Tag Archives: Sacred sites

Sacred Sites in the Arctic North and Beyond: The Challenges of Protecting Cultural Heritage and Living Traditions in a Multitude of Contexts and Cultures

Sacred sites are many and varied throughout the world (Verschuuren et al., 2012). They are repositories of knowledge and wisdom, and are predominantly aligned with local, present-day and historical cultures of peoples on whose lands or former lands they are located (Wild and McLeod, 2009). Sacred natural sites are sanctuaries for biocultural diversity (Metcalfe et al., 2009; Verschuuren et la., 2012). Sacred sites are closely tied to identity, and are crucial for the transmission of cultural memory and language, and maintenance of health and well-being (Maffi and Woodley, 2010; Quijada, 2019; Poelina, 2020). Remarkably, they are often the focus of cultural memory and, thus, linked with earlier ancestors and their lifeways as well as local spirits and powers of nature that are considered manifest, e.g., within forests (sacred groves), mountains, rivers, lakes, tundra, sun, moon and weather phenomena such as the aurora borealis (Verschuuren et al., 2012; Zannini et al., 2021). There are also sacred areas where churches, monasteries, mosques and various sorts of temples are situated that are man-made structures, which are cultural heritage sites that have value for pilgrims and adherents to certain faiths and religions (Blain and Wallis, 2004).

According to Samakov and Berkes (2017): “The sacredness of a particular site, related to local worldviews and beliefs, may be manifested in the form of tribute to ancestors, access to supernatural dimensions, and respect for spiritual entities that reside in the area” (p.425). Both historically and in the contemporary world, many sacred sites bear evidence of worship and reverence, and, among those naturally formed in the wilderness, there are locations where offerings have been given that are connected to knowledge and practices that are also secret and guarded (Helander-Renvall, 2010; Samakov and Berkes, 2017). Equally, and presently in some locations, evidence of new types of offerings is emerging (Joy, 2020) whereby at certain sites used, e.g., by reindeer and caribou herders, fishermen and hunters, these gestures reflect reciprocal relationships with the natural world and, playing a central function in practices connected with livelihoods (Helander-Renvall, 2010; Spangen and Äikäs, 2020). Such customs can illustrate how and why Indigenous peoples were persecuted for adhering to their traditional ways, but also provide evidence of new types of offerings and interactions at sacred sites that can be understood as examples of some of the ways in which the same peoples are now reclaiming their beliefs and practices, and a fortiori the freedom which was earlier restricted because spiritual principles of this ilk were forbidden (Kraft, 2020).

Certain in-dwelling powers at sacred sites are considered to protect ancestral lands and families (Helander-Renvall, 2010). Without exception, Indigenous and local communities have developed regulations, rules and norms to govern and protect sacred sites (Wild and McLeaod, 2009; Heinämäki and Xanthaki, 2017). Oral traditions are inextricably related to practices associated with sacred sites (Kim, 2021). Indigenous ways of managing sacred sites are often shaped by customary laws, taboos, guardian spirits and access restrictions or supernatural powers that reside, e.g., over sacred land and waters (Oviedo et al., 2005). Wild and McLeod (2009) highlights that: “in many societies, traditional sacred natural sites fulfill similar functions as legal protected areas. Due to the spiritual values attributed to these sites, restrictions on access and use often apply, and many such sites remain in a natural or near-natural condition. Here, human disturbance has been reduced or prevented, or careful management has taken place, often for long periods of time, with resulting high levels of biodiversity.” (p.5). In some places there exist community-instituted sacred-site guardians, i.e., people who volunteer to care after a site (Liljeblad and Verschuuren, 2019). When this is given further consideration, it is possible to comprehend how misuse and destruction of sacred sites threatens the very existence and fabric of the spiritual cultures and traditions of many Indigenous peoples.

Military conflicts (e.g., in the middle-east and now Ukraine), as well as the destruction and threats to local waters and lands resulting from extractive industries (e.g., oil and gas production, forestry and mining), and the development of an increasingly globalized world where tourism is one of the main forces shaping travel, sacred sites have been and continue to be destroyed, desecrated and eroded. Henceforth, one of the main research paradigms where concerns about the safety of sacred sites is clearly illustrated, due to multiple types of threats emerging from within sectors such as the tourism industry (Olsen, 2020). For example, tourism companies advertise sacred places as tourism destinations and locations for leisure activities, such as rock climbing and camping, and material objects of spiritual significance are commercialized as souvenirs (Joy 2019; Mathisen 2020).

Similarly, socio- environmental changes are affecting Indigenous Peoples’ local economies, which, for example, are linked with reindeer herding as well as hunting and fishing, and result in land use having to be reorganized and renegotiated. The principal reasons for these trends are: (1) in certain places inadequate laws are poorly implemented; and (2), in some cases, binding regulations are non-existent because commercial interests reign supreme in terms of business development.

In addition to the aforementioned, the creation of hydro-dams, deforestation and extractive industries such as mining, where sacred mountains have been blown-up for their mineral wealth, are all activities that have likewise contributed to the devastation of sacred sites and reduction of their value and uniqueness (Aulet and Duda, 2020). Furthermore, global warming has been causing fires, storms and flooding that can be added to the destructive factors of sacred sites and areas (Allison, 2015), some of which still remain vulnerable and under threat due to poor protection or missing recognition of their sacred status. Similar challenges are also experienced in areas beyond the Arctic regions and the Nordic countries.

One of the most visible consequences of what has been stated above may be observed locally in changes in the ways of life, implying, among other things, that the ways of knowledge transmission are also under danger. This, in turn, means a disruption in adherence to local beliefs and practices, as well as to the transmission of cultural heritage across generations, especially if adaptation to and/or mitigation of the ongoing changes is not possible (Drew, 2012).

In addition, because of persecution of Indigenous peoples in the context of originally colonial laws and policies, which were aimed at the eradication of their spiritual practices, beliefs and worldviews, these peoples have been excluded from decision-making processes by the governments of the Nation States under whose aegis they are situated, including development projects on the lands and waters where their sacred sites are located. According to the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) Indigenous peoples hold the right to “maintain, protect, and have access in privacy to their religious and cultural sites” (UNDRIP, 2007: Art. 12(1)). Heinämäki and Hermann (2013) analyze the formal legal and policy recognition of sacred sites. Samakov and Berkes (2017) discuss sacred sites as ‘commons’. Despite progress in some areas, evidence suggests that there is still a long way to go in attaining adequate involvement of Indigenous peoples within decision-making processes (Liljeblad and Verschuuren, 2019).

As a way of taking steps to bring into focus and highlight different issues concerning sacred sites in connection with ongoing threats and vulnerabilities, nearly 80 sacred-site guardians of indigenous communities, Indigenous peoples’ organizations, scientists and policymakers gathered in Rovaniemi and Pyhätunturi (Finland) in 2013 for the international conference on Arctic sacred sites. The conference issued a statement on the safeguarding and recognition of northern and Arctic sacred sites (2013)[1] and the conference “succeeded to create the first Arctic platform to develop innovative political ideas and sent a very clear signal to establish a holistic, multidisciplinary approach to effectively tackle the multiple issues of sacred sites in the North.” (Heinämäki and Herrmann, 2013, p.23). In the following year, the Indigenous rights-holder workshop on Experiencing and Protecting Arctic Sacred Sites and Culturally Important Landscapes – Creating Partnerships with Mutual Respect was co-organized by the Sámi Educational Institute and the Saami museum SIIDA in June 2014 in Inari/Aanaar, Finland (Heinämäki, Herrmann and Raslich, 2015).

