, on the Kola Peninsula, was rented out to a company called G.Loomis. Today, in 1994, the firm is the big boss on the river. During the two years of its tenure, the company has not once agreed to meet representatives of the Kola Same Association to discuss the needs of the Same people.

Obviously for this reason they now (ref. to a Finnish newspaper) maintain that the people living along the Ponoi through the generosity of G. Loomis have been able to fish for salmon in the river. In fact, we have always had an opportunity to fish on the river, not only just for our own consumption but also in the capacity of professional fishermen. Recently, two fishing associations were disbanded by G. Loomis, causing jobs to be lost, livelihoods jeopardised, and the supply of fish to be cut off.

G. Loomis maintains that it is trying to ensure that there will always be jobs for the local inhabitants. However, the truth of the matter is that jobs have only been given to those who have made an agreement with the company and the municipality of Lovozero. This agreement is obviously extremely beneficial to the Americans. Jobs have been handed out to former municipal manager Aranovsky and former manager of the Lenin memorial government estate, Orehov. Extra earnings are also being pocketed by the current head of the hunting supervision bureau, Pavlov. Big wheels all.

The firm avers that it has provided USD 150,000 worth of humanitarian aid. With this kind of money a great deal could have been achieved in remote villages populated by less than a thousand people altogether. While it is true that a circular saw has been sent to Sosnovka, this is regrettably impossible to operate, being dilapidated and lacking certain vital components.

The Kola Same Association is worried by the fact that the Kanevka village school, clinic and school are being closed down - all to the company's advantage. Next in line for axing are the villages of Sosnovka and Krasnoshelye. People are being ousted from these settlements in precisely the same way as the villages along the north coast were forcibly emptied to make way for military outposts 30 years ago.

During G. Loomis' short history, there has twice been an appointment of a new municipal manager for Lovozero municipality. The first two worthies, Aranovsky and Krasnikov, were there long enough to feather their own nests and now the third - Prints - is grabbing as much as he can. Prints in his capacity as municipal manager has already succeeded in ousting our own company, Valt Jall, to eliminate the threat to G. Loomis. This affair could well be called "The Lumbovka conflict", for the Lumbovka was the only river on the Kola Peninsula on which the Same were running a tourism enterprise. It is our great misfortune that this is located too close to G. Loomis' territory for everyone's comfort.

In 1992 there were no tourists. We constructed a camp and established routes. On hearing of our camp, G. Loomis' managers on several occasions visited us from their own camp on the River Patsha. In June 1992 I saw Mr. Petterson and warned him that his uninvited visits to Lumbovka were unacceptable. In spite of such warning, the visits continued. To set the official stamp of approval on his 'fishing visit', G. Loomis' manager, Shamyshev, lied to the Murmanrybvod authorities, saying no agreement existed between his outfit and ours.

As a consequence, in 1992 G. Loomis used the River Lumbovka free of charge, while the Same had to pay for the privilege.

The following year, municipal manager Krasnikov forced us to relinquish our right to the river to Mr. Petterson by demanding from the Same USD 20,000 for the use of the waterway's bioresources. We agreed to pay on condition that our employees would be given jobs in the Lumbovka camp.

At the end of the fishing season Pettersson refused to pay wages agreed on earlier. Six months later the employees were finally paid one third of the agreed sum, and only then after we had threatened Pettersson with legal action.

The presence of the Same is also a thorn in the side of the military as our employees have fought eith soldiers poaching fish. The Same cut illegally set nets which had been strung right across the river, virtually enclosing it.

The arrival of soldiers at our camp in a helicopter and the taking away of a small generator, furniture, bedding and personal effects belonging to our lads, underscored their guilt. A week later the helicopter returned, the lads themselves were forced into it, and they too were shipped out. Major Dudarev went so far as to write out a receipt to this effect, to show us who's boss in the Same area. He also made threats to burn our camp.

In 1994 the military and G. Loomis drew up an agreement guaranteeing the company aircraft fuel at the Lumbovka landing strip. Witnesses to this are village head Maksutov and our own lads.

In June 1994, just before the start of the tourist season, the Same camp on the River Lumbovka suddenly burned to the ground. Prints, the latest municipal manager, refused even to consider our claim to river rights, since we have no agreement with G. Loomis. This was to be our punishment. We lack the resources to fight against giants like the American G. Loomis enterprise, the military, and those in power.

We leave the reader to ponder whether the Americans are really helping the local inhabitants - or bullying them.

Lyubov Vatonema
President of the tourist company, Valt Jall

Pirkko Vishnevskij visnevskij@latuko.helsinki.fi

Printed with the author's permission

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The Indigenous Peoples' Literature pages were researched and organized by Glenn Welker.