Collecting traditional knowledge, using it and handling the materials

On this page we describe the starting points for and practical ways of collecting traditional knowledge and the ways the traditional knowledge is used in the project Sami traditional knowledge and environmental decision making.  We also go through questions connected with handling the materials containing traditional knowledge.

The illustrations are video materials shot while we were collecting data that contains living Sami cultural heritage. The purpose of the video materials is to explain the context where we were collecting the materials and to show the ways traditional knowledge is still alive in Sami reindeer herding today.


Video:  Fetching the reindeer herds from a larger herding pen into a smaller reindeer pen or corral.

Starting point

In the project we were applying a community-based approach. This means that the project was implemented to meet the needs of the Akwé: Kon group in the Käsivarsi area and through them also more broadly to meet the needs of the Sami community.  On this basis the task of the project was defined to support the Akwé:Kon group in the task set out for them:  to convey traditional knowledge related to the Management and Land Use Plan for the Käsivarsi wilderness area. In a broader sense this signified that the Sami traditional knowledge was to be included in environmental decision making. This way the project brought benefits to the Sami community.

As is typical for a community-based approach the project was implemented by bringing the Sami to participate in the work conducted during the project. This did not mean just including the Sami nominally, instead we aimed at real cooperation with the local community. The project was planned and the practical work mostly carried out together with the members of the Akwe:Kon group and the other representatives of the local community.


Video: Reindeer in the corral.

Why did we collect traditional knowledge?

The task of the Akwé: Kon group was to convey traditional information for the management plans of the wilderness area in the Käsivarsi region to give the Sami as the indigenous people the opportunity to affect the conditions of exercising their culture and traditional livelihoods in the region. The Käsivarsi Akwé: Kon group did not merely comment on the management plan but they wanted to collect the traditional knowledge more extensively from the local Sami community. This way they wanted to ensure better participation and to make sure that the knowledge would be passed on to the environmental decision makers.

On this basis we were able to define a natural and clear task for the project:  to support and help the Akwé:Kon group in collecting traditional knowledge. Traditional knowledge as such is a wide notion that may include very sensitive aspects. Based on the discussions we had with the Akwé: Kon group we decided to focus on certain subjects that are central for environmental decision making, and the questions concerning traditional knowledge were drafted in cooperation with the representatives of the group.


Video: Corral from a reindeer’s point of view.

What kind of information was collected?

When collecting information we focused on general traditional knowledge that everyone was aware of  and that the local people wanted the State Forest Enterprise Metsähallitus to include in the management plans concerning  wilderness areas. We did not collect information that was considered confidential. From the point of view of the management plan the central points were the traditional model of reindeer husbandry and the way to use the land.

In the Käsivarsi area reindeer husbandry is based on the traditional Sami way of conducting their livelihood. In the interviews it was important to collect information about the traditional model of reindeer husbandry that is based on the old siida system. Siida means a group of villages based on family relationships. In the Käsivarsi area reindeer husbandry is divided into three different village groups and into smaller families within the village groups.

The Reindeer Husbandry Act and the system of reindeer herding cooperatives do not as such acknowledge the Sami way of reindeer husbandry based in the siida system.


Video: Catching reindeer with a traditional suopunki lasso in the corral.

According to the purpose of the Akwé: Kon  group we also collected information about the Sami traditional land use. Naturally, attention was also paid to the ways land use was traditionally conducted in a sustainable way.
This way we wanted to make sure that the traditional Sami way of reindeer husbandry and traditional land use methods would be taken into account in the management plan.
We also quickly learned that it is important to collect and record information on the migration periods when people were herding reindeer and moving on the fjelds according to the natural rotation of pastures. There were not many people left who had lived in the time of migration and who could remember the tradition.


Video: Marking the calves in a traditional way with a reindeer mark cut in their ears.

How was the knowledge collected?

Traditional knowledge was collected by interviewing local Sami people, who are living the Sami culture and carrying out traditional livelihoods i.e. reindeer herding in the region. In the Käsivarsi area the Sami culture and reindeer herding are indissolubly linked with each other.

Video: Passing on traditional knowledge through conscious teaching, through models learned from older generations and through practical methods of reindeer husbandry.

