Recognizing our different needs gives us opportunity to thrive. This is often forgotten in our historically deprived arctic communities. ‘The Suffering Olympics‘ as some might say, “the pointless endeavour of comparing different tragedies…”. In the Northern Hemisphere, there are eight countries in the Circumpolar Arctic – eight places, countless communities with different stories to tell. Personally, as a Nunavik Inuk, Nunavimmiut, who has grown up in both North America and Scandinavia, the comparison is inevitable. Most people I encounter glamourise their idea of Scandinavia as a utopia of human rights, wealth and endless resources. And if I have taken anything from my life experiences, glamorous is beyond reality.

From the high Inuit suicide rates in Greenland to constant violation of Sámi land rights and too much to fit in this article, there is a world to uncover that stains the utopian image. 

In October of 2021, Sámi reindeer herders took a historical win in the Norwegian Supreme Court,  against two wind power plants on the Fosen Peninsula on charges of human rights violations. Although the Supreme Court ruled in favour of revoking the wind farming licences, these power plants are still operating illegally with no consequence. In the name of ‘green energy’ Norway is forcing reindeer to change their natural migration routes that are thousands of years old, and therefore threatening the very livelihood of Sámi. 

On the 500th day of illegal occupation of the power plant, on February 23rd of this year, Indigenous youth activists peacefully occupied the lobby of The Norwegian Ministry of Energy & Oil. They were later forcefully removed through the basement entry strategically planned by police to remove media attention.


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A post shared by Elle Rávdná Näkkäläjärvi (@elleeera)

The protests carried on outside of the Ministry of Energy & Oil, swiftly gaining international attention. Many Sámi paused their lives, travelling across the country to the capital of Oslo. Elina Ijäs, established Sámi artist and activist, travelled from Tromsø, where she was living at the time, to protest. I got the chance to interview her on the experience.

“I didn’t know many of these people before [the protests]. Suddenly you have lifelong connections, and you wish you never met,”  said Ijäs.

Elina reflected on the exhausting duty many of us have as Indigenous people. Our identities are made political without choice. She mentioned how she found strength in the community these protests built, but she would never have needed the strength if the human rights violations had never happened. Elina plans to join the planned peaceful protests for the two year anniversary of the court ruling, October 11th, 2023.

 “I felt it in my chest, it’s like war, and we’re all so ready for it,” said Ijäs about her thoughts when going to support her friend and fellow activist. 

Mihkkal Robertabártni Hætta is currently occupying the front lawn of the Norwegian Parliament, ahead of the two year anniversary of the ruling. Many people, including Elina, have been taking shifts to protest alongside Mihkkal. 

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A post shared by Mihkkal Robertabártni (@mikheatta)

In Swedish Sápmi, there is an entire city being displaced because of mine destruction. The same area is also threatened by a wind power plant and railways that have already forced reindeer herds to move.  Kiruna is an example of both a modern and historical threat to indigenous livelihood. 

“If the reindeer die, everything dies,” said Interviewee 6, in a study by Hanna Blåheda and Miguel San Sebastián on ‘The mental health of a Sámi community exposed to a mining project in Swedish Sápmi’. 

Another mine in Gállok, Sweden, run by a British mining company, is once again threatening reindeer migration routes. It seems the notorious British colonialism does not end, but simply in collaboration with another colonial state. Sweden demonstrates in situations where colonial governments seek to gain, their indigenous populations face the consequences first, but they will not be last. 

Leading climate scientists name “colonialism” as a threat to climate change and unfortunately the nordics have terribly missed the irony. 

“You cannot combat a climate crisis by removing reindeer herding,” said Ijäs. “Our ancestors have been maintaining the very ecosystem they claim they are helping [with wind energy] for millennia. The state is selling wind energy internationally and relying on oil; it’s green colonialism.”

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Furthermore, Finland has been globally praised for its advances in human rights, yet it conveniently ignores the Indigenous people. The United Nations has declared that the Finnish State has violated an international convention on racial discrimination against Sámi. The Finnish government refuses to legitimise the Finnish Sámi Parliament, even with UN involvement, not allowing self-governance for the Sámi much similar to Russia’s ruling on Russian Sámi and other Indigenous groups.  

