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Chapter 2. Voices from Arctic nomads: an ancestral system facing global warming Reindeer herding food system of the Inari Sámi people in Nellim, Finland

Section 2 Sustainability of the Indigenous People’s food system


Adequacy of income opportunities

The professions of the people in the community are reindeer herders, fishers and civil servants. The elderly are retired, but this concept should be understood in the cultural sense – many people are still engaged in traditional activities despite their formal retirement status. Community members generate income from the selling of meat, fish, berries and mushrooms, particularly false morel.

The reindeer meat is sold to a supplier of reindeer meat or to private buyers. It is brought to grocery stores from slaughterhouses and suppliers that meet the standards of European Union’s directives. Meat can also be bought straight from reindeer herders from the roundup corrals (structures and events where the reindeer are separated based on ownership, age and slaughter) or houses. Community members get a fair price for their products. If products would cost more, the market would decrease. The price of reindeer meat increases slightly each year, slightly compensating the accumulating and increasing costs of fuel and equipment. To community members in Nellim, herders would prefer to sell their meat at a lower price, yet the costs of herding forces them to maintain a certain price.

The following points summarize some aspects of the meat prices for a comparative value:

Overall, the price of reindeer meat was 10-13 EUR8/kg in November 2019. It will vary according to the parts of the animal sold and cutting methods and processing level used.

Direct sales price of meat, without bones, straight to the customer from the herder can be 15-16 EUR9/kg.

In Nellim, the reindeer herders earn a livable wage from reindeer herding, but challenges continue to increase. Today, herders rely on subsidies, for instance European Union subsidies for farming and the compensation fees from the State regarding the impact of predation on reindeer. Reindeer herding is less lucrative nowadays since the costs of practicing it has increased with the continued increases in fuel prices, taxation and equipment. Further, wolverine, bears, wolves, lynxes and eagles prey on reindeer, and although the State provides compensation, the damages are still remarkable. In 2017 and 2018, compensations for the Finnish reindeer herding sector were around 7 to 8 million euros each year from national and European sources. Depending on the reindeer, the amount varies between EUR 1 300 and EUR 2 200.10

New activities in the area concerning natural resources, such as development of forestry, negatively affect sales of reindeer meat. The opening of roundups for tourists is another concern of the herders in the community. During roundups, reindeer are caught by their antlers and sometimes some accidents can happen, for instance a reindeer can break a leg. The habits and incidents can seem cruel and like brutal treatment to tourists who have no basic information on the traditions. Pictures and films of roundups are shared on social media, quickly reinforcing a negative picture of herding. This can have a negative impact on the whole tradition of herding and even lead to boycotts of Sámi reindeer meat in supermarkets. The phenomenon is regrettable since the Sámi, as Indigenous People in general, have high respect for nature and animals.

A reindeer herder spends approximately 20 percent of his or her income on food and drinks, whereas non-reindeer herders spend approximately 35 percent. Food in the market is affordable for everyone. Healthier food is more expensive, especially fresh food, but everyone can at this point afford to buy the food they wish.

Adequacy of diets

The traditional Inari Sámi food system of the community has the capacity to provide enough to eat, but it is still complemented with groceries purchased from stores. The traditional food system is diverse and adequate throughout the year. Community members have not experienced conditions of food insecurity since nature and its products have been diverse and abundant at all times of the year. However, the worsening impacts of climate change may alter this situation. Berries and mushrooms are examples of food strongly dependent on a stable climate. If there is a good early summer, there will be a good year for berries, but recent climate events might indicate that the coming years will be bad for collecting berries. Public access rights, or so-called “everyman’s rights”, refer to the right of everyone in Finland to enjoy outdoor pursuits regardless of who owns or occupies an area. There is no need to obtain the landowner’s permission, and there is no charge to pick wild berries, mushrooms and flowers, or to fish with a rod and line, or through a hole in the ice in wintertime. Other types of fishing always require a fishing license.11

