The aim in this paper is to compare processes of personal identity formation
among Finnish and Saami inhabitants of Lapland, concentrating on their
respective practices of livelihood and perceptions of the environment.
Ethnographic material is drawn from two periods of fieldwork in northernmost
Finland, among the Skolt Saami (1971-72) and the people of Salla (1979-80).
The comparison focuses on the one area of activity that both Finns and
Saami have in common, namely reindeer management. After an outline of the
formal organizational framework of reindeer management in Finland, the
work of mustering the herds is described. Saami and Finnish practices differ
with regard to the use of the snowmobile, the deployment of round-up fences,
arrangements for the sale of reindeer meat, participation by age and gender
in mustering work, and the inter-generational continuity of tradition.
Participation in reindeer work enters into the formation of personal identity on three levels: in furnishing valued practical skills, in maintaining the social relationships that fix a person's membership in the community, and in establishing people's affiliations with both land and landscape.
On the first level, recent developments have tended to open up reindeer work in Finnish districts to relatively unskilled 'amateurs,' whereas among Saami the devaluation of traditional skills has led to the exclusion of 'old hands.' On the second level, a crucial contrast is drawn between the house and the kindred as foci of identity among Finns and Saami respectively. On the third level, whereas Saami relate to the forest as a landscape, for Finns the forest is seen as a realization of the inherent productive potential of the land - not so much a domain in which identities are inscribed as a resource to be appropriated and transformed. These differing perceptions, in turn, influence Finnish and Saami responses to post-war resettlement. For the Skolt Saami, resettlement caused a rupture between memory and experience that undermined their sense of identity. For the Finns of Salla, by contrast, their former homeland belongs to a past that is inevitably left behind. Far more traumatic, for them, was the collapse of agriculture and the end of a livelihood based on the family farm. Thus where the Skolt Saami have lost a past, the people of Salla have lost a future.