Stakeholders involved in environmental disputes related to Lapland rarely find common ground – how should Lapland’s nature be used and protected, and by whom?

According to a study recently completed at the University of Helsinki, environmental disputes related to Lapland and their management are characterised by the diversity of stakeholders and the divergence of their views. A culturally sensitive approach would be useful in managing the use of natural resources and environmental conflicts.

In Lapland, the importance and appreciation of traditional livelihoods, such as reindeer herding and subsistence use of natural resources, are apparent, but their cultural significance is not always recognised. According to the doctoral dissertation by Mikko Jokinen, an increasingly culturally sensitive approach is needed to manage natural resource use and environmental disputes, identifying and taking into account the societal characteristics particular to Lapland.  Geographically,  

Jokinen’s research focus is on the Saami home district in Upper Lapland without strictly restricting it to this area. Northenmost Lapland has undergone rapid cultural change, but the past still has a strong presence in peoples mind and culture, which explains the valuations and meanings linked by local people to the use of nature.  

“Nature conservation is an important form of land use especially in Upper Lapland. Successful conservation efforts that gain the approval and support of the locals require increasingly transparent approaches that acknowledge cultural factors,” Jokinen says. Nature as well as working and surviving in nature are the cornerstones of the Laplander identity. Guidance from outside Lapland in environmental matters is easily experience as offensive by Laplanders, even if that is not the intention. 

Among the key findings in Jokinen’s dissertation is the fact that environmental disputes and their management are characterised by the diversity of stakeholders and their differing opinions. Both widely shared and divergent views are associated with the use of natural resources. The culture of nature use in Lapland is founded on these views and notions, and manifests itself in environmental disputes and the attitudes of the stakeholders.The roles and motives of parties involved are often unclear and problematic when managing environmental conflict situations, and often no shared understanding of their nature, cause and potential consequences can be reached.  

Jokinen believes Finnish society and Metsähallitus, the Finnish forest and park service that manages government land, have been lacking culturally sensitive institutional structures and practices that are capable of managing Lapland’s natural resources and related disputes in a socially sustainable manner. In recent years, however, new and improved practices have been introduced. 

“To be positively received, nature conservation projects should in future make use of cultural knowledge related to nature and its use together with ecological knowledge,” Jokinen sums up.  
The material and findings of Jokinen’s doctoral dissertation are based on personal interviews, questionnaire surveys, expert views and ethnographic fieldwork. Mikko Jokinen works as researcher in Rovaniemi at the Natural Resources Institute Finland.  

Doctoral dissertation:  

Mikko Jokinen, MSc (Agriculture and Forestry), will defend his doctoral dissertation entitled Lapin ympäristökiistojen kulttuuriset tekijät (‘Cultural Factors of Environmental Disputes in Lapland’) on 20 September 2019 at 12:00 in the Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Helsinki. The public defence will take place at Porthania, lecture hall PIII, Yliopistonkatu 3, Helsinki. Professor Jarno Valkonen from the University of Lapland will serve as the opponent and Professor Päivi Haapasaari as the custos. 

The dissertation will be published in the series Dissertationes Forestales. The dissertation is also available in electronic form through the E-thesis service. 

Contact details of the doctoral candidate: 
Mikko Jokinen,