Major Report Documents Remote Sensing Needs of the Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities

Mountains of Northern Sweden

Mountains of Northern Sweden

Snowchange as a part of the EU project “Kepler” has been working with Indigenous and local communities in Northern Sweden, Finnish Sámi areas, NW Russia and Coastal Norway to combine Indigenous and local community voices with scientists to assess and explore user needs and priorities for remote sensing and monitoring work.

Russian herders preparing for the Kepler field visits, March 2019.

Russian herders preparing for the Kepler field visits, March 2019.

A full work report is available here.

The Kepler work can be summarized in following six recommendations:

  1. The proliferation of cellular services, on par with the so-called snow machine revolution of the 1960s in the region, has improved and expanded the availability of personal access and communications possibilities in the European North. However, the mission has been only partly accomplished. As demonstrated by listening to peripheral voices from the search and rescue services of Finland regarding emergencies in the national parks as well as the wilderness villages of Kola Peninsula communications access is not available or remains very low in these regions. Deaths have followed when the services have not delivered on location or temporal scales. The infrastructure to establish such services in the wilderness remains also a challenge as these
    Coastal fjords are a Sámi socio-ecological system.

    Coastal fjords are a Sámi socio-ecological system.

    areas are the least populated in the region and incentive to provide services remains low. This is combined with system-wide climate impacts including melt events of the palsamires in Sámi home area, changes in avalanche frequency and numbers, heat spells of 30 C and more in the summer time, droughts and other major regional events.

  2. Satellite services and user access have been partly connected with the proliferation of cellular services associated with GPS-enabled smartphones becoming available to “ordinary people” as well as authorities and specialists. Yet, maintaining traditional knowledge is essential on the local scales.This has included the “Russian GPS”, or GloNASS with services located in the Russian Federation, CIS countries and Brazil. Our research has completed several pilot scouting missions as a part of the project. First, the use of satellite service -based navigation tools as a part of an ice fishery on a boreal lake and its relationship with traditional knowledge was explored.GPS and associated sonar tools provided improvements in navigational safety and fish location information especially in rough conditions of
    Jevgeni documents the situation in NW Russia during a workshop in Inari.

    Jevgeni documents the situation in NW Russia during a workshop in Inari.

    blizzards, darkness and mist. Traditional harvest sites could be marked with ease on the devices. Challenges included customary ownership of these sites, data protection including of the digital maps of the sites, and too much of a reliance to the technologies in below -30 C contexts where batteries may have low life and satellite services are not available. Second, we spoke with the Sámi traditional knowledge holders in NW Russia on the questions of traditional weather predictionand uses of cell and satellite services. Whilst the satellite services and forecasting are improving, the weather forecasting data comes in such large blocks that the Sámi felt the regional variation is not taken into account. Therefore “reading nature” and her signs, especially in tundra and high Arctic conditions, is required to maintain skills and ways of navigation using traditional knowledge. The Sámi felt that people should only partly trust the satellite and cell services and maintain a healthy scepticism. This includes, for example, the deep and historical connection to place names and seasonal life cycles the Sámi have across the region. Third, the uses of RenGIS and other satellite-based tools have provided a more complete view of Swedish Sámi land use and needs, but this has been slow to translate into changes in practice and governanceof multiple other competing land uses. Fourthly the use of satellite and radio services on the coastal Sámi fishery is daily. Traditional navigational knowledge of the coast is reflected for example in Sámi language maritime place names and land mark system. According to a practitioner survey the use of a satellite radio and improved emergency tools are needed in the coastal small-scale fisheries.

  3. A preliminary view of the satellite receiving stations in Sodankylä, Finland and in Kiiruna, Sweden show they are providing services to global clients, but concerns have been raised regarding the geopolitical interests and intentions of some of the nations, especially China. Additionally in recent months Russia has aggressively disrupted and jammed GPS services as a part of the global international tensions.China is constructing a “Polar Silk Road” initiative to explore the uses of the Northern Sea Route, and investigating data services and other mechanisms to enter into the Arctic as a major player this century. Chinese delegations have visited satellite receiving stations and are already working with Sweden to secure said services. Some stakeholders in Sweden question the validity and aims of the Chinese data streams and services and whether they constitute threats or challenges to the hosting countries. Whilst the Arctic hosts these receiving stations the satellite services and remote sensing capabilities are not necessarily available or affordable to the communities next to these stations. International facilitation is needed to avoid dangers associated with the GPS jamming events, given the great reliance of, for example, aviation routes on these services in Kirkenes, Ivalo and other close-by airports.
  4. Uses of remote sensing services such as satellite data analysis provide a more up to date situational view locally of natural resources uses in the northern taiga or boreal.They have provided mechanisms to analyse the cumulative ecological impacts of forestry, mining, infrastructure and so on in new ways, if the openness of the data is guaranteed. This is of high value to those communities who may have equity issues or even a land and water conflict with outside parties. Equally so the uses of publicly available remote sensing services can provide important data on ice and snow cover to improve safety and trip planning, at least in Finland, Norway and Sweden. The issue was highlighted also by the coastal Sámi fishermen in Norway. This highlights the potential usefulness of easy-to-use end products that synthesize Arctic research and data into user-friendly interfaces with open access. Also, the future application of drones could be one method used to increase the coverage, scale and ecosystem-based assessment of change.
  5. Following the recent OECD discoveries the Sámi and other minorities in the European North and NW Russia should be positioned as special access stakeholders for remote sensing services. This may mean culturally appropriate interfaces in Sámi languages, tailored services for reindeer herding communities and subsidies for example to allow satellite phones to be purchased for those remote communities who are otherwise removed from the technical mainstream.
  6. We should recognize the global trend that favours the speedy development of and further reliance on technologies this century. Traditional knowledge, life skills and wilderness economies lose out in this particular process if steps are not taken to provide feasible alternatives.These steps might include protected territories and contexts and mechanisms that foster the use and revitalisation of traditional land uses, languages, place names, economies and ways of life as determined by the communities, families and individuals themselves. The European North still contains semi-nomadic and seasonal lifeways unique in the world as well as Indigenous societies which have maintained a very close relationship with nature. The dominant narrative of Arctic monitoring and research rests on remote sensing and its applicability. To a certain extent we should perhaps resist this dominant narrative and challenge its implications for the local cultures and other navigational, weather and subsistence systems that are more endemic and suitable in the local contexts. Technology is always and only a tool, not a substance. We should also be aware of the context of increased technological solutions that are embedded in geopolitical ambitions in the Arctic as a transport and natural resources periphery, as opposed to a thriving homeland and home of the Indigenous peoples.kepler_logo_portrait
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