I lay in my tent reflecting on the past week at the Sámi cultural festival, Márkomeannu. I have traveled on buses, ferries, cars, and with my own two legs. I am exhausted and at the same time pulsing with the special energy that comes from being in new, sacred landscapes.
Fortunately for me, my immersive experiences since my previous blog were of an environmental theme which corresponds with my current studies in Conservation Science and Management. I believe that it is important for future land managers like myself to gain insights into indigenous worldviews and ways of life in this post-modern era. In doing so, we will become a more well informed ally to those communities whom have had, and still have, their lands stolen by colonial interests.
By seeing so much of the landscape in such a short amount of time, it is easy to admire the incomparable aesthetic beauty of the mountains, fjords, forests, and waterways. It is easy to forget that these visually pleasing places are sacred in ways a tourist or even a student like myself will never fully understand. These places do not only exist in Sápmi (Norway), or course, but across the globe. I assume my North American readers can make the connection between these words and similar places in the USA. In fact, many of the federal, state, and locally managed ecosystems are places where indigenous peoples had lived sustainably for hundreds if not thousands of years.
To make my point clearer, I’d like for you to imagine yourself enjoying a hike in Yosemite Valley or another one of your favorite hiking destinations. You become captivated by the beauty of the landscape and enjoy your solitude. But what is missing? What is missing are all of the human beings that ought to still occupy those spaces, the indigenous communities.
Of course. I was not only travelling – I was surfing…
That’s right, surfing above the arctic circle. As part of my comparative indigenous studies Coursework, I spent some time learning about surfing as a traditional Hawaiian sport that has been appropriated and eventually globalized for its obvious fun. It is important to think about how Hawaiian peoples had their land occupied by settler colonialism and their sacred beaches, fishing habitats, and surf spots stolen. An interesting point to note is that Hawaiian masculinity was more fluid and in a sort-of monarchical system that was expressed in surfing. When the sport was appropriated, it was marketed with images of machismo white males dominating the surf while overly sexualized images of women admire from afar in their hula skirts and other misused clothing. So, I spent time in a place here in Sápmi where Sámi peoples had historically used for fishing, but is now a primarily Norwegian community where a world famous surf club hosts tourists, surfers, and Hollywood filmmakers. I did rent a surf board. I did take advantage of their saunas. I did not manage to stand up on the board once! But I had so much fun trying. After all, life is about having fun while gaining knowledge and increasing ones consciousness.
And, of course, I was not only surfing- I went fishing…
After the surf weekend, I traveled again and stayed was with Lars, a Sámi activistm educational leader and prominent political figure. He helps to operate one of the only language centers in the country, works with the community to solve domestic family struggles, and is a musician that Yoiks, or sings in the traditional Sámi style, beautifully alongside his guitar accompaniments. He and his friend, Sven, who happens to be a top-tier member of the Sámi Parliament (Sámediggi) took some of my colleagues and I on a fishing trip in their ancestral waters. We pulled up cod and pollok at a rate I have never experienced, sometimes three fish on a single line. This blew me away, mostly because of how the environmental conditions of a place directly determine how well the fish population does. The next day, I received three amazing lectures by these men about the environmental impacts of off shore oil drilling and mining from an indigenous perspective. I love how this program has bridged the divide between in-class lectures and immersive, experiential learning because both serve different needs and foster different dialogues that compliment each other so well.
The final notable experience that I will mention for this blog was being hosted by Márit, an expert in indigenous sacred landscapes, spirituality, and world religions. She is good friends with the Dali Lama after being an activist with Tibetan refugees years ago. It was important for me to gain a perspective on how places that someone like me might think of as just a good hiking or swimming spot are also an important spiritual center for the community that has lived there for ages. She mentioned many sites across Sápmi, and also throughout Europe and even Australia, where a sacred mountain will officially be closed off to hikers next year. Land management where I have worked always focused on the ecological and conservation sciences approach to managing land, so it was enlightening to become more aware of how I can serve as an ally to indigenous peoples in this way of managing sacred lands that may currently be in the ownership of the US government. Mount Rainier, for example, isn’t even called Mount Rainier! Its true name is Talol or Tahoma, but has been renamed. Native American tribal nations have been and are currently working through the legal system to have the name changed back officially.
I am learning SO. MUCH.