News

Reflecting on ICCAs in Finland and Oral Histories Paper Out

Seining on Puruvesi, March 2019.

Seining on Puruvesi, March 2019.

Ashish Kothari and Aili Pyhälä from the ICCA Consortium visited Snowchange HQ and operations in March. Ashish has released a ICCA -related blog entry of the visit, which is available here.

In other news, the NORDIA science journal features an open access Snowchange-related paper on oral histories. This paper explores the question of what constitutes endemic evaluation, genuine success and engagement of Indigenous peoples and their communal oral histories. The materials discussed are derived from a range of oral history processes in the boreal and in the Arctic. Having long been an elusive and marginalized method of conveying cultural knowledge, oral history is enjoying emerging recognition in assessments of biodiversity, natural resources and climate change. As early as the 1970s, the Mackenzie Pipeline Inquiry utilized the oral histories of the Inuvialuit, Dene and Gwitchin. At its best, oral history does what it is supposed to do – makes invisible histories visible. Paper available here.

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Landscape Rewilding Programme to Expand in 2019 – First Year Has Produced 500 hectares of Rewilded and Conserved Marshmires, Forests and Wetlands in Finland

One of the surveyed, marshmire restoration sites in Eastern Finland, January 2019.

One of the surveyed, marshmire restoration sites in Eastern Finland, January 2019.

Landscape Rewilding Programme, an initiative between Snowchange Cooperative, Rewilding Europe and the European Investment Bank (EIB) has been working for one year. An event in Helsinki disseminates the first year results. 

Under the programme, EIB and Rewilding Europe have provided Snowchange Co-op, an independent non-profit in Finland, loans to purchase and rewild wetlands, marshmires and forests in Finland. It has been working since early 2018 with the official launch in June 2018 with Minister Tiilikainen in Helsinki.

New spawning areas for trout and grayling on the Sámi sites

New spawning areas for trout and grayling on the Sámi sites

Approximately 500 hectares will be rewilded by April 2019. The programme has been able to secure, restore and conserve a range of ecosystems in three pilot catchment areas:

  • Former peat production sites back into wetlands and biodiversity hotspots
  • Intact and partially intact marshmires back into carbon sinks and biodiversity hotspots
  • Sites of forests that either are or will transfer into old-growth forests

Snowchange and partners will join in having a seminar in Helsinki to discuss the results of the first year on the 19th March. Please take contact for more info.

The programme contains sites in the Arctic with the Indigenous Sámi people, who have joined in the programme to restore trout rivers and forest areas using Indigenous knowledge. Landscape Rewilding Programme has received major international attention in the first year of existence, including being covered in the BBC, Guardian, National Geographic and other global media.

Old growth forests of the programme in Finland

Old growth forests of the programme in Finland

In 2019 the programme is expected to expand. In 2020s the programme is expected potentially to cover already thousands of hectares in Finland. For this expansion the Programme is continuously working with new landowners and direct financial contributors interested in funding carbon sinks and the wider benefits of biodiversity, not limited to but including prospective carbon credit buyers.

In 2018 the Maj and Tor Nessling Foundation, Kone Foundation and a range of private donors joined the programme with over 300,000 € in donations and grants. Individual people have contributed over 5000 € at one time in donations.

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Snowchange Contributes to the Baltic Sea EBSAs

A good catch on the Eastern Baltic, early 1900s

A good catch on the Eastern Baltic, early 1900s

The work in 2018 for the Ecologically and Biologically Significant Marine Areas – EBSAs, has been completed for the Baltic Sea under the CBD. 

In its 14th meeting last November, the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity welcomed the scientific and technical information contained in the report of the regional EBSA workshop for the Baltic Sea, and requested the Executive Secretary to include the summary report in the EBSA repository, and to submit it to the United Nations General Assembly and its relevant processes, as well as to Parties, other Governments and relevant international organizations.

Winter seining on the island of Seiskari, Eastern Baltic, early 1900s.

Winter seining on the island of Seiskari, Eastern Baltic, early 1900s.

The EBSA work is important for Finnish, Karelian and for example Izora Indigenous peoples living on the Baltic. The process recognizes under the UN for the first time for example the past and present endemic regimes of marine stewardship and self-governance of marine resources using indigenous and local knowledge. A good case area is for example the Eastern Gulf of Finland for these issues.