What have we achieved since the first gathering in Rovaniemi in 2013? Where do we stand today? And looking ahead: what are the critical steps to be taken in the next years?  To answer these questions, and to critically assess the current state and develop future actions, Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars, IPOs, and practitioners involved in the protection of sacred natural sites initiatives between 2013 and 2015, have reconvened as of May 2021. Other scholars, whose research is connected with this topic, joined the consortium as well. Despite progress was made regarding the protection and management of sacred sites (Liljeblad & Verschuuren, 2019), legal recognition and some levels of adequate protection are still missing in many areas, and raising awareness about the threats of sacred sites in many parts of the North is still needed, while important ethical questions remain ambiguous and unanswered. Hence, we joined forces in order to create a further research project on the protection and recognition of sacred sites. A first step will be the organization of an two-day international workshop at the Conference of the Finnish Anthropological Society, in Rovaniemi, March 21-23, 2023.

The twelve extended abstracts presented here have been submitted by the participants of the upcoming workshop. They provide insights into the wide range of concerns, initiatives and works carried out by Indigenous and non-indigenous rights holder and researchers across the circumpolar North and further afield. These abstracts are hereby published in the Icelandic scholarly e-journal Nordicum Mediterraneum, whose editor-in-chief, Giorgio Barrichello, is a member of the project.

We also want to pay tribute to Leena Heinämäki and Thora Herrmann, who were the co-organizers of the 2013 international conference in Pyhätunturi, Rovaniemi, and the 2014 rights-holder workshop, and to Inari/Aanaar, whose tireless work has created a solid foundation for this new project and made continuity possible. Dolorés André, Dawid Bunikowski, Patrick Dillon, Thora Herrmann, Francis Joy, Stefan Kirchner, Roza Laptander, Florian Stammler, and Anna Stammler-Gossmann were all involved in the earlier initiatives.


Allison, E. A. (2015). The Spiritual Significance of Glaciers in an Age of Climate Change. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change6(5), 493-508.

Aulet, S., & Duda, T. (2020). Tourism Accessibility and its Impact on the Spiritual Sustainability of Sacred Sites. Sustainability12(22), 9695.

Blain, J., & Wallis, R. J. (2004). Sacred Sites, Contested Rites/Rights: Contemporary Pagan Engagements With the Past. Journal of Material Culture9(3), 237-261.

Drew, G. (2012). A Retreating Goddess? Conflicting Perceptions of Ecological Change Near the Gangotri-Gaumukh Glacier. Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature & Culture6(3). Doi: 10.1558/jsmc.v6i3.344

Dudley, N., Higgins-Zogib, L., & Mansourian, S. (2009). The Links Between Protected Areas, Faiths, and Sacred Natural Sites. Conservation Biology23(3), 568–577. http://www.jstor.org/stable/29738773

Heinämäki, L. & Herrmann, T. M. (2013). The Recognition of Sacred Natural Sites of Arctic Indigenous Peoples as a Part of Their Right to Cultural Integrity. Arctic Review of Law and Politics 4(2): 207–233.

Heinämäki, L. &Herrmann, T. M. (2013). Global Conference About Indigenous Sacred Sites in the Arctic Held in Rovaniemi Produced the First International Declaration on the Protection of Sacred Sites in the Arctic. In T. Koivurova and W. Hasanat (Eds.) Current Developments in Arctic Law, Vol 1 (pp.21-23). University of the Arctic Thematic Network on Arctic Law, The Northern Institute for Environmental and Minority Law (NIEM) Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, Rovaniemi, Finland ISBN 978-952-484-719-3.

Heinämäki, L., Herrmann, T., Raslich, N. A. (Eds.) (2015). Preserving Sacred Sites

Arctic Indigenous Peoples as Cultural Heritage Rights Holders. Juridica Laponica 39, Northern Institute for Environmental and Minority Law, Arctic Centre University of Lapland Printing Centre, Rovaniemi. 45p. ISBN 978-952-484-882-4

Heinämäki, L., & Herrmann, T. (2017). Experiencing and Protecting Sacred Natural Sites of Sámi and other Indigenous Peoples. Cham: Springer Polar Sciences. Springer.

Heinämäki, L., & Xanthaki, A. (2017). Indigenous Peoples’ Customary Laws, Sámi People and Sacred Sites. In L. Heinämäki and T.M.Herrmann (Eds.) Experiencing and Protecting Sacred Natural Sites of Sámi and Other Indigenous Peoples (pp. 65-82). Springer, Cham.

Helander-Renvall, E. (2010). Animism, Personhood and the Nature of Reality: Sami Perspectives. Polar Record, 46(1), 44-56. Doi:10.1017/S0032247409990040

Joy, F. (2019). Sámi Cultural Heritage and Tourism in Finland. In M. Tennberg, H., Lempinen, and S. Pirnes (Eds.) Resources, Social and Cultural Sustainabilities in the Arctic (pp.144-162). Routledge: New York, NY, USA

Joy, F. (2020). The Importance of the Sun Symbol in the Restoration of Sámi Spiritual Traditions and Healing Practice. Religions11(6), 270. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11060270

Kim, D. W. (Ed.). (2021). Sacred Sites and Sacred Stories Across Cultures: Transmission of Oral Tradition, Myth, and Religiosity. Springer Nature.

Kraft, S. E. (2020). Indigenous Religion (s)–in the Making and on the Move: Sámi Activism from Alta to Standing Rock. In S. E. Kraft, B. O. Tafjord, A. Longkumer , G. D. Alles and G. Johnson (Eds.) Indigenous Religion(s). Local Grounds, Global Networks. (pp. 59–88). London and New York: Routledge.

Liljeblad, J. & Verschuuren, B. (Eds.) (2019). Indigenous Perspectives on Sacred Natural Sites: Culture, Governance and Conservation.  Abingdon and New York, Routledge. 222 p.

Maffi, L. & Woodley, E. (2010). Biocultural Diversity Conservation: A Global Sourcebook. London and New York: Routledge.

Mathisen, S. R. (2020). Souvenirs and the Commodification of Sámi Spirituality in Tourism. Religions11(9), 429. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11090429

Metcalfe, K, French-Constant, R and Gordon, I (2009). Sacred Sites as Hotspots for Biodiversity: The Three Sisters Complex in Coastal Kenya. Oryx 44(1): 118–123. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0030605309990731.

Olsen, D. H. (2020). Pilgrimage, Religious Tourism, Biodiversity, and Natural Sacred Sites. In K.A. Shinde & D. H. Olsen (Eds.), Religious Tourism and the Environment (pp. 23-41). CAB International.

Oviedo, G., Jeanrenaud, S., & Otegui, M. (2005). Protecting Sacred Natural Sites of Indigenous and Traditional Peoples: An IUCN perspective. Gland, Switzerland. https://www.iucn.org/sites/dev/files/import/downloads/sp_protecting_sacred_natural_sites_indigenous.pdf

Poelina, A. (2020). A Coalition of Hope! A Regional Governance Approach to Indigenous Australian Cultural Wellbeing. In: A. Campbell, M. Duffy, and B. Edmondson (Eds.) Located Research. (pp 153–180) Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-32-9694-7_10

Quijada, J. B. (2019). Buddhists, Shamans, and Soviets: Rituals of History in Post-Soviet Buryatia. Oxford University Press.

