On Monday March 27th morning, the three of us Arctic PASSION scientists Michael Karcher, Lisa Grosfeld and Nadine Hillenbrand from the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, Germany started our 35-hour long journey to visit the Arctic PASSION partners of the Skolt Sámi community in Sevettijärvi, Finland.

A map showing the different Sámi languages in traditional Sámi colors, including the location for the visit. Credit:Nele Peschel, Cartography MSc (2022) 

The visit was all about learning about the community, getting to know each other and becoming more familiar with the Indigenous project partners in Sápmi. Exchange, collaboration and better understanding of Indigenous communities in the North is part of Arctic PASSION and one of our joint actions to support this will be the ‘Sharing Circle’, an event in the homelands of the Skolt Sámi in October 2023, in collaboration with APECS and the local community. The Sharing Circle will be designed to enhance exchanges between Arctic youth and early career professionals related to the Arctic regions aiming at trustful and sustainable Arctic collaborations.

Visit of a reindeer herd. Photo: Antoine Scherer

Our stay at the Sanila reindeer farm was the perfect place for the week allowing us to experience some glimpses of the Sámi culture and the community’s life. Tero Mustonen from the Arctic PASSION partner Snowchange, a cooperative to promote the cooperation with local and Indigenous communities of the Northern regions, is the bridge between Indigenous and local people and the Arctic PASSION project. He enabled gatherings and exchange with local reindeer herders, fishermen and Elders around Sevettijärvi who gave insights into the life of the Skolt Sámi, their relationship to nature and challenges they face nowadays due to climate change and forestry exploitation. A visit that catapulted us into a different world that is determined by nature but impacted heavily by the actions of people outside of the community. 

Water and ice at the monitoring site. Photo: Antoine Scherer
Together with Tero Mustonen and Antoine Scherer, an ecologist and colleague from Snowchange, we visited research sites that are part of the monitoring program in Indigenous communities, here of water quality, algae blooms, microplastics and local salmonid fish, such as Arctic Char, Whitefish, Trout and Atlantic Salmon in the rivers. These observations and insights from Indigenous Knowledge are fed into Arctic PASSION event database, built by Snowchange together with the communities.

Another highlight was visits to the local school, getting to know school kids and their teachers from Sevettijärvi, and later in the evening also further members from the community. Tero Mustonen informed them on the status of their joint ecological restoration project. Michael Karcher, Arctic PASSION’s scientific coordinator, showcased what Arctic PASSION is about, explained how we collect environmental data in the Arctic, and how Arctic PASSION attempts to make the Arctic Observing system a more useful and better integrated source of information to the people. Policy and outreach managers Lisa Grosfeld and Nadine Hillenbrand outlined the concept of the ‘Sharing Circle’ to the students. The youngest students at the school, with an age range from pre-school to third grade, told the researchers about their sightings of wild animals in the region after having listened to a story about a research buoy being destroyed by a polar bear on a polar ocean expedition. 

A historical replica of a Sami building. Photo: Michael Karcher

On the way back south, we finally had the chance to visit the Sámi Parliament and the Siida Sámi Museum in Inari, which provided more background and insights to the history and culture. We left Sápmi rich with impressions from the encounters with the people and the wonderful nature. Arctic PASSION and the three of us personally will benefit from what we learned on this visit and from the conversations with the Skolt Sámi. It will have an impact on the further joint work on an inclusion of science and Indigenous Knowledge in Arctic observing and concretely on shaping the Sharing Circle, planned in Sevettijärvi in October.