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Finnmark 2007 Diary » Blog Archive » Traditional versus scientific knowledge

Traditional versus scientific knowledge


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Johan Mathis Turi and Svein Mathiesen are two very different human beings; the first a reindeer herder from the long tradition of Flyt Sámi, and now Secretary General of the World Reindeer Herders Association, and the second, a Norwegian Biologist and presently head of the EALÁT (a Reindeer Herders Vulnerability Network Study), explain themselves, and how it seemed the ‘scientists’ had not been listening. And then – this is somewhat of an over-simplification of course – the Sámi herders said, let’s change practice. If you wish to learn a little of what we know, come to our laboratory, come and freeze with us in winter, walk, and ride, and sled with us when we follow the reindeer from the winter pastures to the sea., when we spend sleepless nights riding round our herds during calving time to protect our beasts against the lynx ,eagle, wolf, wolverine or bear, or when we collect the animals for the autumn marking and slaughter. Then perhaps you will have looked and listened truly, and have learnt something. And then maybe you’ll have something to say which is useful to us…

“It’s a question of confidence-building, firstly at local levels,” says Svein, “and if you constrain reindeer herders’ flexibility and adaptability you will damage, and risk destroying both the economic base on which their livelihood rests precariously, as well as their cultural identity and survival.” Both he and Johan Mathis gave similar examples independently. The first concerned the Norwegian health laws on castration. All reindeer herding countries except Norway permit reindeer castration by the herder, but Norway insists on costly veterinary castration which means that its not done. Who cares, you might say, but as Svein points out, herds with castrated animals are less stressed, calmer, quieter. Johan Mathis Turi adds that if you don’t castrate the bucks they weaken and often die after 3 or 4 seasons due to exhaustion and poor physical condition after rutting. The second example which both men gave was in relation to government intervention. Svein expressed his frustration with government intervention by calling it post-colonial behavior “operating in a time-lag”. Johan Mathis was more confrontational.: “ the Norwegian government wants to control herding and the herders in order to diminish their authority, and independence. Other examples include the essential government control of slaughter houses, and the price of meat…

In many respects, contrary to Dr Dess’ views your diarist feels, State intentions rest on maintaining the Sámi community in a position of dependence, economic difficulty or insecurity (to push the young away from traditional livelihoods) and inferiority, while providing institutions like the Sámi Parliament which have no real power to make changes but provide excellent forums for the Sámi themselves to fight with each other. Divide and Rule in other words…

There is much more to be said on this and related issues. Other occasions will doubtless be found!

The herders:

Johan Mathis Turi

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Karin Logje Siri

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Per Ailo Logje - the acknowledged expert and reference point

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