Longtime Defender of Sámi Rights and a Key Ally of Snowchange Stefan Mikaelsson Turns 60

Stefan Mikaelsson. Private collections, 2017. Used with permission

Stefan Mikaelsson. Private collections, 2017. Used with permission

Snowchange joins in celebration of the 60th birthday of longtime Sámi leader from Sweden, mr. Stefan Mikaelsson, who turns 60 today.

Stefan Mikaelsson was born in Vidsel, Sweden on 24.11.1957 to a Sámi family of six, in addition to his parents he has four sisters. After school mr. Mikaelsson followed in his fathers footsteps into the forest Sámi reindeer herding. Their traditional way of life has been going on for several generations in the village of Rödingträsk, belonging into the Sámeby or Sámi herding community of Udtja. Udtja is one of ten forest Sámi herding communities in Sweden.

In the early years the reindeer pastures of the community were located in the old growth and high quality forests between Luleå and Piteå rivers. Nowadays these forests have been destroyed – from a Sámi perspective.

It was in these forests Stefan Mikaelsson came to learn the ways of traditional land use in his family as well as the Indigenous knowledge of the forest Sámi. All of his life he has worked as a herder or related to reindeer herding – between 1977 and 1995 he worked as a full time herder. He was the member of the council of his herding community from 1970s to 2014.

Kola Sámi Camp

Kola Sámi Camp

In 1987 Stefan was chosen into the Council of Samernas Riksförbund (National Association of the Swedish Sámi – SSR) to represent the forest Sámi. He served in this position until 2000. Between 2005 and 2010 he served as the Chair of the Samefonden Sámi Foundation in Sweden. From 2001 to 2007 he was the President of the Swedish Section of Sámi Council and was involved as well in the Council of the Samefolket Foundation which publishes the newspaper of the same name. Since the establishment of the Swedish Sámi Parliament in 1993 Stefan has served in the Skogssamerna – Vuovdega party to represent the interests of the forest Sámi.

The thread weaving through all the activities where Stefan as been involved politically is the advancement of the rights and self-determination of the Sámi people. He is the trusted Elder and the President emeritus of the Parliament. The work that needs to happen should be based in his opinion on the ratification of the ILO 169 and implementation of the UN UNDRIP. Other important themes in his lifework have been the questions of justice and equality, increasing awareness regarding racism towards the Sámi peoples in Sweden, unequal role of women as well as drawing the attention of the larger society to issues such as small-scale business, clean water, food produced locally and living cultural heritage. For example the question of survival of Sámi culture in those areas which are utilized to feed into the global consumption culture are central to his thoughts. Stefan considers the main resource of the Arctic area to be the humans and their traditional knowledge, or know-how which still exists in these areas.

In Sámi parliament Stefan is currently serving several positions, including:

  • Chairperson for the Committee of the Livelihoods
  • Member of the Board (on reserve)
  • Member of the Sámi Parliamentary Council
  • Vice President of the Skogssamerna – Vuovdega party

He has developed the working mechanisms of the Parliament through his Vice and Full Presidencies. In summary we can determine that Stefan has given his unflinching and decidated effort to advance the Sámi causes following the principles of the UNDRIP and other international standards.

He has been involved also in several international activities devoted to the Sámi and other Indigenous peoples and human rights. For example he has directed and collaborated international research efforts to allow a wider engagement of the Sámi in science and assessments of Arctic change.

Snowchange 2003 in Murmansk. Mr. Mikaelsson on the left. Snowchange, 2017

Snowchange 2003 in Murmansk. Mr. Mikaelsson on the left. Snowchange, 2017

President Mikaelsson formed working relations with the Snowchange Co-op in March 2001. Out of these discussions the idea grew to document the Sámi reindeer herders’ experiences of weather change and traditional knowledge. At the time serving the position of the Sámi Council Vice-President, Mikaelsson presented this idea to his council, which approved of the idea. Given our interest at the time to Murmansk region, we agreed with the Sámi to start the work in three pilot locations. Two regions of reindeer herding in Finland – Vuotso and Utsjoki – were chosen, and then the Kola Sámi experiences from Lovozero and other communities in Russia. We were invited to contribute to the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment of the Arctic Council, where the Finnish and Russian Sámi case studies provided a significant view from the Eurasian North on the climate change issues.

Impact of reservoirs on the Luleå watershed, Sweden. Carl-Johan Utsi, 2016.

Impact of reservoirs on the Luleå watershed, Sweden. Carl-Johan Utsi, 2016.

Given the extensive knowledge of Vice-President Mikaelsson regarding the situation in Murmansk, we then proceeded to host the Snowchange 2003 International Conference on Indigenous Peoples Observations of Climate Change there. During this event in Murmansk and Lovozero, Vice-President Mikaelsson suggested, given the success of the work in Kaldoaivi and Vuotso regions as well as Kola, a new round of community documentation, this time in Jokkmokk and surrounding reindeer herding areas in Northern Sweden. We agreed and the work began in March 2003.

Snowchange would not be the organisation it is today without the guidance, wisdom and support of mr. Mikaelsson. The cooperation internationally as well as in Swedish Sámi area has resulted in several publications, Sámi voices in the Arctic Biodiversity Assessment and Arctic Climate Impact Assessment as well as peer-reviewed journal papers. Stefan has participated in almost all Snowchange international events from 2002-2005 Conferences to the Festivals of Northern Fishing Traditions.

Stefan is a respected public speaker who has charmed international audiences with his quick wits and humour. He approaches issues from his unique forest Sámi viewpoint and approached the global forums with problem solving skills.

The work to increase the self-determination of the Sámi peoples continues everyday. He preserves his Sámi traditions by spending time in the traditional waters, lands and forests of his ancestors – as a part of this nature and lands that he hopes remain in the same condition as when he visited them for the first time.

He is spending his 60th birthday amongst family.

(reportin includes loose snippets of translations included from Norrländska Socialdemokraten NSD, 2017-11-24. www.nsd.se)

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