Samakov, A. & Berkes, F. (2017). Spiritual Commons: Sacred Sites as Core of Community-Conserved Areas in Kyrgyzstan. International Journal of the Commons11(1), 422–444. DOI: http://doi.org/10.18352/ijc.713

Schaaf, Th. & Lee, C. (2006) (Eds.) Conserving Cultural and Biological Diversity: The Role of Sacred Natural Sites and Cultural Landscapes. Proceedings of the international UNESCO- MAB symposium held 30 May – 2 June 2005, United Nations University, Tokyo, Japan. UNESCO, Paris, France. 342 pp. ISBN 9789231040450.

Spangen, M., & Äikäs, T. (2020). Sacred Nature. Diverging Use and Understanding of Old Sámi Offering Sites in Alta, Northern Norway. Religions11(7), 317. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11070317

Verschuuren,  B.  (2010) Integrating  Biocultural  Values  in  Nature  Conservation:  Perceptions  of  Cultural  Significant Sites and Species in Adaptive Management. In  Pungetti,  G.,  Oviedo,  G.  and  D.  Hooke  (Eds.), Sacred  Species  and  Sites,  Guardians  of  Biocultural Diversity (pp. 231-246). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

Verschuuren, B., McNeely, J., Oviedo, G., & Wild, R. (Eds.). (2012). Sacred Natural Sites. Taylor & Francis.

Wild, R. and McLeod, C. (2008) ‘Sacred Natural Sites: Guidelines  for  Protected  Area  Managers’,  Best Practice Protected Area Guidelines Series No 16, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland

Zannini, P., Frascaroli, F., Nascimbene, J., Persico, A., Halley, J. M., Stara, K., & Chiarucci, A. (2021). Sacred Natural Sites and Biodiversity Conservation: A Systematic Review. Biodiversity and Conservation30(13), 3747-3762.


[1] The program from this extensive international event can be found here: https://www.arcticcentre.org/loader.aspx?id=68f90aab-5bab-4cc3-b6c9-403a0b363d9e. Likewise, the conference statement regarding recommendations for sacred natural sites can be found here: https://sacrednaturalsites.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Pyh%C3%A4tunturi-Statement-2013-Recognizing-Sacred-Sites-of-Indigenous-Peoples-in-Northern-Regions1.pdf

Protection of Sacred Sites – Between Legal Pluralism and Cultural Ecology

My background is in philosophy of law but I work with different academic disciplines: law, philosophy, anthropology, theology, history and economics. My approach to protection of sacred sites is interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary and cross-disciplinary. Generally, my aim is to present different theories concerning law and cultural ecology and apply these to case studies on protection of sacred sites.

Regarding the topic of protection of sacred sites, I have worked with Patrick Dillon on combining the theory of cultural ecology with the theory of legal pluralism. The idea has been to help recognise indigenous customary laws in the Arctic.  Also, it has been related to recognition of indigenous customary laws concerning sacred sites or heritage sites. We have analysed how protection of sacred sites is regulated in British Colombia (Canada) in relation to the Nisga’a people. We have also analysed how the situation looks with regard to Finland’s Sami. We made all this in the frameworks of cultural ecology and legal pluralism. This research needs continuity. Sacred sites play an important role, especially in indigenous communities. The Sami call those sites “sieidi”. They may be stones, hills, islands, etc. Sacred sites need both legal protection and social awareness.

In terms of legal pluralism, there are different normative/legal systems (customary, local, indigenous, state, European, international; written, unwritten; secular, religious, etc.). There are tensions among them as well. Legal pluralism is about a “situation in which there are at least two normative systems in the same social sphere, and there is no rule of recognition”, i.e. “which rule is more important and which rule to choose and apply”[1]. In practice, we can see tensions between, e.g., Sami old customary laws concerning natural resources management and Finnish state legal regulations. There is no way to reconcile both as there are different (personal) loyalties, interests and values involved. Only formally speaking does state law always prevail. In practice, it is much more complicated. For example, for indigenous people, their customary laws may prevail if there is a conflict with state law. It may concern, for instance, reindeer pastures, shamanism or offerings.

The Italian philosopher of law Francesco Viola thinks that legal pluralism does not regard “plurality in the order” but “of the orders”. Thus, legal orders “compete and concur” in the regulation of state of things regarding social relations of the same kind.[2] As it was pointed out in another place, “Legal pluralism is not about different normative mechanisms, which are applicable to the situation within the same legal system”[3]. There are different legal systems, e.g. a given indigenous legal system v. a given state legal system. And there is a clash of rules, values, interests.

While coming with legal pluralism into cultural ecology, how much should we refer to “relational” or “co-constitutional” ways of thinking, which is explained by cultural ecology? It is clear that “cultural ecology is concerned with the reciprocal interactions between the behaviour of people and the environments they inhabit.”[4] What is the difference between “relational” and “co-constitutional” ways of thinking? That is it: “In cultural ecological terms, a regulation emanating from a higher authority would be ‘relational’; a co-constitutional regulation would be one originating from the people as a whole”.[5] Also, as Dillon points out, “Behaving within a context is a ‘relational’ process; i.e. it is informed by previous experiences and accumulated knowledge. Relationally dependent behaviour enables distinctions to be made between one situation and another.”[6] So, e.g., Finnish state laws on public lands, reindeer husbandry, fishing waters, hunting grounds and so on will be also “relational”, as these are given by a state/higher authority, without consultation with or participation of people at the grass-roots level.

A “co-constitutional way” way of thinking might be more important for indigenous rights or protection of sacred sites. Why? A “co-constitutional” way of thinking is always related to a continuous process and development of customs/traditions. As Dillon thinks, “In addition to the relational context, unique, personal contexts are simultaneously created. These additional contexts are a property of the uniqueness of individual moments; they are literally constructed out of the ways in which individuals engage with the affordances of their environment as they exist at that time: the individual, the environment and the context all co-construct each other. This is called a ‘co-constitutional’ process (…)”.[7] A “co-constitutional” way of thinking will be related to processes of making customary laws concerning, e.g., protection of sacred sites. Such laws were developed by generations, in keeping up with traditions and with respect for holy places such as sacred sites. The current Western  legislator is not able to realize it, at least to a greater extent. But, for instance, indigenous people or local people that are deeply rooted in the traditions of their ancestors and histories/stories/narratives of their local “fatherlands”, are able to understand the distinction between both ways of thinking.

Let us take some examples/case studies from Canada and Finland in the context of protection of sacred sites. The Nisga’a people are aboriginal people living in British Columbia, Canada. They have an agreement with the federal government. This is The Nisga’a Final Agreement of 1999.[8] It is a part of Canadian constitutional law. Among many states of things regulated by this treaty, such as self-determination, self-government, land rights, natural resources management, jurisdiction and the police, the treaty also regulates protection of sacred sites. First, chapter 1 (“Definitions”) of the Nisga’a Final Agreement defines ‘heritage sites’ as including ‘archaeological, burial, historical, and sacred sites’. Second, paragraph 36 (‘Protection of Heritage Sites’) of chapter 17 (‘Cultural Artifacts and Heritage’) establishes that Nisga’a Government “will develop processes to manage heritage site on Nisga’a Lands in order to preserve the heritage values associated with those sites from proposed land and resource activities that may affect those sites”. It looks like the Nisga’s are “lords” in their own territories when it comes to protection of their sacred sites. They know better what such places are and how to care for them, also in a spiritual way, which is not understood by contemporary atheistic or secular societies. Broadly, it is also a matter of natural resources management. For example, when a mining company wants to operate in the Nisga’a territories, the company must receive a permit from the Nisga’a.