Reindeer meat is a staple food in the community, in addition to fish, game meat, fruits and vegetables. The most common dishes prepared from reindeer meat are reindeer meat soup, dried reindeer meat soup and reindeer stew. Meat is dried and can also be smoked. The bone marrow is also eaten, as well as tongue, heart and liver. Reindeer blood is used for blood pancakes and sausages. Meat can also be minced, smoked or cooked as steaks. The diets of the community are heavier during the winter months and become lighter toward spring. Traditional wind drying of reindeer meat and fish is practised in the spring, and in addition to freezing of foods, this ensures a stable food supply year-round. There is a perception that the food consumed in the community provides sufficient nutritional value for community members, particularly as reindeer meat is especially lean and has high nutritional value, being rich in protein, vitamins, minerals and trace elements (Hassan, Sandanger and Brustad, 2012). The community members also have the freedom to choose which food they want to eat. However, some of the non-herders would like to purchase and eat more reindeer meat, but they find it expensive. The community in general still has a preference for traditional food. Children in particular favour reindeer stew and fish.

Although the traditional foods consumed are nutritious, the Soviet-era atomic bomb tests and the fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986 affected the region. Cesium and other radioactive elements were stored in lichen, eaten by reindeer and thereafter by humans. A State-led monitoring programme has sampled the community members since the 1960s to monitor these effects. With regards to the quality of the food products in the supermarkets, it is generally good and healthy, yet food that has higher quality or is organic costs more. In the past decades, with the proliferation of pizza, hamburgers and other fast foods, the amount of fat and other harmful substances in people’s diets has increased, as a shift in food culture has taken place. This is compensated locally in Nellim with the large amount of nature-based healthy foods, especially berries. According to the community, a person with good nutrition is healthy and eats the right proportion of meat, starches and vegetables. The local way of classifying food is traditional food or local food and food produced elsewhere.

Reindeer meat stored in freezer.
© Sámi Parliament in Finland/Elle Maarit Arttijeff.

Changes in the provision of livelihoods and social well-being over time

The income level for the community members has changed over time. Reindeer meat is more expensive, thus herders earn more, albeit costs related to the practice have also increased. If we look at the general picture, salaries have generally increased. Trade relations have also changed over time. Previously, there was an active exchange of goods between the community and Norway. This changed when the first grocery store opened in Nellim.

Despite transitions in the community’s food system, traditional food still plays a large role in the lives of the community members. The main change potentially concerns the amount of the animal being used, and the preservation methods. In previous times, the reindeer was completely utilized. Today some community members eat more processed meat, such as pork, and less reindeer meat. This is a result of modernization processes, as well as increased prices on reindeer meat, which in turn has reduced the consumption of meat for the community members who do not herd reindeer. Concerning vegetable consumption, nowadays some mushroom species seem to spread from southern Finland to the north, such as matsutake, a mushroom that was not found before in the Nellim area. This might be caused by climate change, thereby introducing new foods into the Nellim food system. With regards to wild edibles, it is currently more normal to consume oranges and red-fleshed fruits than wild berries. The consciousness of healthy eating has increased throughout Finnish society, leading the community to integrate more types of fruits and vegetables in their diets. In general, the community has not had a problem with obesity, yet similar to other indigenous communities, members of the Inari Sámi community have experienced alcohol problems, also leading to obesity for some. Alcohol is mainly available at the State monopoly store “Alko” in Ivalo.

One of the main challenges facing the Nellim community is the migration of young people. Both reindeer herding and the fishing tradition are threatened by this trend. When a Sámi moves outside the Sámi homeland area, their legal right to use nature in certain areas is lost, thus young people lose their connection to their traditional fishing areas. As a result, the traditional knowledge embedded in fishing disappears. Traditional traps are also being replaced with new technology.


