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The Threat of Globalisation on Finnish Sámi Culture

In their newsletter, Nationalia, the Spanish non-governmental association International Centre for Ethnic Minorities and Nations (CIEMEN), write “[s]elf-government and identity issues, rather than struggles for power or for control of natural resources, remain the major causes of conflicts in Europe” (CIEMEN, 2008, April 3). However, this is disputed by the renowned Colombian-American anthropologist and professor emeritus Arturo Escobar, who believes environmental struggles are becoming more “ubiquitous” (Escobar, 2006, p.6) due to the material demands of globalisation. Its consequences of rapid urbanisation, increased competition and economic expansion place considerable pressure on the world’s infinite raw resources.

The central theme of this article deals with the rights of the indigenous Sámi people of northern Finland as protected primarily under the Constitution of Finland (United Nations Regional Information Centre for Western Nations, 2012) and Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a multilateral treaty adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1966 (United Nations, 1966). It will discuss the local consequences of mining, as a result of economic globalisation, on the Finnish Sámi traditions and culture in their mineral-rich homeland of Sápmi, a territory covering the northernmost regions of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia (Kitti, 1996; Ojala, 2023).

Despite the Finnish Government ratifying the ICCPR, which “requires the state to protect and give recognition to the rights of the Sámi to practice traditional indigenous land uses, such as reindeer herding” (Lawrence & Raitio, 2011, p.1), the culturally significant tradition of reindeer herding is threatened by industrialisation and international mining activities transforming the landscape and affecting grazing lands and the movement of semi-domesticated reindeer (Allard, 2023). The “competition over scarce resources” (Heikkilä, 2002, p.30) poses multiple questions about the future of land rights and management between the Finnish national government and Sámi Parliament of Finland (the Sámediggi), cultural identity and preservation, self-determination of the Sámi and interaction between the local and global caused by globalisation.

Figure 1: The reindeer herding areas and Sámi homeland areas in Finland (ResearchGate, 2018).

The confusing nature of globalisation has also been expressed by Professor Jan Aart Scholte, author of the highly-acclaimed textbook Globalization: A Critical Introduction: “People have linked the notion to pretty well every purported contemporary social change” (Scholte, 2005). Terms such as “multidimensional” (Gopinath, 2012), “amorphous” (Ethier, 2002, p.27) and “all-embracing” (Pooch, 2016, p.15) are further evidence of globalisation’s ambiguity.*

An interpretation is offered by the late Emeritus professor Sandro Sideri: “Globalisation is essentially a process driven by economic forces. Its immediate causes are… the spatial reorganisation of production, international trade and the integration of financial markets” (Sideri, 1997, p.38). Viewed as an economic process, globalization is considered “the worldwide extension of capitalism” by the renowned Turkish economist Professor Dani Rodrik (Rodrik, 2011, p.233).*

The mass flow and exchange of services, goods and people across national borders (Joshi, 2009), made possible by developments in science, technology and communication (Archibugi & Iammarino, 2002, p.99; Hrynyshyn, 2002, p.84), has “helped capitalism to become more widespread and more entrenched than ever” (Scholte, 2005, p.160) with the ability to access new markets and source lower production costs.*

Before Finland joined the European Union on 1 January 1995, the country’s mining rights were restricted only to Finnish citizens. Post-accession, these were extended to foreign persons and industries (Hossain, 2008; Eerola, 2022). The north of Finland is rich in minerals and ores (Suomen Mineraalistrategia, 2010; OECD, 2019), making the country a significant global player in the mining industry. However, this region of wealth covers Finland’s conservation and the traditional Sámi homeland areas (Roto, 2018; Pölönen et al., 2020) leading to protests and anti-mining movements (Lassila, 2018). The scale of mining in Sápmi is determined by the Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency (Tukes) (Finnish: Turvallisuus- ja kemikaalivirasto Tukes), a Finnish government agency responsible for agreeing mining permits (Minpol, 2017).

Figure 2: A Finnish Sámi family in traditional costumes, photographed in 1936 (Wikimedia Commons, 2009).

The Finnish Sámi

The Sámi inhabit Sápmi, a territory covering the northernmost regions of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia (Kitti, 1996; Ojala, 2023). The population of this indigenous group is undetermined (Omma et al., 2012; Stoor & Sebastián, 2022) - in part and most controversially, due to historic forced assimilation measures conducted by all the Scandinavian countries (Gaski, 1993; Weinstock, 2013; Lehtola, 2015; Dancus, 2022) - but today there is believed to be a total population of 70,000-80,000 spread across the four countries (Kitti, 1996; Weinstock, 2013; OECD, 2019). Of this total, the Finnish Sámi numbers roughly 8,000 (Allard, 2011; Broderstad, 2011), but more than 60% live outside Sápmi (Sámi Parliament, 2008).

