Eighteen Arctic youth and early career professionals from around the world travelled to Sevettijärvi, Finland, located in Sápmi, to attend the APECS & Arctic PASSION Sharing Circle from 2-6 October, 2023. We were hosted by Toini Sanila and her team at Porotila Toini Sanila reindeer farm, located in Inari between the lakes Sevettijärvi and Kirakkajärvi. Our hosts were invaluable in sharing their knowledge and experiences surrounding the topics we discussed.
We were lucky enough to be selected for a week of immersive learning, centred on the topic of Indigenous-led ecological restoration. This topic was highlighted throughout the trip by Tero Mustonen, the President of Snowchange Cooperative, a co-management organisation founded in Finland which focuses on Indigenous and non-Indigenous collaboration to protect and restore the environment. Tero explained to us that Snowchange and the Skolt Sámi community we stayed with developed the first co-management system in Finland working on landscape rewilding.
The Sharing Circle was a unique combination of outdoor excursions to Snowchange rewilding and restoration sites, balanced with indoor discussions and presentations in the kota hut, a circular-shaped wooden grillhouse at the reindeer farm. This structure meant that the conversations we had in the cabin were contextualised and expanded by our daily outdoor activities. For example, the participant Élise Brown-Dussault gave an insightful presentation on reindeer habitats and lichen on the same day that we went to a Snowchange rewilding site and were shown different types of lichen. The visits and activities highlighted not only the topics we discussed but gave us the opportunity to understand why these topics and conversations are so vital to have. The Sharing Circle was exactly that, a collaborative and shared environment to circulate and debate incredibly important issues.
We continued this empirical learning throughout the trip. A highlight for me personally was the time we spent with Pauliina Feodoroff and the all-female team of Skolt Sámi activists. We were invited to Pauliina’s cabin to learn about her family’s work over the decades, restoring the lake and forest areas surrounding their home. We were also told about their project Matriarchy which is a “collective performance of healing and renewal, conceived as a process of rematriation to return to a world of kinship between people, land, waters, spirits, and other-than-human beings.”1
A truly fantastic part of our experience was participant involvement in the shared learning. In addition to lively discussions, many participants were invited to present their work and/or research to the Sharing Circle. This was a brilliant part of the schedule as the following conversations were so diverse and we covered an incredible number of topics in our five-day trip. For example, coming from a literary background, I truly had no prior knowledge of permafrost. When I shared this, one of the participants, Fabian Seemann, gave an impromptu talk whilst located at a permafrost monitoring site, where he explained the process of permafrost degradation. One evening we had the brilliant opportunity to watch a beautiful film, created by another participant Minetta Westerlund, focusing on reindeer and sheep herders close to Tromsø and the increasing challenges they are facing. Many of the topics we had covered in our discussions and excursions were seen throughout the film. These are just a couple of examples showing how the organisers encouraged our active participation through knowledge sharing.
We were honoured to be guests at the only school in the world that teaches Skolt Sámi, the Sevettijärvi School, where we learned from students and teachers and watched the students perform the traditional dance ‘Katrilli.’ A moment of pure fun was the Sharing Circle vs. Sevettijärvi School football match. We quite possibly had an unfair advantage in height and age, but nonetheless it resulted in a draw. No matter what country we came from, or what knowledge background we had, in the game we were equal.
Whilst recounting these moments from the trip, it is impossible to do so without acknowledging how unique this experience was. The organisers of the Sharing Circle did a truly fantastic job at creating a healthy, safe, and fun environment to have these incredibly important and sometimes difficult conversations. We all left this experience feeling inspired, determined, and reminded that we are all working and researching necessary topics. To be surrounded by inspirational people, such as our hosts, Snowchange, the Skolt Sámi activists, as well as the participants, was a week that cannot be compared to anything else I have experienced.
All of the participants will serve as Arctic PASSION Ambassadors for a year as a part of their Sharing Circle experience. Within this role, each participant will create a project to share their newly gained knowledge with a wider audience. It will be extremely exciting to see where these projects will take the lessons learned from our time at the Sharing Circle.
All photos by Olivia Rempel / GRID-Arendal
This event has received funding from the Arctic PASSION project, which is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 101003472, from the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC) and from the Norwegian Research Council.