Labour and fuel energy

The main power source to the village of Nellim is provided by a recently renewed 20 kV power line from Ivalo. In addition to the electric power from the grid, burning of firewood is an important component of heating the local houses. The cabins further out of the community used for herding and fishing are heated using firewood. A small amount of solar panels are used in the region. Modern heating methods, and the use of modern gadgets and communication services, are totally dependent on electricity. The snowmobiles and quad bikes used for herding are also dependent on the fuel, supplied from the town of Ivalo.

New technology is used in reindeer herding and fishing activities. For instance, fish finders can be used to find fish underwater. Previously, electricity was generated via a portable generator in the roundup corrals. Nowadays, power lines that have been built near the corral site are used. Still, these practices rely mostly on human labour and household firewood collection. Snowmobiles alleviate some of the previous efforts connected to transportation across distances, but there is still a need for manual labour, especially in the roundup corrals. The rotational system of reindeer herding demands that there are shifts in the feeding patterns of the animals. People take turns delivering hay and pellets to the animals at the time of supplementary feeding. This decentralizes some of the energy needs, but the supplementary feeding itself is costly and affects the profitability of the reindeer herding practice.


Every household has their own water supply and a localised wastewater system. The water is clean and drinkable. Seasonal cryosphere changes, in other words the freezing and melting of the lake and river ice, determine the availability of and access to open water. The communal water supply relies on a water cooperative, operated by the municipality of Inari. In total, the length of the water pipeline is 7 km and 50 households use it. The water supply comes from a point in Lake Inari that is approximately 700 metres east of the village. The community has no municipal sewer or wastewater services. Reindeer can find water in nature. In the wintertime, they get their drinking water from snow.


The main waste products in the community come from grocery packaging and other goods from supermarkets and construction. Nowadays, as a result of recycling, there is no non-biodegradable waste accumulating in the landscape. The recycling is divided into mixed waste, organic waste, newspapers and magazines, glass, plastic and bottles, and some hazardous waste, like batteries. Bottle recycling is popular in Finland, as consumers can return bottles to bottle banks and collect money for each returned bottle and can. The community members aim to recycle everything, especially composting food waste for local gardens. Hazardous waste is transported to Ivalo. Some community members see Ivalo as too far away to recycle everything efficiently, as the nearest collecting points for many goods are in Ivalo. Nellim used to have a waste dump, but now the bigger waste must be taken to Ivalo.

Changes in resource use efficiency over time

The tools, technologies and energy sources used by the community have changed over time. Most changes have happened over the past 100 years. The modernization of reindeer herding started back in the 1960s with the so-called “snowmobile revolution”. The introduction of snowmobiles reflects the State’s attempt to modernize herding practices to boost commercial meat production. The arrival of snowmobiles proliferated possibilities for the use of territories, yet created new dependencies on the cash economy, including fuel, technical parts and reparation. Lately, gas prices have increased, making reindeer herding a costly activity. Frequently, the costs of herding are higher than the income, forcing Inari Sámi families to find additional occupations on the side.

The community has gone through a transition from a self-governing siida, with traditional land use and human-driven labour connected to reindeer herding, hunting and fisheries, to a modernized hybrid economy. With the advent of the State’s presence, and their new governance over the natural resources, the characteristics of the ecosystems have shifted. Namely, the biggest ecological changes concern the hydroelectric regulation of Lake Inarijärvi and the large-scale clear-cut forestry that has altered the landscape. The alteration has changed the landscape from a natural north boreal taiga forest to a managed economic forest plantation zone used for pulp and paper industries.

An assessment of the resource use efficiency cannot be directly extrapolated by comparing traditional systems with modern natural resource management. Their scales and alterations of ecological systems operate in different contexts. One can look at the speed, scope and extent of the forestry operations as efficient. However, this activity has rather large negative implications for ecology, traditional occupancies and biodiversity. Traditional systems are “ineffective” as seen from a modernist view but contain a low ecological footprint and a capacity to deliver ecosystem services and goods for hundreds of years.


