Terra Madre Terra Madre - Choose your language Ministero delle politiche agricole forestali Regione Piemonte Comune di Torino Slow Food
Indigenous Wisdom in a Modern World

Stefan Mikaelsson is the president of the Sámi parliament general assembly; the only official representation for the Sámi peoples in Sweden, an indigenous ethnic group inhabiting Sápmi - an area stretching across Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia. During the Slow Food international council meeting this month, he spoke of his people’s inextricable link to nature in a modernizing world…

“As peoples, we reaffirm our rights to self-determination and to own, control and manage our ancestral lands and territories, waters and other resources. Our lands and territories are at the core of our existence - we are the land and the land is us; we have a distinct spiritual and material relationship with our lands and territories and they are inextricably linked to our survival.

Our deep relationship to nature is difficult to reduce to words. To live in nature and to live directly from what nature can give creates an immediate relationship with our environment (which includes animals and each other). The Sámi view of nature as a living being stands in sharp contrast with the western view. Our view of nature has been formed by our values, our traditions, social structures and relationships.

We are the original peoples tied to the land by our umbilical cords and the dust of our ancestors. Our special places are sacred and demand the highest respect. Disturbing the remains of our families and elders is desecration of the greatest magnitude and constitutes a grave violation of our human rights. We rely on our relationship with Sápmi, our home. If we – or someone else – destroy nature, it will also harm our culture.

The Sámi people have lived through many changes. So far, we have always managed to face these without our culture disappearing. This experience from history offers hope and belief for the future. People and nature have a long-term capacity to renew themselves and to evolve in a sustainable way, even in times of significant change. The situation can be improved if we actively participate in shaping our circumstances, and if we build on our experiences from our rich culture and knowledge.

Our goal is to research our own culture and how we can reach a sustainable and high quality of life through simplifying our lifestyle instead of increasing our costs. We take both modern and traditional knowledge seriously and will make use of the best experiences of these for future development. Sustainable development builds on a meaningful balance between traditional and modern knowledge. If successful, innovative technologies are used within the framework of our value system, they will neither destroy the living environment nor our health – which they do in many instances today.

If we can show that the traditional Sámi way of living and our traditional knowledge is appreciated in the large countries of the European Union, this will instill a feeling of satisfaction, happiness and pride - both in our origins and in the people that we are.”

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