In comparison, in Finland, there in no such agreement between the Sami people as an indigenous people and the central government. The Sami people are still struggling for some decent level of self-determination in Finland. Their Sami Parliament is only an advisory body and seems located quite low in the Finnish constitutional system. Instead, when it comes to protection of sacred sites, there is some old-fashioned law concerning protection of antiquities (The Antiquities Act of 1963[ix]). However, this law is not particularly dedicated to protect sacred sites of the Sami people. In practice, sacred sites of those indigenous peoples are often destroyed by tourists in Finnish Lapland and there are no criminal consequences in such cases. Paradoxically, despite the good results of the Finnish educational system in the world rankings of education, social awareness concerning protection of sacred sites, especially the sacred sites of the Sami people, is rather low.

Generally, while analysing the Finnish law and the Finnish policy towards the Sami, as well the Finnish government’s correspondence with UN bodies in the field of human rights and the Sami, we must notice that “The Sami are not lords in their own country.”[10] The same might be said about protection of sacred sites of the Sami people in Finnish Lapland. The Sami are not legally responsible for this area of social life, according to Finnish law.

A comparative approach might be inspiring for future research about sacred sites. The “Canadian model”, which is based on the idea of both self-determination of aboriginal peoples and recognition of indigenous customary (land) laws/rights, might be relevant for Finland.  The Nisga’a people are legally responsible for the protection of sacred sites in their territories. This seems inspiring. Of course, not everywhere in Canada the situation is so advanced, but this model shows some possibilities for the legislator in Finland in the field of protection of sacred sites.

The framework of legal pluralism and cultural ecology helps us understand that the Western legislator often is to depreciate “the soul of the land”, i.e. sacred sites, especially those of indigenous peoples. This Western ignorance brings not only social conflicts, more misunderstanding and personal pain, but also shows arrogance. Traditionally, in indigenous cosmologies, lands are both material and spiritual entities. There are “the masters of the places” (spirits) there. These places are special in every possible sense then. This is about both nature and divinity. It is a time to understand this spiritual approach and help protect sacred sites. One can combine both “relational” and “co-constitutional” ways of thinking, recognising indigenous rights and customary laws by state law and in state jurisdictions.


[1] D. Bunikowski, Indigenous peoples, their rights and customary laws in the North: the case of the Sámi people, [in:] East meets North – Crossing the borders of the Arctic, ed. by M. Lähteenmäki, A. Colpaert, Nordia Geographical Publications, 43(1), Yearbook 2014, Oulu, p. 77. See also: D. Bunikowski, P. Dillon, Arguments from cultural ecology and legal pluralism for recognising indigenous customary law in the Arctic, [in:] Experiencing and Safeguarding the Sacred in the Arctic: Sacred Natural Sites, Cultural Landscapes and Indigenous Peoples’ Rights, ed. by L. Heinämäki, T. Herrmann, Springer 2017, Cham, p. 41.

[2] F. Viola, The rule of law in legal pluralism, [in:] Law and legal cultures in the 21st century, ed. by T. Gizbert-Studnicki, J. Stelmach, Kluwer 2007, Warsaw, p. 109. See also: D. Bunikowski, P. Dillon, 2017, p. 41.

[3] D. Bunikowski, P. Dillon, 2017, s. 41.

[4] Ibidem, s. 38.

[5] P. Dillon, D. Bunikowski, A framework for location-sensitive governance as a contribution to developing inclusivity and sustainable lifestyles with particular reference to the Arctic, Current Developments in Arctic Law, vol. 5 (2017), ed. by K. Hossain, A. Petrétei, Rovaniemi 2017, p. 18, footnote 2.

[6] D. Bunikowski, P. Dillon, 2017, p. 39.

[7] Ibidem.

[8] The Nisga’a Final Agreement of 1999. http://www.nnkn.ca/files/u28/nis-eng.pdf. Cited 8 Nov 2014.

[9] Antiquities Act, 1963, http://nwfp-policies.efi.int/wiki/Antiquities_Act,_1963_(Finland). Available 6 April 2022.

[10] See more: D. Bunikowski, Notes on the contemporary legal-political situation of the Sami in the Nordic region, Current Developments in Arctic Law, vol. 2 (2014), ed. by T. Koivurova, W. Hasanat, Rovaniemi 2014, pp. 20-25.

Recognizing Innu Sacred Natural Sites as Aboriginal-led Protected Areas by UAPASHKUSS: Innu Sacred Sites Guardians

Indigenous Peoples and communities have had long-standing relationships with nature, based on knowledge systems and practices that acknowledge and respect the spiritual environment in which they live (Verschuuren et al., 2012). They have assigned special significance to specific natural areas like mountains, rivers, lakes and forests in accordance with their spiritual beliefs (Wild & McLeod, 2008, p.7; Liljeblad & Verschuuren, 2019). The “areas of land or water having profound spiritual importance to peoples and societies” are defined as sacred natural sites by the IUCN (Wild & McLeod, 2008, p.7). Sacred natural sites, and the rights and responsibilities of Indigenous Peoples towards these places, are recognized both internationally (e.g., Art. 11(1) and Art. 12(1) of the Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP, 2007); The Akwé:Kon Guidelines (CBD 2004)) and within Canada’s legal framework.

For 9 years, members of UAPASHKUSS – an Indigenous apolitical group composed of spiritual guides, elders, and culture-specific resources of the Innu First Nation – all guardians of sacred natural sites, have identified, documented and mapped eight sacred natural sites, five of which are located in the province of Quebec and three in Labrador, in eastern Canada. This series of sacred natural sites form part of the Innu Trail (Chemin des Innus) that led our people back to their hunting grounds via rivers, portages, mountains and lakes. The ultimate purpose of this lengthy voyage, which followed the seasons, was to meet the caribou in order to ensure our nomadic people’s existence.

Travelling from the shore up North to our ancestral lands required passing many Pakatakan – the Innu word for portages. Portages are deep routes carved out by our Innu ancestors on foot, canoe, snowshoe or toboggan. We consider the portages and the sites and places that they connect as sacred. They reflect our culture and identity, are testimonies of our history and cultural heritage; they have been walked by our ancestors. The stories, memories, ceremonies and knowledge linked to these sites, and the portages that interconnects them, are passed on to our youth (Vollant, 2011) and confirm that the Innu ways of knowing and living are alive today.

The eight sacred natural sites identified by UAPASHKUSS are located in the boreal forest and arctic tundra, two of the world’s last environmentally intact habitats, and are the result of the Innu First Nations’ millennia-long traditional management practices of these lands. With the Moisie and George River basins – two of Quebec’s largest protected aquatic environments – the sacred sites are also part of an uninterrupted biological corridor.