The traditional indigenous culture of the Inari Sámi people is based on the free use of land, water and natural resources. Their way of life and identity are based on traditional livelihoods and have always depended on the communal and family use of land and water areas. The regeneration of ecosystems is a slow process in the traditional homeland of the Inari Sámi, thus they have become accustomed to practicing their livelihoods and culture over large areas, thereby protecting the sustainability and reproductive capacity of the environment.

Crop and livestock biodiversity

Since the primary traditional economy of the community depends on the wild uses of resources, there is very little in terms of crop or livestock alterations. In the 1960s, the community kept other livestock for dairy production, yet after such products became available in grocery stores, the demand for local production disappeared. Concerning reindeer herding, in the traditional system the Sámi have managed and developed genetic variations of the reindeer through exchanges and even selective breeding of certain types. Reindeer are domesticated, as wild deer no longer live within the Sámi area in Finland. The reindeer owned by the Inari Sámi in Nellim are considered northern forest reindeer.

Wild harvested plants and animals

Since the 1920s, the Metsähallitus, the Finnish State agency, imposed a more modern governance system for natural resources on the community. This entailed quotas for fishing, wild birds and other hunted animals. Since tourists have also started hunting in the Inari Sámi area, they have created tension with the local community because their numbers are included in the local quotas. There is also tension connected to the hunting of large animals such as wolverine and wolf. These are predators to the reindeers of the Inari Sámi, but are often considered important for biodiversity by mainstream society.

Ecosystem conservation and protection

The terrestrial ecosystems around Nellim are northern coniferous boreal forests with Scots pine dominating the landscape. Lake Inari has kept its high water quality in the main parts of the lake, but it is negatively affected by human land use in the catchment area, and also in the flow stream from the Paatsjoki River. These human activities include:

ditching and subsequent loading of mercury, organic matter from industrial logging, and aggravated erosion in the catchment area;

gold mining in the Lemmenjoki sub-catchment area and national park;

road and infrastructure development around the lake;

increased tourism and associated construction of hotels, in addition to the nutrient flows from the tourism activity to the lake;

leaking events from past industrial sites such as the Peuravuono sawmill;

large-scale hydroelectric regulation of the Paatsjoki River and the hydropower at Kirakka;

airborne and climate-driven changes, such as nutrients, algal blooms and warm spells.

Terrestrial changes in the community include:

large-scale industrial logging that alters the forest stands and structures and converts natural forests into monoculture plantations;

large-scale forestry road construction that has altered and demarcated the former wilderness areas into smaller remaining stands;

road and infrastructure development on land, especially power lines and the new road to Nellim going across reindeer areas;

arrival of other species from southern areas as a result of climate change;

degradation of reindeer pastures as a result of cumulative impacts of forestry and climate change.

The central traditional economy for the community, reindeer herding, suffers from the impacts of both human industrial land use and climate change. Lichen, reindeers’ primary food in winter, can only be found in middle- to old-growth natural forests. Because these forests have been severely impacted, the need to feed the animals additional food in the winter has increased, adding to the costs of herding.

Through traditional governance of the pasture areas, herders can use their knowledge to determine the snow cover, forest structure, winds, predator situation and alternative pastures so that some areas could be left to grow back as land use rotates and shifts. However, these days, industrial forestry cuts the trees in several areas, changing the biodiversity, in particular affecting the species dependent on natural forests such as hanging lichen, birds and mammals. As some species die due to the lack of habitat, other populations seem to be increasing. This is the case for small predators, as there has become a lack of larger predators. Some of the wild species hunted, for instance taiga bean goose, have seen a drastic decline in population size since the 1980s. In addition, populations of mountain hare (Lepus timidus L., Leporidae) and willow grouse have collapsed. The reason for this is considered to be the shrinking of their natural habitat, caused by more intensive land use – forestry in particular.

