Further south, around lake Näsijärvi, the Nuotta Seine net fishermen have carried on oral traditions, knowledge and sacred relationship with fish in Finland. Their knowledge of place-names such as the island of Pikku Otava carried information about the spawning times and proper harvest of vendace, pike perch, bram and other species that my culture has depended on for millennia.
On the coasts of the Baltic our seal hunters Martti Välimaa, Evald Geust and others would have an itching to go sealing as the rays of the spring sun indicated that it was time for a seal harvest. Older hunters would dream of the place where the seals would be found.
In sub-Arctic Canada, anthropologists like Hugh Brody documented similar local knowledge among the indigenous Dene Tha hunters of North Eastern British Columbia in the 1970s. He wrote of his experiences in a book ”Maps and Dreams,” explaining how the local hunters would use dreams for locating prey and paths.
Cultures based on exploitation and colonisation of the Northern parts of the planet had a quite different perception of these areas. They thought of ”empty lands”, of the Ultima Thule. Misconceptions have led to centuries of lack of communication across cultural divides. An example is the arrival of British explorer Captain Cook to the western shores of Vancouver Island on Coast of Canada in 1778. He arrived in a bay and met some local people in their canoes. Locals would yell to Cook and his crew: ”Nootka, Nootka!” – a warning sign of difficult conditions. After that for, almost 200 years, they were known as the ”Nootka Indians.” It was not until the 1970s that the survivors of the cultural genocide of British Columbia, the descendents of the people that met Captain Cook, were able to convince the world that they are actually called ”Nuu-Chah-Nulth”, people of the sea and mountains.
Today we live in the Arctic in which a similar dynamic can be found. Renewed interest in oil and gas exploration, militarization and environmental protection without paying heed to local conditions is affecting our fishing families, the Saami reindeer herders, the Inuits, Evenkis of Siberia, Yukagir subsistence hunters, Icelandic sealers, Faroe whalers and other local communities.
In September 2003 Aikio told me: ”Do not think that human beings can live without nature. Nature and her resources are limited and if you do not understand this, then you do not understand anything.” His words in my mind I wonder at the marvel of the sunset on Eyja fjord and the dispatches from the cold seas of an Arctic under change.
Tero Mustonen is a Finnish poet and a fisherman who manages Snowchange, a project to collect local observations of change across the Arctic. He is living in Akureyri, teaching at the Social and Economic Department of University of Akureyri.
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