In 2008, a study led by the Centre for Sami Health Research conducted by Anna Rita Spein revealed surprising results. Sámi youth presented lower substance use than the national Norwegian average whereas Sámi youth “with weaker cultural ties reported the highest interethnic smoking and drinking rates.”. These findings suggest a strong link between access to culture and the health of community members. Imagine the devastation of culture loss as climate change threatens the very ecosystems that keep us alive on our lands. 

Christina Viksum Lytken Larsen, from Centre for Public Health of Greenland, spoke at an Arctic Youth Network (AYN) workshop on suicide prevention strategies in July of 2021. 

“When you do suicide prevention in arctic communities… you have to promote culture…” said Larsen.

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A post shared by The Arctic Youth Network (@arcticyouthnetwork)

Larsen also stresses the importance of healthy relationships between cultural members and how we benefit from self-sustaining solutions. She is part of the Circumpolar Health Research Network which aims to promote the advancement of health and wellness of northern people.

At an AYN webinar in June of 2022, DJ iDJa, from Sápmi in Norway, spoke about finding his relationship with his culture by making music. He talked about the importance of hope and indigenous resilience for our wellbeing and the survival of future generations. He expresses how art empowered him to find cultural access, and purpose in life.

“Music became the tool needed to explore that [Sámi] part of myself.” said  DJ iDJa.

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Another guest speaker at the webinar, Jon Petter Stoor, Sámi from Kiruna, who is a clinical psychologist with a focus on suicide prevention work for Sámi. Stoor mentioned the eleven strategies his team has researched to implement for suicide prevention in Sámi communities.

“If Sámi have access to strong arenas and context or living in [Sámi culture] and learning Sámi language… that will increase empowerment of Sámi, which in turn is increasing their resilience to mental health issues.” said Stoor.

Stoor describes cultural access through language as a “game changer”. He reflects on the indirect benefit of being fluent in your mother tongue as a sort of cultural gatekeeper, and how the language connection can lead to a healthy life.

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A post shared by The Arctic Youth Network (@arcticyouthnetwork)

The Butterfly Effect simplified is the theory that all actions, no matter how small or large, could have dire consequences on complex systems. Systems like Indigenous cultures, where colonialism destroys languages, cultural practices and everything that follows. We can already see the devastating consequences of colonialism in examples like residential schools on Turtle Island and Sápmi. Or what it does to our disconnected youth and our disproportional suicide rates

Colonialism is not just a historical problem, our communities are facing it now. With the progression of climate change, we will soon live a new part of its destruction, more than we already have. 

Here I open the door to a conversation we should all begin to have. I ask you to question your role in enabling glorification of problematic states. I ask you to have uncomfortable conversations. 

Whilst it is important to address dire problems, we only draw further division when we ask “who has it worse?”. 

We all have it worse than it could be. Most of our difficulties across the Circumpolar Arctic are parallel. I have spoken to a lot of Indigenous people who relate when I say I feel like my home communities in both Nunavik and Sápmi have only suffering in common, but it is time that has changed, for the better of our climates and our survival. 

We all have different needs and we need to be able to support each other in the endeavour to meet them without drawing division.

About the Author: Lulu Partridge-York

My name is Lulu Partridge-York. I was born & raised in Montréal, Canada but spent my childhood split between Vermont, US, Nunavik & Sápmi. My parents are artists from Kuujjuaq, Nunavik, Canada & Guovdageaidnu/Kautokeino, Sápmi, Norway. My cross-cultural upbringing has cultivated my affinity for travelling, storytelling, and photography. I use writing to navigate my messy, evolving relationship to my Indigenous identity and personhood. I am passionate about the de-stigmatisation of mental illness and having open conversations around abuse and shame. I spent my childhood isolated in my experiences with abuse. I am reclaiming my life, my truth, and finding space to be unapologetically me; ending the cycle. I believe personal-growth contributes to healthy communities, and I hope to empower my communities through open conversation.

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