Additionally, forestry uses techniques like tilling and churning of the soils to dry up what the industry considers as too wet conditions for tree growth. All these actions alter the soils and cause a range of impacts from erosion to release of mercury and organic loading downstream. Regeneration of grazing lands is a long-term process. A lichen stand usually takes over 20 years to grow back in a natural forest. Rewilding and restoration might be options, but they would have to follow decreased impacts from the industrial use of the land.

Changes in the conservation and protection of resources over time

From the time of settlement in what today is known as Lapland, and for centuries, bands of hunters and fisherfolk would occupy the lands surrounding Lake Inari and the Nellim area according to their seasonal cycles. This was before the community organised itself into siidas. It is important to note that these siidas were autonomous, indigenous-controlled reindeer herding and hunting societies that have existed for a long period of time. The original siida system was destroyed through the colonial acts of the Swedish, Russian and Finnish nation-States. The semi-nomadic siidas of the Inari Sámi were forced into partial settlement around Aanaar-Inari as early as 1666. However, the semi-nomadic cycles of seasonal life continued through this period well into the twentieth century.

There are several important sources of data concerning the history of the use and settlement of the indigenous land. The Inari Sámi place names are one of them. Further, one can clearly see how the landscape is shaped by the community’s wide variety of activities, including hunting and fishing areas that are adapted to the different species, seasonal cycles of land use and sacred places. The links every family has to their land use and pattern of occupancy constitute an important baseline for further studies of land use in the region.

The major change in natural resource management for the community happened in 1917 with the Finnish independence. What was previously Inari Sámi land became Metsähallitus or State lands. The lands were considered natural resources alongside the fish, animals, birds and other elements of the ecosystem. The forests around Nellim were not formally protected until the 1980s.

In the 1980s, the area was renowned for having the last old-growth forests in the region, thus a series of land use conflicts arose. Between 1985 and 1991, the proposed logging of the Kessi area and associated road construction triggered national resistance, which led to the establishment of erämaa or “wilderness” areas, which were weak conservation or traditional use areas. As previously mentioned, a second wave of land use conflicts also emerged from the late 1990s to 2009, when Metsähallitus intensified road construction, as well as logging operations around Nellim. Creating a conservation area did not solve this dispute. Rather, a social agreement between the herders and the Metsähallitus for 20 years demarcated parts of the pasture lands outside economic forestry actions. This was supported by the adoption of a view by the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee on the dispute that led to a moratorium on the logging activities in 2005.

Fishing activities have also changed throughout the years. The Inari Sámi used to have a seasonal indigenous governance system for their home area, through the varriistâllâm, a small-scale nomadic society around Lake Inari. Integrated in the governance system was the preservation of fish stocks, which was carried out by leaving certain lakes and spawning areas to self-replenish over time – usually five years – and diversifying the catch sites across many lakes and in Lake Inari itself. Lake Inari is still regulated by Russia with a hydroelectric power plant, constructed in the Paatsjoki River in the Soviet Union, which started operating in the 1930s. The regulation impacted local species of fish, and some of the populations have decreased since the 1930s. In the 1990s, the community experimented with freshwater trawling, but it did not last long. The main catch from the trawling fleet was the human-introduced vendace (Coregonus albula). At first, the catches were major but soon both the ecological impacts of trawling and the boom-and-bust style of trawling closed the activity. Some fisherfolk still sell fish outside the village. The catches are mostly from standing winter and summer gillnets.

Increasing tourism has had a significant impact on the practice of the traditional livelihoods, particularly in reindeer herding and fishing. Examples of services provided to tourists in the area are snowmobiling and dog sled safaris. This activity forces reindeer to move away from their traditional grazing lands. Community members also consider tourist activities responsible for contaminating the water around Nellim, which is no longer drinkable. Fishing is also impacted by eutrophication of lakes. This can be noticed when fishing nets are pulled out of the lake, as they carry a bad smell that they did not have before.