These sacred natural sites deserve to be recognized and safeguarded in order to ensure the perpetuity of our bio-cultural and spiritual heritage associated with the relationship to the Earth, the caribou, and the Innu circular way of life, and for strengthening our identity. For this, UAPASHKUSS started a close collaboration with Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) – Quebec Chapter (SNAP-Quebec), an NGO that works for the conservation of nature and the values associated to it. Together they created the Pakatakan project in 2019, aiming towards the recognition and protection of the eight Innu sacred natural sites identified by UAPASHKUSS, including the portage paths connecting these sites.

Since 2019, UAPASHKUSS and SNAP Québec organized a series of consultation meeting and activities to develop relationships with representatives of Indigenous organizations, government bodies and with local, regional, national and international actors, to raise awareness at local and national level about the project and the importance of protection of the Innu sacred natural sites.

In 2020, the special consultations on Bill # 46 started in Quebec: Modification of the law on the conservation of natural heritage presented by SNAP to the Transport and Environment Commission (CTE). The Quebec government’s review of the Natural Heritage Conservation Act represented a unique opportunity to include a protected area status that would recognize the uniqueness of Indigenous-led initiatives. We considered that such a status would allow the recognition of indigenous sacred natural sites as protected areas. SNAP and UAPASHKUSS therefore worked together to submit a brief and mobilize other organizations around this issue. In its brief UAPASHKUSS recommended a new category of an Indigenous protected area targeting sacred natural sites (SNAP-Québec, 2020; ITUM, 2020). An Aboriginal-Led Protected Area (ALPA) status was included in the revised Québec Natural Heritage Conservation Act in early 2021 (MLECC, 2021). We wish that this new protection tool recognizes the specificities of Indigenous-led conservation, including the protection of natural sacred sites.

In December 2020, the government also announced the designation of almost 30,000 km2 in Nunavik as a reserve of territory for the purposes of protected area (RTFAP)(MELCC, 2020; Shield A., 2020). The designated territory includes a sacred site identified by UAPASHKUSS. Three of the five sacred sites located in Québec were now legally protected, following the government announcements made in 2020.

In October 2022, SNAP Québec and UAPASHKUSS enhanced their partnership with the Innu Takuaikan Uashat mak Mani-utenam (ITUM), and the three organisations formed a working committee called Uashkaikan to coordinate their efforts towards the Innu protected area in the territory.

The next step will be to apply for ALPA designation in order to protect the remaining sacred sites, including the portage routes. Furthermore, additional measures are required for all eight sacred sites, including those that are currently protected, in order for them to be legally recognized as such. To reach this aim, four future joint actions will be focussed on (see also UAPASHKUSS & SNAP-Québec, 2021, p.7):

  1. Document and draft protected area proposals for identified Innu sacred natural sites and submit the project for the Indigenous-led protected areas designation to the Government of Quebec, so that the sites can obtain legal status in Quebec;
  2. Implement the actions proposed during consultations held with members and local Indigenous leaders and other local and regional governments;
  3. Continue awareness campaigns for the sacred natural sites identified by UAPASHKUSS;
  4. Visit the sacred sites to collect data on their biocultural characteristics.

The work by UAPASHKUSS, in collaboration with its partners, highlights the importance of Indigenous-led governance and conservation systems, including the preservation of natural sacred sites. UAPASHKUSS  continues with its partners, such as SNAP-Québec, the joint efforts to create Indigenous protected areas for the recognition of Innu sacred natural sites as identified by them. It is essential to advance together in protecting the biocultural diversity of our land and waters for current and future generations.

Tshinashkumitinan! Akua Tutuatau Tshikauinnu Assi!

Thank you and Take Care of Our Mother Earth!

Contact :


155, rue de l’Église

Uashat mak Mani-utenam (Québec)

G4R 4K2


Courriel: uapashkuss@outlook.com

Site web: www.uapashkuss.com


  • Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) (2004). Akwé: Kon. Voluntary guidelines for the conduct of cultural, environmental and social impact assessments regarding developments proposed to take place on, or which are likely to impact on, sacred sites and on lands and waters traditionally occupied or used by indigenous and local communities. [On-line]. Montreal, Quebec: Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, 2004. 25 pp. (CBD Guidelines Series). <http://www.cbd.int/doc/book.aspx?id=7358> [Consulted: 19 April 2022].
  • Innu Takuaikan Uashat mak Mani-Utenam (ITUM) (2020). Mémoire quant au projet de loi 46. Mémoire déposé par Innu Takuaikan Uashat mak Mani-Utenam dans le cadre du projet de loi modifiant la loi sur la conservation du patrimoine naturel et d’autres dispositions. 21 p.
  • Liljeblad, J., & Verschuuren, B. (2019). Indigenous Perspectives on Sacred Natural Sites. Culture, Governance and Conservation. Routledge.
  • Ministère de l’environnement et de la lutte contre Les Changements Climatiques (MELCC). (2020, December 11). Le gouvernement du Québec atteindra son objectif de protéger 20 % du Nunavik d’ici la fin de 2020. Communiqué de presse. Retrieved March 28, 2022, from https://www.environnement.gouv.qc.ca/infuseur/communique.asp?no=4438
  • Ministère de l’environnement et de la lutte contre Les Changements Climatiques (MELCC). (2021, February 10). Adoption de la nouvelle Loi modifiant la Loi sur la conservation du patrimoine naturel et d’autres dispositions – Le Québec se donne les moyens d’accroître la protection de ses milieux naturels. Retrieved March 28, 2022, from https://www.environnement.gouv.qc.ca/infuseur/communique.asp?no=4482
  • Société pour la nature et les parcs du Canada – Section Québec (SNAP Québec) (2020). Mémoire présenté à la Commission des Transports et environnement dans le cadre des consultations particulières sur le projet de loi no 46 : Loi modifiant la Loi sur la conservation du patrimoine naturel. 70 p. Retrieved March 28, 2022, from https://snapquebec.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/2020-09-22-Memoire-SNAP-Quebec-PL46.pdf
  • Shields, A. (2020, December 5). Le gouvernement protège 30 000 km carrés du Nord du Québec. Le Devoir. https://www.ledevoir.com/societe/environnement/591093/le-gouvernement-protege-30-000-km-sup-2-sup-du-nord-du-quebec
  • UAPASHKUSS & SNAP-Québec (2021). Pakatakan project activity report: A partnership between UAPASHKUSS and SNAP-Quebec for the protection and recognition of Innu Sacred Natural Sites. Project report submitted to ECHO-CHAD-CONSECON Foundation. 8 p.
  • United Nations (UNDRIP). (2007). United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Poeples. Available at: https://www.un.org/development/desa/indigenouspeoples/wp-content/uploads/sites/19/2018/11/UNDRIP_E_web.pdf [Consulted: 19 April 2022].
  • Verschuuren, B., McNeely, J., Oviedo, G., & Wild, R. (Eds.). (2012). Sacred Natural Sites. Taylor & Francis.
  • Vollant, T. (2011). Ka Kushpian- Mon voyage. Short film, 3’40’’, produced by Wapikoni Mobile. https://vimeo.com/154909234
  • Wild, R. and McLeod, C. (2008). Sacred Natural Sites: Guidelines for  Protected  Area  Managers,  Best Practice Protected Area Guidelines Series No 16, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland

Protection of Sámi Sacred Sites and Culturally Sensitive Tourism in Sápmi Under the Threats of Land-use

Tourism in Sámi homeland area, Sápmi, has increased rapidly over the past years. As its development accelerates, the various impacts of its expansion are visible at Sámi sacred sites called sieidi. The best-known sacred sites have become popular nature-travel destinations. As visits to sacred sites increases, the essence of their sacredness is under threat because of vandalism and erosion. Sacred sites are not only places of cultural and historical significance, but they hold a great importance regarding the cultural heritage of the Sámi and sacred generational connections with ancestors, and the identities within Sámi communities. For this reason, the identification and thus, protection of sacred sites is a topical and important issue.

