As pointed out in the introduction of the book, culturally and spiritually important landscapes across the Arctic region express the close link and interconnections between Indigenous Peoples and the natural and spiritual environment. Living landscapes contain particular individual sites – Sacred Natural Sites – that are associated with spiritual and cultural intangible values of the natural elements. In many Arctic indigenous societies, Sacred Natural Sites (SNS) are embedded in cultural practices and belief systems, and respect for and access restrictions to them have often led to well-conserved areas within otherwise widely used and degraded Arctic environments. However, it has become increasingly difficult for indigenous communities to protect their SNS from rising development activities and social change, e.g. tourism, extractive industries and forestry. Some SNS are known by community members only, and it is very important to respect this privacy. Some of them are legally recognized, by national law or for instance as a world heritage site by the UNESCO World Heritage Convention.

The UArctic Thematic Network on Arctic Law has been actively working to create an international network which gave birth to this book on SNS. Already in 2013, nearly 80 sacred sites' guardians of indigenous communities, Indigenous Peoples’ organizations, scientists, policy-makers and members of civil society gathered together in Rovaniemi to participate in the first international, multidisciplinary conference on Arctic Sacred Sites. The conference was co-organized by the Northern Institute for Environmental and Minority Law of the Arctic Centre at the University of Lapland, Université de Montréal (Canada), and the Thematic Network on Arctic Law. The conference participants established the statement and recommendations on “Recognizing and Safeguarding Sacred Sits of Indigenous peoples in Northern and Arctic Regions” that are elaborated in the book. The key message is that all protection measures of sacred natural sites of indigenous peoples must take into account and respect their right to self-determination over their own cultural heritage.

The book launch panel on November 13 discussed the multidisciplinary contents of the volume as well as introduced new research in the area of SNS. Professor Thora Herrmann from the University of Montréal elaborated on a successful project of mapping, protecting and co-managing sacred natural sites of Innu in Canada. Researcher Francis Joy from the Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, had an enlightening presentation “From Revered Sacred objects to Souvenirs – Tourism in Lapland, and the Misappropriation of Sami Traditions and Cultural Heritage”. Joy described the wide use and misuse of Sámi symbolism in tourism, which does not often respect and is not always even aware of the Sámi cultural history and ownership to their cultural heritage. PhD candidate Antje Neumann from University of Tilburg and researcher Eija Ojanlatva from the Sámi museum Siida (Inari, Finland) presented current challenges in the legal protection of the Sacred Natural Sites of Sámi people in Finland. The chair of the panel, senior researcher and Vice-Lead of the Thematic Network Leena Heinämäki, from the Northern Institute for Environmental and Minority Law at the Arctic Centre, gave a general introduction to the themes of the book that consists of two parts: on different legal mechanisms and on intangible cultural heritage and issues of identity, ethnicity and transmission of culture linked to SNS.

The book "Sacred Arctic" brings together 20 authors from various disciplines, such as anthropology, ethnology, law, geography, history and archeology.

Experiencing and Protecting Sacred Natural Sites of Sámi and Other Indigenous Peoples: The Sacred Arctic
Heinämäki, Leena & Herrmann, Thora, Eds.
Springer Polar Sciences, 2017

More information:

Leena Heinämäki
L.LD, Senior Researcher
Vice-Lead of the UArctic Thematic Network on Arctic Law
Northern Institute for Environmental and Minority Law, Arctic Centre, University of Lapland