Governance of natural resources

Nellim is in the Inari Sámi homeland area, and the Sámi people have self-governance rights guaranteed to them as an Indigenous People by Finland’s Constitution. Nellim belongs to the municipality of Inari, thus public administration includes local self-government from the municipality. However, villages have no legal status in Finland and are represented through associations. Nellim siida leaders are one elder and one younger reindeer herder. Sámi traditional livelihoods rely on the communities being de facto owners of their land areas and natural resources. The practicing of traditional Sámi livelihoods requires access to extensive areas of land and depends on the Sámi livelihoods being defined as the primary form of land use in these areas. However, the government still owns the land.

The Sámi are granted several rights through the nation’s Constitution. Under section 17(3) of the Finnish Constitution (731/1999), the Sámi, as an Indigenous People, have the right to maintain and develop their own language and culture. Under section 121(4) of the same, in their native region, the Sámi have linguistic and cultural self-governance, as provided by an Act. However, despite the traditional livelihoods of the Sámi being considered an essential part of Sámi culture, there is no legislative provision enshrining the rights of the Sámi to land, water and natural resources. Instead, the Sámi are considered to have the same rights to land, water and natural resources as any other residents of the Sámi homeland.

In Finland, the State manages 90 percent of the land in the Sámi homeland. The State regulates the land use through legislation, the Act on Metsähallitus in particular. The Act establishes municipal advisory boards in the Sámi homeland region that are responsible for making proposals and statements on the use of land to the Metsähallitus. The prohibition to undermine Sámi culture is laid down in three different Acts: the Mining Act (2011), the Water Act (2011) and the Environmental Protection Act (2014). Furthermore, paragraph 9 of the Act on the Sámi Parliament, which refers to the “obligation to negotiate”, requires State authorities to negotiate with the Sámi Parliament in all far-reaching and important measures that may directly, and in a specific way, affect the status of the Sámi as an Indigenous People. The obligations also count for measures that concern matters in the Sámi homeland such as the management, use, leasing and assignment of State lands, conservation areas and wilderness areas. This “obligation to negotiate” has been implemented in the case of the forest management department Metsähallitus and Inari Sámi reindeer herders. However, the negotiations have been challenging. The parties have implemented the Akwé Kon guidelines for good negotiations on questions of land disputes, mainly associated with logging and reindeer herding. However, no major breakthroughs have taken place due to diverging positions of the parties. Indeed, in 2002, the Nellim unit entered a legal and land-use conflict with the State forestry enterprise “Metsähallitus”. Their logging activity complicated the herding, as it split the winter grazing lands and thereby aggravated reindeer nutrition. In 2005, three Inari Sámi herders from the Nellim unit filed a lawsuit against Metsähallitus for harming their livelihood. The conflict spiraled quickly into a battle between the Inari Sámi and the State, also with international engagement. The UN Human Rights Committee issued a first-ever moratorium on logging on specific parts of the Nellim area until the parties could reach an agreement. This Nellim case is of national significance, because it represents the only occasion in modern history when the United Nations has been able to secure land rights of the Sámi in Finland by overriding the State’s decision. To this day, the moratorium is the only decision that has explicitly recognized modern Sámi rights and land use in Finland. In 2009, the two parties reached an agreement where the important lands for the Inari Sámi herders would be conserved for the next 20 years, as long as reindeer herding continues in Nellim. This was a significant victory, not only for Inari Sámi reindeer herding but also for the Sámi as Indigenous People.

Today reindeer herding is highly organised and regulated by State laws and European Union regulations. The reindeer husbandry area covers 36 percent of the entire surface of Finland, on almost the entire area of Lapland and part of the province of Oulu. The land is divided into 54 cooperatives. These cooperatives can vary from a few herders to hundreds. Competitive land use such as mining, and mainly forestry practised by the State of Finland, limits reindeer herding and hunting. Reindeer and small game animals do not like to stay in the logged areas and therefore move to other areas. Therefore, it is challenging to find food and lichen.