The subject matter of the research within this particular context is concerned with the impacts of tourism at Sámi sacred sites and in what ways culturally sensitive tourism can help prevent the impurifying effects of this service sector upon these revered places, which are being assimilated into the industry as it develops. The kind of impurifying effects include: physical, social and cultural forms of contamination upon the sieidis. Equally, and because tourism is one of the fastest growing industries in Sápmi, the prevention of possible repatriation of sacred sites and land needs to be taken seriously. The threats of other land-development projects are also a danger. Many areas where sacred sites are located are on current or former Sámi settlement areas. Where losses have occurred, it is important to keep in mind that the repatriation of land is no longer possible, when there is no more land.

As a concrete and topical example of the narrowing of living space and the dangers of land-use to sacred sites is the wind farm project “Davvi” of St1 in the Rástigáisá fell area in north Norwegian, Sápmi. The fell area is one of the last natural fell sites in Europe – and sacred to the Sámi community. The project represents green colonialism, which has deep roots in Sápmi. This subject is very timely, as at this present moment there are numerous mining reservations throughout Sápmi.

In several land-use conflicts the counterparts are the same: Metsähallitus (state enterprise that administers the state-owned land and water areas in Finland), the Sámi community and the global capitalistic force called ‘tourism’. It is vital for the sake of Sámi communities, cultures and languages that a study of the nature of the various conflicts between different forms of green colonialist forces with regard to threats directed towards sacred sites and other culturally important areas are collected. Therefore, by extending our understanding of the far-reaching effects of land-use conflicts, generational negative effects to Sámi cultural heritage, which include Sámi languages, cultures and traditional livelihoods, further harm can be prevented.

It must also be noted how these land-use conflicts originate and the way companies operate represent a silent – behind the scenes type of industrial power. For example, this type of action happens when traditional reindeer herding grazing associations hear about land reservations for development from various sources rather than directly from the companies behind these operations. Moreover, leaving local Sámi communities outside from the decision making without inclusion and representation in decision-making, repeats mistakes made in the past, that have directly contributed towards creating generational damage to Sámi cultural heritage and related land-based practices and is a purposeful obstacle to any possible repatriation efforts.

This kind of destruction has happened in Sápmi for example in the 1960’s, when a Finnish hydropower company Kemijoki Oy built Lokka and Porttipahta reservoirs and flooded six Sámi villages in the Sompio area. The local population of six hundred and fifty persons heard about the decision to build the reservoirs from the newspapers when the decisions to build them had already been made in secret. The flooding of Sompio and the loss of six Sámi villages and traditional land caused generational trauma and loss of notable pieces of Sámi cultural heritage. My own Sámi heritage lies in the flooded land of Sompio, and the generational trauma caused a breakage of cultural heritage in my family. For this reason, this subject is close to me, since our cultural landscapes and thus sacred sieidi sites are submerged under an artificial reservoir.

Within this research, I examine the possibilities of developing culturally sensitive tourism in Sápmi and its prospects for protecting sacred sites. Such protection could also include addressing purposeful constraints and hindrances implemented by industrial and tourism companies which are under-hand practices that are purposefully meant to interfere with the repatriation of sacred sites, land and water and the loss of cultural heritage, traditional livelihoods and languages. As a Sámi person myself, the protection of sacred sites and the shrouded prevention of the repatriation of land and cultural heritage is an important issue for me personally, and I feel a collective concern regarding these issues within the Sámi community.

Therefore, the aims of the research and purpose of my proposed article in relation to this particular subject matter are to provide more information in connection with developing tools which resolve to tackle the inappropriate and shady deals which are orchestrated in order to prevent the repatriation of sacred sites and thus land Itself.

Furthermore, the main reason for striving to develop and implement culturally sensitive approaches to tourism advancement as well as the enhancement and subsequent application of research methods which will help to challenge these dysfunctional practices. Conversely, these initiatives will not only be developed and implemented in connection with threats to sacred sites, but approaches as such will challenge and revise how tourism in Lapland has been developed previously.

In addition to harm caused to sacred sites, the travel industry of Lapland has a history of exoticizing Sámi cultures and building harmful and even racist stereotypes within multiple contexts. This kind of damage and misrepresentation happens for example through what is known as a “Lappish ceremony”, which is a cheap form of entertainment within tourism activities, that usually include a fake shaman offering ‘blessings’ to individual or groups of visitors, which includes the usage of fake Sámi regalia (costumes, drums and handicrafts)[1].

As a part of striving to prevent the misuse of heritage, beliefs and practices belonging to Sámi cultures because of how they are firstly, misrepresented, and secondly, because they are harmful practices within tourism, cultural sensitivity should correspondingly, be integrated and applied within all the tourism industries methods and approaches to doing business. Especially when performing tourism activities which reflect or falsify practices that are still a major element within Sámi culture. Therefore, the need for education in connection with getting businesses to understand what cultural sensitivity is, is also a core value in terms of approach regarding this proposed research.

Appropriate research ethics and the consideration of the community are key elements in Sámi and indigenous research, and for this reason I strive to furthermore develop a culturally sensitive method by utilizing existing materials developed by indigenous scholars that have proven effective[2]. Therefore, the main goal of this research is to aim for minimal community burden and maximum community benefit.

The theoretical framework of the research is built within the paradigm of critical theory including what has already been mentioned regarding the need for a culturally sensitive approach. Applied methods are constructed from mixed methods, combining construction of knowledge by means of hermeneutic phenomenology. Existing knowledge of the research topic is previously built on my earlier work published under the title, “The conflict of sacred and contaminant: The impurifying effects of tourism in Sámi sacred sites” (2021). By way of approaches that help with the decolonization within indigenous research, the main objectives of indigenous research practices are to build knowledge from indigenous peoples’ own perspective, considering the needs of the community. For this reason, I feel that my position as a Sámi researcher makes it possible to study this important topic.

When discussing the protection of sacred sites, the topic of repatriation needs to be included in the narrative. Repatriation processes for the return of information about objects is a very topical issue in Sápmi, since The Finnish National Museum finished a repatriation process with Siida Sámi Museum in August 2021. Indigenous artifacts and generational cultural heritage are tied within the cultures, but in the heart of indigenous cultures are the traditional lands and waters, with which indigenous peoples and Sámi people are in symbiosis with. With the construction of state borders and settler colonialism, the rights of indigenous peoples have also been taken away from traditional lands and the pursuit of traditional livelihoods. Thus, future repatriation processes may potentially target land, water and sacred sites. The prevention of such repatriation is very important so that the connection to the land and thus to traditional livelihoods, cultural heritage and languages is not severed like mistakes made in history, as in the case of construction of the Lokka and Porttipahta reservoirs.

The management of sacred and culturally significant sites is also at the heart a matter regarding repatriation. In the summer of 2021, local tourism companies stopped landing on the sacred rock of Ukonkivi (Äijih in the Inari Sámi language) to honour the wishes of the local Sàmi community. The voice of the local community had been brought up by Inari Sámi person Inka Musta and archeologist Eeva-Kristiina Harlin in an opinion piece published in Finland’s biggest press media Helsingin Sanomat.

