Culturally Responsible Sámi Tourism

Tourism has grown fast, both globally as well as in Finnish Lapland. The growth of tourism has increased challenges to cultural sustainability, especially in the context of Sámi culture. The Sámi who are the only indigenous people in the E.U reside in four countries, that is, Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia. The Sámi Parliament in Finland has received funding from the Ministry of Education and Culture to carry out Culturally Responsible Sámi Tourism project. One of the main objectives of the project is to develop ethical guidelines from the Sámi point of view for responsible socially, culturally, ecologically and economically sustainable Sámi tourism product development and presentation in Finland. The ethical guidelines are due in 2018.

In this context, Sámi tourism is understood as tourism in which the resources of Sámi culture are utilised in order to produce tourism services that are offered on commercial basis.  In Finland, Sámi tourism may be tourism based on Sáminess, in which case tourism service providers come from within the Sámi community. Alternatively, there is tourism utilising Sáminess, that is, different stakeholders in tourism who come from outside the culture with no actual connection to the Sámi community but who nonetheless utilise different elements that are connected and/or referential to Sámi culture[1].

In tourism utilising Sáminess in Finland, symbols of the Sámi culture have already been developed into tourism products for decades. In other words, the commodification of the Sámi culture in tourism has, for a long time, been defined as well as realised by outsiders. The commodified Sámi image in tourism utilising Sáminess rarely has much to do with the authentic Sáminess. The existing, primitivised and misleading widely-spread representation of the Sámi in tourism utilising Sáminess in Finland is, at its worst, insulting for and/or commodifying of the Sámi community. This repeatedly presented, public, misleading image negatively affects the vitality of the Sámi culture. It is hard for the Sámi community alone to provide correct and authentic Sámi presentation with limited resources.

The presentation of the Sámi in tourism utilising Sáminess needs to happen in ethically sustainable way as well as in co-operation with the Sámi. The tourism services should be based on authenticity. It is crucial to increase knowledge and education about Sámi languages and culture. The preservation of the vitality of the Sámi culture also promotes the development of the tourism industry in Lapland. It is possible to join these matters into mutual benefit. However, this requires co-operation, increasing the distribution of correct information on the Sámi, as well as finding new means of and channels for reciprocal interaction between tourism and Sámi culture. The prerequisite to develop ethical Sámi tourism is extensive co-operation based on multilateral mutual understanding and respect. The aim is that the Sámi and the stakeholders in tourism industry would define and understand ethical Sámi tourism in the same way.

The topicality of the ethical guidelines for Sámi tourism is supported by, among other things, the objectives of sustainable development, such as the aim of the global 2030 Agenda programme to promote sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products. For a long time, the Sámi community has brought up the issues of inappropriate uses of Sámi costume and other Sámi symbols in Finland, highlighting the importance and necessity of the ethical guidelines for Sámi tourism. Sámi costume carries a great significance in Sámi culture. There are unwritten norms regulating the Sámi costume usages that are adhered by the Sámi. According to the Sámi customary law, the right to use Sámi costume is related to wearer’s Sámi background. Moreover, a man does not use parts of a female costume and vice versa. Furthermore, one cannot mix costumes from different regions or different Sámi groups. Additionally, winter costumes are not used in summertime or vice versa. The culturally sustainable tourism respects and appreciates the distinct characteristics of different cultures, promotes the wellbeing of people and regions as well as enables the preservation and development of different cultures.

[1] SÁMI CULTURE includes, among others, Sámi language, Sámi cultural heritage, cultural expressions, Sámi art, traditional knowledge of the Sámi, traditional Sámi livelihoods and the modern ways of practising them as well as other cultural traditions and manifestations practised by the Sámi as indigenous people.