The cooperatives have strictly defined boundaries and the Reindeer Husbandry Act from 1990 regulates their operations, such as their function, fees, marking, slaughtering and roundups. The members of the cooperatives are the reindeer herders. Each cooperative has a chief of district, a vice-chief of district, a council and a treasurer. The chief of district is the manager and an official representative of the cooperative. The council manages the activities and must ensure that the reindeer herding law is obeyed. The cooperatives are controlled by the Reindeer Herders’ Association, which operates under the supervision of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. The Ministry determines the maximum number of reindeer, a number that is decided for a 10-year period. The current number is 203 700 reindeer, out of which 6 000 are for the Ivalo cooperative. The cooperatives’ responsibility is to obey the Ministry’s regulations, thus regulate the number of reindeer. This is done through a yearly slaughtering plan, where the cooperative decides the number of reindeer to be slaughtered. Each year around 100 000 reindeer are slaughtered, whereas 120 000 to 130 000 calves are born.12 Over the years, the Nellim Inari Sámi have established a dialogue to obtain the right to create their own herding and animal production goals. This has not yet been accomplished.

Changes in governance of natural resources over time

Starting from the 1600s, the traditional Sámi natural resource governance system was actively eroded and colonized by the Swedish and later by the Russian and Finnish States. By adapting and diversifying their options, the community was able to negotiate many of the pre-modern governance impositions until the 1920s. Then the large-scale timber and sawmill activities expanded in the region and in Nellim. The community became a gateway to northern Norway for timber floating and trade. Since Finnish independence in 1917, the region where Nellim is located was seen as a major area for timber industry and post-1944 for pulp and paper. This proliferated the use of clear cuts, land tilling and churning for the forest stands and eradicated the Sámi indigenous governance as a viable alternative. This process also removed all their rights to lands and waters from the community. However, in the 1980s, the Sámi communities responded to the large-scale logging activities with a campaign containing many demands concerning environmental and Sámi rights. As discussed, similar events occurred in the 1990s, 2000s and a settlement in 2009. These events can be considered modern-era attempts to reinstall Sámi governance systems on land use. The moratorium on logging issued in 2005 by the UN Human Rights Committee also falls under such a description as warned by the Finish government to stop the tree felling.


A summarized assessment of 13 indicators of resilience is presented below.

1. Exposed to disturbance: The community has experienced some climate shocks that have had serious consequences to reindeer herding for some of the herders, including deaths of calves and lack of available food. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2018), the average Arctic temperature has so far been rising at least twice as fast as the global temperature, as the ice and snow are melting, inducing the landscape to absorb instead of reflect the sun. Reindeer herding is highly dependent on climatic conditions, and as reindeer find less food, they produce less calves. This food insufficiency requires supplementary feeding, inducing large costs on the community.

2. Globally autonomous and locally interdependent: The community has high self-sufficiency for food such as reindeer and game meat, fish, wild edibles and vegetables. Community members do not exchange food with other communities anymore. Nellim sells fish, wild berries and mushrooms to restaurants in Ivalo. Most families in the community consume local products for the majority of their diet.

3. Appropriately connected: The local grocery store in the village was closed down, making it more difficult to access market food as one must have a car. However, there is a collaborative spirit amongst the community members, so they help each other out. Access to the grocery store is good year-round, given the newly constructed road. Reindeer herders have access to domestic markets to sell meat. The community has access to different buyers for their food produce.

4. Socially self-organised: A handful of Inari Sámi families organise reindeer herding activities amongst themselves. Nellim siida belongs to a larger Ivalo cooperative, thus it is under the cooperative’s regulations. Concerning natural resource management, the State is responsible for governance, and, according to the Act on Metsähallitus, the management shall be adjusted to ensure the possibility of the Sámi people to practise their culture. The management shall also fulfill the obligations laid down in the Reindeer Husbandry Act. There are several challenges connected to the implementation of these acts, with regards to interpretation of definitions from the two parties.