After the publication of the opinion piece local Inarijärvi cruise-companies stopped landing on the rock and in this way ceased contaminating the sacred site physically, socially and culturally. This case is a very illustrative example of the success of culturally sensitive tourism and the significant reduction in the contaminating effects of tourism, since the local companies reacted in a respectful way and stopped landing on the sacred rock. Due to the decisions of stopping the cruises, Metsähallitus also made the decision to take down the tourism infrastructure on the island to prevent people landing with their own vessels (Alareisto 2021). In the upcoming research I study the case of Ukonkivi and analyse the possibilities of successful culturally sensitive tourism protecting and preventing repatriation of Sámi sacred sites built on this earlier model.


Alariesto, Eleonora. 2021. The Conflict of Sacred and Contaminant: The Impurifying Effects of Tourism in Sámi Sacred Sites. Finnish Journal of Tourism Research. URL: https://www.academia.edu/53657566/The_conflict_of_sacred_and_contaminant_The_impurifying_effects_of_tourism_in_S%C3%A1mi_sacred_sites


[1] One good source where this is discussed is to be found in the scholarly work of Gunvor Guttorm. 2007. Duodji – Sami Handicrafts – Who Owns the Knowledge and the Works? In: Solbakk, John T. Traditional Knowledge and Copyright. Sámikopiija, Karasjok. Waasa Graphics Oy: 61-94.

[2] From within Sámi research it is suggested to read the work of Gunvor Guttorm. 2011. Árbediehtu (Sámi Traditional Knowledge) – As a Concept and in Practice In: Porsanger, Jelena and Guttorm, Gunvor. (eds.) Working with Traditional Knowledge: Communities, Institutions, Information Systems, Law and Ethics: Writings from the Árbediehtu Pilot Project on Documentation and Protection of Sami Traditional Knowledge. Sámi Allaskuvla, Kautokeino: 59-76.


Sacred Natural Sites in the Arctic North: Living memory, traditions, cultural heritage and exploitation through tourism and inadequate protection

The subject matters of better preservation and thus, protection of sacred sites, is a topic that is brought into focus herein because of different factors that are increasing the risks to places as such. This is due to how mining, land development and expansion of the travel industry in northern Fennoscandia have multiplied the threats to areas where sites are located. As a consequence, there is an increase in the volume of fires, camping, rock-climbing and leisure activities, which are all contributing factors in their demise. The aims and purpose of the planned research is to firstly, expand on the nature of the threats encountered by the author as demonstrated through photographic evidence at locations in the municipalities of Muonio in western Lapland, Finland. The second aim, bring into focus the different recorded narratives that help with understanding the value and indeed uniqueness these sacred sites in both the Muonio and Inari areas.

Sacred sites connected with the Sámi have been used for long periods of time in northern Finland but we currently lack a comprehensive study concerning the long-term use by different actors. However, and more recently, offerings of various kinds have been found on stones connected with sacred sites. Some of these are by visitors to the areas, whilst others suggest use by local reindeer herders (Äikäs and Ahola 2020). Within the context of this research, the aims are to examine the roles and functions of sacred places in contemporary culture and why mounting threats because of inadequate protection, need to be taken seriously as do the problems associated with them. Moreover, because of how there have been moves to assimilate sacred sites into tourism and now the proposed opening of an iron ore mine in the area of Hannukainen, which will destroy large swaths of the national park and contaminate the Äkäs river.

A further dimension to sacred sites often not taken into consideration when planning for the development of land and expansion of the tourism industry is the value of different narratives associated with locations as such because rather than being comprehended as active locations still in use today, instead they are viewed as heritage sites, which suggests something of the past. For instance, at the Kirkkopahta sieidi in Muonio, as well as both the Pakkasáivo and Äkässaivo lakes, which are also located in the Muonio areas, there are documented oral narratives that originate from within the Sámi culture. These are approximately one hundred years old. In terms of the Porviniemi sieidi likewise, in the Muonio municipality, coins found on the stone suggest personal narratives associated with more recent usage (Äikäs 2015).

The term ‘sáivo’ is Sámi and is commonly found within Sámi cosmology, in connection with an underground realm where sáivo beings are said to have lived. It is they, according to Sámi mythology, who taught the Sámi noaidi-shamans the art of magic (Pulkkinen 2005). Sáivo lakes are also commonly found in areas where the Sámi live in Norway and Sweden and there are different sources written on this subject matter by eminent Sámi scholars (e.g., Louise Bäckman 1975 and Aage Solbakk 2018) concerning this magical realm in connection to both bodies of water and other locations where the sáivo world could be accessed, e.g., through caves beneath certain mountains. These beliefs also establish links between the different Sámi groups throughout the Nordic countries, as well as the smaller Sámi group living on the Kola Peninsula in north-west Russia.

Furthermore, and in connection to what is stated above, there are certain sáivo animals that are believed to have taught and empowered the Sámi shaman. A reindeer bull, fish, snake and bird can also be his assistants and protectors. These animals are, likewise, widely documented in Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish literature with regard to Sámi cosmology. The souls of bears and other animals that were hunted and sacrificed are said to be reborn in the sáivo world.

Equally, the old Sámi noaidi drums that have survived from the seventeenth century (approximately, seventy in total), are decorated with cosmological landscapes. These consist of between three- to five realms or zones and are representative of the worldview or cosmos depicted by the Sámi shamans. Within these different areas there are many features connected with the sáivo world. These vary from offering places, where the shaman who had a reciprocal relationship with the spirit beings in the sáivo world and would sacrifice certain species of animals for help and power, to particular animals and deceased shamans residing in the sáivo world. In addition, there are painted illustrations of shamans flying to the sáivo realm depicted on different drums. Therefore, we find on these drums a visible connection between the tangible and intangible cultural heritage of the Sámi people, which is very old. This is linked with beliefs and practices as well as taboos and customs that are still adhered to today because contemporary drum-makers also use this older symbolism as a way of preserving and forwarding cultural memory, identity-building and maintenance, as well as making offerings at sacred sites connected with the sáivo world.

Another area of scholarship that needs to be mentioned, insofar as it also connected sacred sites with the cosmological landscapes illustrated on Sámi drums, is prehistoric hunter-gatherer rock art, which is approximately seven thousand years old. A great deal of the sites that can be found throughout Fennoscandia are located by sources of water and consist of both rock carvings and paintings.

It has only been within the past fifty years that a few studies into possible links between Sámi shaman drum landscapes from the seventeenth century and prehistoric rock art have been brought into focus, because there are numerous parallels that have been recognized between these sources (Nunez 1995,  Lahelma 2008 and 2012, and Joy 2018). Notably, in Finland, human figures among prehistoric rock paintings, where they are depicted falling and flying close to the edge of lakes, are likewise portrayed on Sámi drums from Swedish Sápmi. In addition, animals such as birds and snakes are also evident among the rock paintings in Finland, as are reindeer and human figures who are shown dancing, indicating ritualistic scenes associated with shamanism and trance.