Snowchange worked with the ICCA Consortium, representatives of the Izora and other Indigenous and local marine communities, as well as Low Impact Fishermen of Europe to include elements of traditional knowledge, marine governance and knowledge and endemic uses of the areas into this UN report.

Low lying islands of the North Baltic

Low lying islands of the North Baltic

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A Living Atlas Comes to Life: Snowchange Evenki Cultural Atlas Released

Firewood is being prepared in a spring Evenki camp within the taiga forest.

Firewood is being prepared in a spring Evenki camp within the taiga forest.

by Agnieszka Gautier, Science Writer, NSIDC, USA

Snowchange and the ELOKA at National Snow and Ice Data Center release Snowchange Evenki Cultural Atlas, in the making since 2004.  

Reindeer herding is more than a way of life for the Evenki of Siberia; it is the root of their culture. About 400 years ago, the Evenki saddled domesticated reindeer, a species well adapted to the rugged mountainous taiga forest, allowing them to overcome previously impenetrable lands. Today, about 38,000 Evenki live across 7 million square kilometers (5.7 million square miles) from central Siberia to the Pacific Coast.

Colonizing vast lands isolated the Evenki into subgroups with disparate ethnic and cultural practices. While some Evenki have maintained ancient ways of life, others have transitioned under social and environmental stresses, losing their Evenki identity and language. Under Soviet rule (1917 to 1991), mandatory registration of these nomadic people required boarding school education and enforced Russian learning, which gradually eroded the Evenki language. Currently there are only about 7,000 Evenki speakers. One town, however, held fast to its traditions.

Iyengra is known as a cultural heritage area, preserving the way of life and language of the Evenki peoples of Sakha-Yakutia,” said Tero Mustonen, from SnowChange Cooperative, which works closely with local and Indigenous groups in the Arctic. Iyengra, a small rural community of about 1,000 inhabits, sits on the Yiengra River, north of Mongolia. “While the reindeer herds are out in the taiga, most of the children and elders stay in Iyengra.” That is why Iyengra was chosen to host the Evenki Atlas—the first online cultural atlas of Indigenous Knowledge from Siberia.

A place to come home to

The Evenki Atlas bridges Traditional Knowledge with the challenges of present day by embracing cyber technology. “Evenki youth are immersed in this great tsunami of technological devices,” Mustonen said. “That’s the world we live in, but the atlas is a concentrated effort to bridge that gap by using oral histories, videos, maps, placenames, and storytelling. So this will be one tool to preserve the traditional Evenki culture.”

Vladimir and Viktor, reindeer herders and hunters, rest within an Evenki tent. The metal tin holds milk from their reindeer, who the Evenki do not kill, but will hunt for wild reindeer to eat.

Vladimir and Viktor, reindeer herders and hunters, rest within an Evenki tent.

The atlas has been fifteen years in the making. The Evenki co-researchers first approached SnowChange in 2004. Since then they have documented Evenki oral history and other cultural materials, while maintaining all property rights with the Evenki individuals who shared their knowledge.

The Evenki Atlas is based on cyberinfrastructure that a NSIDC project, the Exchange for Local Observations and Knowledge of the Arctic (ELOKA), has been adapting since 2008 to support community-led research and knowledge documentation projects across the Arctic.

The atlas contains reflections  on seasonal land uses of the Evenki.

The atlas contains reflections on seasonal land uses of the Evenki.

We are very thankful to ELOKA that this Atlas is easy to update,” Mustonen said. “The Evenki are still a distinct culture. The atlas is one tool of many to orient themselves in this new century.”

The primary audience for this atlas is the Evenki. The current 1.0 version is in English, but a Russian and then Evenki version will follow. The Evenki will also have control of what to make public versus private through an internal login system. For instance, there are hunting and gathering secrets that the Evenki only want to share with other Evenki.

The intention, therefore, is for the atlas to be a living record of change.

A sample from the atlas.

A sample from the atlas.

