The harsh Arctic climate of northern Scandinavia is home to one of the oldest seminomadic indigenous populations in the world. This region is known as Sapmi and covers the Arctic area of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia’s Kola Peninsula. The Sapmi region is inhabited by the Sami people, whose ancestral lifestyle is integrally related to the seasonal migration of the reindeer they herd. The Sami’s unique intertwining of culture and environment has yielded a profound connection to and understanding of nature that continues to be passed down from generation to generation. Although only about 10 percent of the Sami practice reindeer herding, it remains at the heart of their culture and is central to their celebrations and traditions. Photojournalist Elisa Ferrari fell in love with the tranquil region and its lifestyle in 2012 and set out to document how reindeer herding continues to affect the Sami way of life.
When did you start “The Sami Way,” and what compelled you?
I first visited Sapmi in December of 2012. Aside from being a photographer and wanting to travel to beautiful places, my background in ethno-musicology and family’s indigenous roots in Argentina inspired my interest in learning more about the Sami and their way of life. As I gained exposure and learned more about the Sami’s cultural history and current political situation, including land rights issues and losing reindeer to climate change, I decided to set up a few interviews with professors, activists, reindeer herders and community leaders. After my first visit, I quickly fell in love with the area and developed a strong desire to learn more about its people. I stayed in Sweden for 10 months and made several trips to Sapmi.
What would you say is a feeling or a concept you want viewers of “The Sami Way” to come away with?
The Sami believe that it is their responsibility to care for nature and the land, not because they feel a sense of ownership but because their ancestors took care of it for them, so they must take care of the land for future generations. I think that when we live disconnected from nature, we often take it for granted. I am definitely guilty of that and find that spending time in the wilderness reminds me to try to be a more thoughtful person. I would love for viewers that live “on the grid” to look at these images and reflect on their relationship to nature and their environment.
How you would define living life off the grid?
I think that there are certainly various definitions of “living off the grid.” For me, living off the grid means to live closer to and more dependent on your immediate environment. This style of life gives up certain conveniences found in urban areas, but it also fosters a deeper appreciation and connection to the land, nature, animals and the weather. Most Sami do not live completely off the grid; they have houses, cars and many of the comforts of urban life. However, through reindeer herding, cultural beliefs and the struggle to survive the extreme Arctic climate, each day the Sami are reminded of their dependence on nature and the fragility of that relationship.
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