Because of research being only fairly recent, it is not presently known if the reasons why there are only a few illustrations among the rock paintings in Finland of human figures who are depicted as being engaged in flying-falling and dancing, as well as presence of animals such as snakes and birds that are in close proximity to them, could be because they are depicted above lakes, which may have been in the past, connected with the sáivo world and therefore, were known as sáivo lakes? It might be this is why as animals as such are quite rare by comparison to other larger animals such as moose and deer.

More studies are needed in relation to this, because the painted landscapes are linked with oral narratives connected with ritual behaviour pertaining to hunting. Furthermore, some of the rock paintings’ locations in south-eastern Finland, such as Astuvansalmi and Valkeisaari, are locations where different types of offerings to the spiritual powers who dwell there have been found. Interestingly, Astuvansalmi offerings have been found under water.

A further intriguing dimension to this subject matter is that at the Äkässaivo sacred site in Muonio the location is characterized by a large anthropomorphic stone head, which has facial features, as are the Astuvansalmi and Valkeisaari rock painting sites. In the Sámi cosmology, it was believed that manifestations of a stone figure in the shape of a particular kind of animal or human-like form could be representative of one of the gods of the sáivo world and, thus, why offerings were made at these locations (Whitaker 1957). The fact sites that have similar correspondences in south-eastern Finland have rock paintings where they are located is also significant. This is because in some areas the Sámi and their genetic ancestors have had settlements during the Medieval period and, as hunter-gatherers in prehistoric times, they would have traveled extensively on seasonal hunting routes. Evidence of reindeer hunting pits is apparent in northern Karelia, close to the Hossa-Värikallio rock painting site, which is the third largest site in Finland.

Therefore, when it is taken into consideration how there are a series of interconnecting features between these different forms, it is possible to comprehend in what ways inter-species communication has taken place with regard to interactions between animals, humans and the spiritual powers within nature. Moreover, to destroy waterways connected to sacred sites because of mining, or damaging and causing harm to sacred boulders because of tourism, is to rob a country and its cultures of their rights to cultural heritage, history and spiritual values.

Among some of the major challenges today is that rivers and lakes that are connected with sacred sites are not taken into consideration in terms of such values and inter-connectivity, especially in relation to decisions about mining by planners and developers, as is the case in the Hannukainen threat to the Äkäs river, which is, significantly, linked by name to Äkässaivo. Therefore, a much broader study is needed in relation to this.


Äikäs, Tiina. (2015). From Boulders to Fells. Sacred Places in the Sámi Ritual Landscape. Monographs of the Archaeological Society of Finland 5. http://www.sarks.fi/masf/masf_5/MASF5_From_Boulders_to_Fells.pdf

Bäckman, Louise. (1975). Sájva: Föreställingar om Hjalp – och Skyddsväsen I Heliga Fjäll Bland Samerna. Acts Universitatis Stockholmiensis; Stockholm Studies in Comparative Religion 13. Almqvist & Wiksell, Stockholm.

Joy, Francis. (2018). Sámi Shamanism, Cosmology and Art as Systems of Embedded Knowledge. Doctoral Dissertation. Acta Universitatis Lapponiensis 367. The University of Lapland. URL: http://lauda.ulapland.fi/handle/10024/63178

Lahelma, Antti. (2008). A Touch of Red: Archaeological and Ethnographic Approaches to Interpreting Finnish Rock Paintings. Suomen Muinaismuistoyhdistys ry – Finska Fornminnesföreningen rf. The Finnish Antiquarian Society. Iskos 15. Published by The Finnish Antiquarian Society, Helsinki.

Lahelma, Antti. (2012). Kuka Maalasi Kalliot? [Who painted the rocks?]. Muinaistutkija 1/2012, 2-22

Núñez, Milton. (1995). Reflections of Finnish Rock Art and Ethnohistorical Data. In: Fennoscandia Archaeologica XXI. URL: http://www.sarks.fi/fa/PDF/FA12_123.pdf

Pulkkinen, Risto. (2005). Säiva. In: Pulkkinen, Risto. Kulonen, Ulla-Maija & Seurujärvi-Kari, Irja. (eds.) The Saami. A Cultural Encyclopedia. Helsinki: Finnish Literature Society-SKS. Vammalan Kirjapaino Oy: pp. 374-375.

Solbakk, Aage. (2018). What We Believe in. Noaidevuohta – An Introduction to the Religion of the Northern Sámi. New Expanded Edition. ČálliidLágádus, Kárášjohka, Norway.

Whitaker, Ian (1957). The Holy places of the Lapps (English summary). In: Manker, Ernst. Lapparnas Heliga Ställen: Kultplatser och Offerkult I Belysning av Nordiska Museets och Landsantikvariernas Fältundersökningar. Acta Lapponica 13. Stockholm: Geber, pp. 295-306.

Climate Change and Underwater Cultural Heritage. Utilizing international law to empower communities to protect their coastal sacred sites and sea-level rise

Sacred sites in the Arctic are under threat from a number of external factors. In addition to land uses such as mining, climate change poses a major threat. Already today, climate change is leading to the melting of permafrost, coastal erosion and sea-level rise. While parts of the European Arctic continue to experience post-glacial land uplift, coastal communities across most of the Arctic will have to consider the impacts of sea-level rise on their communities already today. This includes sacred sites. International law can be utilized to protect sacred sites that are or will be located under water as cultural heritage. Sea-level rise will make access to many coastal locations more difficult, but barring destructive effects of climate change, such as erosion, these sites will still exist as locations.

Cultural heritage sites, including in particular sacred sites, are locations valued by cultures and groups around the world and throughout history. This is reflected in the respect that is given to cultural sites even by persons who have not been affiliated with a specific culture. In sacred sites we see this in the protection that churches, mosques and other places of worship enjoy for example during times of armed conflict. Sacred sites are places for societies to come together, places where people connect to each other and to earlier generations.

Climate change also threatens sacred sites. Among the most notable consequences of human-made climate change are rising sea levels. Sea level rise is felt already today by coastal communities. Coastal erosion is a major challenge for the safety of coastal communities, for example along the northern coast of Alaska. Sacred sites that are located at coasts today might well be located under water within a few generations. A large portion of the human population lives along and nearby coasts and it seems likely that sacred sites of different cultures, indigenous and non-indigenous, will be threatened by sea level rise as a consequence of climate change. Local communities can utilize international law by and when making claims against their state with regard to the positive duty of the state to protect human rights.

Cultural rights are human rights that are protected through several international human rights treaties. International human rights law contains not only an obligation on the part of the state to refrain from taking actions that harm human rights, it also contains obligations of a positive nature, requiring States to take actions that are necessary to protect human rights. Cultural rights are usually realized step-by-step, over time, in accordance with the ability of the state. But this does not mean that there couldn’t also be a positive dimension to cultural rights. Looking at the intersection of international underwater cultural heritage law and international human rights law, in particular cultural rights, it will be shown that the positive dimension of human rights law can be made useful for the protection of underwater cultural heritage. In this presentation, two strands of international law that might seem distant from each other, but that at the end of the day are closely related, both serve the purpose of protecting rights of communities, and will be brought together and it will be shown how international law can be used locally to protect sacred sites that are threatened by climate change and sea level rise.

Adaption to climate change is becoming inevitable already while efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change continue. For affected communities, this can mean planning ahead for a future when sacred and cultural sites that are located at the coast and that cannot be moved will be under water. This presentation will give the audience first information on how to prepare for these futures, utilizing already existing legal tools.