Initially, we held a village meeting and everyone interested in the project or in the themes could participate. Then we started the actual collecting of traditional knowledge coordinated by the project in three different village groups into which the reindeer herding is divided in the Käsivarsi reindeer herding cooperative. In practice, the interviews were carried out in co-operation with the representative of the Akwé:Kon from each village group, or his or her deputy. This way the interviews could always be carried out in such a way that there was always a person present that the interviewees already knew and that person already knew about the village group. The interviews were carried out in Sami or in Finnish depending on what the interviewee preferred.

The interviews were conducted in three different village groups. The interview tour started in the Kaljukot village group or the Raittijärvi group where reindeer are herded in the northern parts of the reindeer herding cooperative. Then we moved on to the central and western parts of the Käsivarsi area, to the Kova-Labba village group, and finally we interviewed the Erkunas, that is the representatives of the Palojärvi-Kultima reindeer herders in the southern parts.

Videot: Skinning a reindeer and handling the meat in a traditional way.

The areas covered  by the management plans include the wilderness areas of Käsivarsi and Saana as well as the Natura 2000 area that traditionally are located in the areas of the Kova-Labba and Kaljukot village groups. According to a decision made with the Akwé: Kon group we extended the collecting of traditional knowledge into the Erkuna, or Palojärvi-Kultima village group that herds reindeer in the southern parts of the reindeer herding cooperative, because the representatives of this village group have equally valuable and essential knowledge on the Sami culture and reindeer husbandry in the Käsivarsi area.

Generally in the Käsivarsi area reindeer husbandry should be considered as indivisible whole formed by three village groups, where the narrowness of the area and the scarcity of pasture all the factors affecting a single village group have cumulative effects on the whole of the Käsivarsi reindeer herders’ cooperative area.

Video: Cutting the roast to be smoked.

The interviews were carried out in the Käsivarsi area for some three and a half months in the beginning of year 2016 in each of the three village groups.

In  connection with the collecting of knowledge we also shoot video interviews about the traditional knowledge and environmental decision making of the Sami. Sami people representing three different generations participated in the video interviews and the interviews were done in a very natural environment, i.e. in a traditional Sami village.

Video: Making interviews in a traditional Sami village in the middle of fjelds.

Video: Preparing to leave a traditional Sami village.

Video: To get into a traditional Sami village we used snowmobiles

How were the materials used?

The materials collected in the interviews were worked into a format in which they could be used in environmental decision making.
The interviews carried out in Sami language were transcripted and translated by a representative of the local community who masters the special Sami vocabulary used in the Käsivarsi area.

Because the project had first and foremost to help the needs of the Akwé: Kon  group, we collected information relevant to the Management and Land Use Plan for the the wilderness area and we made several summaries of the information for the group to use. This work was carried out simultaneously with our attending the meeting of the Akwé: Kon group in Käsivarsi and while we consulted the group about their needs that we tried to answer in order to reach a successful result. The materials and the summaries were handed over to the Akwé: Kon early in the summer of 2016 when the group finalized and sent their own statements to the State Forest Enterprise Metsähallitus.

A three member trainee project team was responsible for preparing the materials.


Video: Freeing the reindeer herds from to corral out to the fjelds.

A broader aim for the project was to make the information collected in the interviews accessible so that it could be used to support environmental decision making even in a more general way.  For this purpose we drafted an extensive report and organized a training workshop for officials and others. It was essential that the report included a description of the reindeer husbandry model used in the Käsivarsi area. 

Repository for the materials?

In addition to the collection of traditional information it is extremely important to find the right repository for the materials. This involves several ethical and legal issues of ownership. The materials consist of archive, image and audio materials that were collected during the project. 

It is of crucial importance to the project team to handle the materials for research in an ethically correct way that the Sami community can approve of.  For this reason the project team has consulted the Sami community concerning these issues.
The materials will be reposited in such a way that the traditional knowledge but also the research results can be returned to the community and will be available to the Sami in the future. This is important, because the Sami traditional knowledge is collective in nature. We talk about the Sami having collective rights to their cultural heritage.

This project complies with instructions concerning the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity, article 8 (j) about returning information to the members of the indigenous and local communities.


Video: Landscape from Käsivarsi.

Text and video: Assi Harkoma