While all Finnish nationals can practise reindeer herding (Williams, 2003; Turunen et al., 2020) in specific districts (Finnish/Sámi: paliskunta - bálgosat) identified in the Reindeer Husbandry Act (848/1990), it is intrinsically linked to the culture of the Finnish Sámi (Kitti, 1996; Holand et al., 2022, p.9) inhabiting the municipalities of Utsjoki, Inari, Enontekiö and northern Sodankylä in the far north of the country (Markkula et al., 2019; Joona & Joona, 2023). The national government, however, regulates the ownership of the 200,000 semi-domesticated reindeer within the country’s 56 herding areas (Dana & Riseth, 2011; Landauer et al., 2021).

The Sámi are the only ethnic group in the European Union classified as an indigenous people (Council of Europe, 2015; European Economic and Social Committee, 2015), but the situation is complicated as there is no definite definition to describe indigenous (Kingsbury, 1998, p.420; Champagne, 2013, p.17). Instead, an understanding of this term is multidimensional based upon self-identification, self-determination, territory, land rights (access to natural resources, for example), political and social systems and shared language, culture and sacred beliefs (Cobo, 1972; de Varennes, 1996; Weaver, 2001), or as defined by Harold S. Morris: “a distinct category of the population in a larger society whose culture is usually different from its own. The members of such a group are, or feel themselves, or are thought to be, bound together by common ties” (Morris, 1968, quoted in Dana & Riseth, 2011, p.110).

Figure 3: A reindeer in Riisitunturi National Park, Posio, Finland (Lemon, 2016).

While the status of the Sámi is recognised by the Constitution of Finland (United Nations, 2012),  the distinct culture and language of the Finnish Sámi are defended by the democratically-elected Sámi Parliament of Finland, the Sámediggi (Finnish: Saamelaiskäräjät). A Sámi Delegation was first established in 1973 by the Finnish Government (Müller-Wille, 2004; Josefsen, 2010) and replaced by the 1995 Sámi Act (Finnish: Laki Saamelaiskäräjistä 17.7.1995/974). The Sámediggi’s powers are limited (Reimerson & Flodén, 2024) but, in theory, the Finnish national government must consult it over land use and mining permits (Koivurova et al., 2015; Pölönen et al., 2020).

The Sámediggi is an important institution in the fight for Sámi self-determination, governance of natural resources and cultural preservation, but since no official or legal document has yet adequately addressed actual land rights and control over natural resources in Sápmi (Minority Rights Group International, 2012), its powers are simply defined as defending the Sámi’s political and cultural rights (Josefsen et al. 2016) outlined in the country’s constitution and international agreements signed by the Finnish state.

The Sámi stress the cultural importance of reindeer herding and husbandry (Williams, 2003; Holand et al., 2022), but only 10% make their living from it (Koivurova et al., 2015; Johnsen et al., 2017). Yet, the deep, cultural connection to the land - a pastoral livelihood based on reindeer herding/husbandry, fishing and hunting (Akhtar, 2022; Allard, 2023) - has evolved over centuries. Consequently, a system of sustainable management and governance of natural resources was developed to survive the harsh climate of the north (Nuttall, 1998, p.12; Pinto-Guillaume, 2017) and has become central to Sámi culture and identity survival. The Sámi’s spiritual and historical connection to the land is represented by their distinctive joik (Aubinet, 2022), a traditional form of song sung by a joikaaja (in Finland), used to express collective Sámi culture, politics and history (Hilder, 2012).

Figure 4: The Sámi flag, adopted in August 1986, was designed by the Norwegian Sámi artist Astrid Båhl (Jeltz, 2023).

Social anthropologist and author Professor Mark Nuttall believes mainstream society’s lack of understanding of indigenous groups places resources “at the very heart of indigenous discourses on self-determination and self-government” (Nuttall, 1998, p.15). The International Labour Organization Convention’s Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989, also known as ILO Convention 169, is a significant, legally binding instrument in the global protection of indigenous people. It identifies the key characteristics of being an indigenous people, namely the historical and spiritual connection to the land before “conquest or colonisation or the establishment of present state boundaries”, access to “subsistence and traditional activities” and “the use, management and conservation” of natural resources (International Labor Organization, 2013), but fails to address or guarantee self-determination (Reuter, 2016; Larsen & Gilbert, 2020); indigenous rights and prosperity remain at the whim of the national government (Berman et al., 1993) as does the governance of these resources of economic and cultural significance (Johnstone, 2020).

Other criticism of the effectiveness of the ILO Convention 169 addresses the lack of signatories (Valkonen et al., 2017), with only 23 countries to date (2024) ratifying it. Finland has not signed the Convention (Bjørklund, 2013; Cambou, 2014), disputing the articles relating to land ownership and rights (Lehtola, 2015). Instead, the 1995 Sámi Act echoes the ILO 169  by recognising Finnish Sámi culture (Joona, 2019) and requiring consultation between national and Sámi governments over mining rights in Sápmi (Allard, 2018). The Act, though, does not guarantee Sámi self-determination (source), nor has it resulted in a strong relationship between Sámediggi and Finnish parliaments over land access and rights since “No comprehensive formal structures or joint arenas of significance have been established… to ensure that the intention in the legislation regarding Saami influence is met” (Josefsen, 2010, p.8).