A living memory

The Evenki Atlas contains five modules, each dedicated to a key component of Evenki life and culture. One module commemorates influential people of Evenki culture, such as Martiona Kulbertinova, who the Evenki consider to be “one of the most powerful Evenki ever known.” She was thought to be at least 115 years old when she died in 1996. As a spiritual leader, cultural keeper, and healer, her words still resonate. One of her famous quotes post the Soviet era responded to the notion that the Soviets had given the Evenki everything: Kulbertinova said, “I think they forgot the most important of all, the spirit of a human being.

The Evenki are animistic, believing that everything in nature, seen or unseen, possesses a spirit: rocks, soils, rivers, trees, and animals. The module on placenames serves to acknowledge these spirits and honor their significance by naming these key landscapes. The oldest placenames apply to water bodies and contain descriptions of their different elements and characteristics, such as flow, depth, sinuosity, and crossing safety.

SnowChange speaks with late Elder Oktiabrina Naumova, who shared her oral histories in 2006 with the team. SnowChange has also included gender-specific Evenki knowledge since the Evenki women are considered the keepers of the taiga culture.

SnowChange speaks with late Elder Oktiabrina Naumova, who shared her oral histories in 2006 with the team. SnowChange has also included gender-specific Evenki knowledge since the Evenki women are considered the keepers of the taiga culture.

The other modules include for example Evenki and the Cosmos: Views on Customary Law and Sacred Traditions; Evenki Knowledge of Weather and Observations of Ecological Change; and Keeping Taiga Knowledge: Views for the Future.

While the atlas is imbued with Elder knowledge, there is no limit to its direction. “The loss of key people in the village has brought a lot of sadness. This is one of the biggest challenges: so much has been lost,” Mustonen said. Through the help of ELOKA, however, the mechanisms are in place to update, maintain, and expand the atlas to reflect where the village might want to go and who the Evenki want to be.

This conversation is quite unified. The elders of the 1920s and 1930s, when they have gone, the Indigenous cultures of the Arctic will face tremendous questions of how to preserve their language, important cultural concepts, and land uses,” Mustonen said.

Early morning in the camp.

Early morning in the camp.

Beyond survival

Seasons and weather determine all aspects of nomadic life in the taiga forest. Cradled in a valley of shallow rivers, Iyengra is surrounded by mountains and large hills. Winter temperatures plummet to -50 degrees Celsius and below. Summers are hot. This land of extremes offers little room for error. Climate change is threatening to upset this delicate balance further.

The effects of climate change are more pronounced at the poles. For example, in November 2013, rain on snow in Russia’s Yamal Peninsula formed a several-inch thick layer of ice, smothering pastures and starving 61,000 reindeer. Mathematical climate models predict such rain-on-snow events will increase in frequency as the century continues.

Destructive ecological activities in the last fifteen years have also weighed on Evenki culture. Mineral resource and fossil fuel extraction, timber operations, and road constructions have destroyed essential pastures and grazing grounds for reindeer herding. When significant land disruption first happened in the 1970s to accommodate the first railroad track through the taiga, the affects were severe. As is written in the Ecological Change module:

Local people related that when the first tracks were constructed, several young reindeer herders faced extreme pressure, some even committed suicide. They could not come to terms with the imposed dramatic changes to their lands and lives. They could not find any use for their traditional skills and values as the whole universe around them had been turned upside down.

The Evenki see the atlas as a tool for cultural preservation and a way forward through all the challenges yet to come and have been anxiously awaiting its release. “No one knows the future—if nomadic lifestyle will end or continue,” Mustonen said. “It may be a mixture of both, but we will have the atlas to convey the message of how things used to be from changes in the forest and climate change over a 100 years to cultural adaptations.

Marina tends to reindeer skins (right) and Valeri fixes a sled runner. Valeri and Marina live a nomadic lifestyle all year round with their children.

Marina tends to reindeer skins (right) and Valeri fixes a sled runner. Valeri and Marina live a nomadic lifestyle all year round with their children.

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Battle for Lapland: Guardian News and Maori Knowledge

Snowy owl lives in the close proximity to the Arctic restoration sites. Photo: Eero Murtomäki

Snowy owl lives in the close proximity to the Arctic restoration sites. Photo: Eero Murtomäki

The Guardian features Sámi voices and Snowchange commentary on the proposed Arctic Railway. See here for more. Stuff from New Zealand features news of two Steering Committee members on Maori climate change work, here.

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