5. Reflective and shared learning: The community has recovered well from past disturbances. The traditional knowledge of the community is considered one of their most important assets to maintain well-being. In the case of the forestry conflict in the 2000s, the Inari Sámi herders stuck together, trusting that their knowledge and viewpoint were valid. This paid off in terms of the moratorium issued by the UN Human Rights Committee, and the subsequent agreement in 2009. However, the Inari Sámi are ridiculed for taking stands that diverge from mainstream discourses and face large challenges in having their voices heard.

6. Honours legacy: Traditional practices are still maintained, yet today they are being mixed with contemporary technologies. However, the language has suffered significantly due to the assimilation processes. Recent efforts such as Sámi media and workshops have attempted to restore the language, but they have proved to be challenging. The elders still hold a significant role in the Nellim community, and their experiences and stories are well respected and listened to. Nellim community traditions are best integrated and preserved in the Inari Sámi-style reindeer herding, the seasonal fisheries of the families, and some aspects of the gathering economies. To help the traditional practices thrive as in previous times, the main pressures from the industries should decrease or be removed.

7. Builds human capital: Traditional knowledge is maintained and transmitted through traditional livelihoods. These transmissions go from the elderly to youth, who are still interested in traditional practices and knowledge. Traditional knowledge is also taught in the Sámi Education Institute, promoting Sámi culture and languages throughout the Sámi area. Institutions to support human health and social services for the community members are provided by the municipality, and everyone is entitled to adequate social and health services. However, social and health services should be more widely available in Sámi languages.

8. Coupled with local natural capital: The food system is well coupled with the natural capital, given the low external input from outside the system for nutrients and energy. There are few signs of degradation of natural resources and little waste accumulation in the landscape. However, reindeer herding is affected by a decrease of lichen caused by soil degradation in areas of intensive logging. The bottom of Lake Inari has also seen some degradation.

9. Ecologically self-regulated: Ecosystems can regenerate naturally as the community lives and harvests according to the seasonal cycles. The community does not over-harvest nor exploit the natural resources as their livelihoods and culture depend on them. Further, community members protect ecosystems and wildlife by fighting against the intensive logging in the community areas. Securing land and water rights would support the Inari Sámi food system’s ability to reach an optimal efficiency and even more enhanced self-regulation capacity.

10. Functional diversity: The Inari Sámi community manages to respond to the natural environment in several ways, for example in cases where reindeer struggle to feed due to excessive snow amounts or ice cover. Their redundancy of food groups also ensures their capability of sustaining themselves throughout the year.

11. Optimally redundant: The community enjoys a diversity of foods from farms, reindeer herding, the lake and the surrounding environment, as well as the market. With regards to climate change, wild berries, mushrooms and farmed vegetables are particularly vulnerable to climate hazards. To overcome periods of food insecurity, if one food group is unavailable or the amount is reduced, the community can consume more of other food groups. Several of the community’s food groups are based on several species, increasing the resilience of the food system. However, with regards to hunting, there are few species, making this traditional practice more vulnerable.

12. Spatial and temporal heterogeneity: The spatial and temporal distributions of the Indigenous People’s food system reflect the seasons and events in nature. The specific small-scale nomadism of varriistâllâm, as co-developed with Lake Inari, is an example of adaptation to northern nature and the seasonal cycles over long periods of time.

13. Reasonably profitable: The food system provides diverse opportunities of income generation through the selling of meat, fish, berries and mushrooms on different markets. Overall, the price that the community members get for their products is fair, although production costs rise yearly. However, even though reindeer herding might be the only traditional Sámi livelihood that is profitable by itself, herders still rely on subsidies from the European Union and, when the herds are impacted by predators, from the State.

“When we speak about fish, we speak about whitefish, unless otherwise specified.”

Elder from Nellim community.