There has been international criticism of Finland’s failure to sign the Convention by the United Nations (Lehtola, 2015, p.25). Such international support can only strengthen the Sámediggi’s resolve to urge the national government to settle the issue of land rights and management of its natural resources.

Figure 5: The Sámi Parliament of Finland, the Sámediggi, in Inari, Finland (Høifødt, 2014).


Escobar (2006) believes “Globalization has not led to the flattening of differences that was once feared”, and consequently locality has gained more importance in constituting people's identity (Giddens, 1994; Scholte, 1996). The Finnish Sámi do not have the sole right to reindeer herding, but land rights in Sápmi are intricately tied to this culturally significant activity. Identity and self-determination amongst the Finnish Sámi have been “reactivated” (Heikkilä, 2002, p.30) by modern land use infringements, namely mining, and rights affecting this tradition, highlighting the historical disputes between Finn and Sámi (Lehtola, 2015) and differences in local and national governance.

Economic globalisation is transforming access to the world’s raw materials, and in doing so is reshaping rural landscapes and affecting indigenous cultures and their access to resources (Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat, 2009; Woods & McDonagh, 2011). Modern land-use conflicts are characterised by economic, cultural, and ecological problems (Izakovičová et al., 2018) and are multilevel (local, national and global) (Jiang et al., 2021).

It is claimed by Riekkinen & Suksi (2019) and Pölönen et al. (2021) that the Finnish Sámi lands and rights are adequately protected by the Mining Act 621/2011, in which there are obligations for the national government to inform and consult with the Sámi people and parliament before any mining commences (Koivurova et al., 2015). However, increased mineral extractions in the Finnish Sápmi are disturbing their traditional reindeer routine and culture, with access to new grazing land becoming limited and their condition degrading (Ekenberg, 2008; Holand et al., 2022, p.34). Escobar (2006, p.7) would argue this shows the long-standing cultural practices being transformed in the “encounter” with other cultural forms; in this context, the traditional Sámi reindeer herding clashes with the modernity of global economic globalisation.

Figure 6: The Kevitsa mine, one of Finland’s largest open-pit mines, is located in Sodankylä, the Sápmi region (Mining Journal, 2020).

“Land use and ownership issues are articulated probably most seriously in the confrontations between the traditional means of livelihood and the modern society today” (Heikkilä, 2002, p.30). The Sámi resolve for control over the land in the homeland of Sápmi is effectively a clash between the local and the global, with the issues of rights and control of land for herding a pivotal part.

The globalisation of the world markets and the global demand for raw materials (Normann 2021, quoted in Holand et al., 2022) continue to have a major impact on Finland’s mineral wealth and mining opportunities. Despite their status as indigenous, the Sámi are very much part of the globalised economy because of their location within the mineral-rich north and Sápmi areas (Suomen Mineraalistrategia, 2010).

Since the 1970s, a global transition of capitalism has taken place (Antonio & Bonanno, 2000; Robinson, 2001), disrupting the historic supply chains forged by Fordism - the standardised factory system of mass production associated with the American industrialist Henry Ford (1863-1947) - to create the modern, automated post-Fordism world (Sewell, 2003; Antonio & Bonanno, 2000) of flexibility and deregulation in capital, production and labour (Peters, 2008). Factors such as technology, deregulation and the drive for continual growth and profits have led to the dominance of multinational corporations (Stopford, 1998; Edwards & Rees, 2017; Roach, 2023). These stateless entities, with operations in more than one country (Caves, 1996; Kogut, 2001, p.10197), have made the concept of national boundaries and distance for certain economic activities meaningless.

Developments in science, technology and communication in today’s globalised world have created conditions for mineral-rich countries to provide more favourable conditions for foreign investment (Otto et al., 2006). In Finland, mining is “mostly in the hands of international companies” (Hossain, 2008, p.1). As of 2021, nine of the eleven metal ore mines in the country were foreign owned, “[t]hus, most of the investments in recent years have come from outside Finland” (Valtiontalouden tarkastusvirasto, 2021). The Kevitsa mine, for example, one of Finland’s largest open-pit mines, is owned by the Swedish multinational mining company Boliden AB.

The land demands placed by mines - increased road traffic and expanding transport networks - have caused severe disruption to reindeer herders and destroyed their grazing habitats. Consequently, Hilson (2002, p.65) believes “perhaps no single industry has precipitated more disputes over land use than mining.”

*Previously published in Waugh, E. (2024). Theories and Concepts of Economic Globalisation. Arcadia, 24 March. Retrieved from

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