In addition to reindeer herding, my Swedish friend, Sonja, arranged a unique trip for us. Sixteen women from six countries were introduced to the Sami culture in several ways. We crossed the Arctic Circle on the first day of our trip. We would not stay in hotels or eat meals in restaurants.
Our first night was spent in a small hostel. We drove forty minutes over dirt roads to dinner at the home of Sonja’s cousin Valborg. She had prepared sliced fresh salmon that she had marinated, cheese, three kinds of homemade traditional breads and vegetable soup. The vegetables were grown in her garden and preserved in a cold cellar over the winter. Turnips, carrots, potatoes and onions along with seasonings. Dessert was an assortment of rich pastries that she had baked.
Valborg is widowed but still lives alone on the farm where she’s always lived. Although she no longer keeps animals, she still maintains a large garden. Buses from the city, 150 kilometers away come once a week, It takes careful planning to make a shopping excursion. Valborg’s house is painted a dark red which seems to be typical. We saw similar houses every place we went. When we returned to our hostel at midnight, it was still daylight.
Our accommodation for two nights was in the small village of Pelkam, one of the tiny, wide spread villages that dot the vast forests of the north. It was once a thriving Sami community now only three families remain. The last children born in Pelkam were born in the early 1980s. We slept in bunk beds in a small hostel, once a school house. In this remote area children sometimes lived days away from a school. They lived at the school and went home only for Christmas and summer. The Sami women prepared our meals in the hostel kitchen. Breakfasts of oatmeal, sliced ham and cheese and an assortment of breads. Lunch and dinners were meat, reindeer, pork or salmon with vegetables. They must have vast freezers, the village is 70 kilometers from the nearest town with shops or a food market.
There are very few signs of habitation in this part of the country. Henrik, a Sami reindeer owner led us on a forest walk and explained the needs of the herd. Reindeer live on a kind of lichen that grows on trees in virgin forest. Trees should be at least one hundred years old to support deer herds adequately. The livelihood of the Sami people is being threatened from two directions. There are plans for a huge wind farm in the grazing area and there is widespread deforestation, probably for paper production. The old trees are being replaced with fast growing pines imported from Canada but they don’t provide the right conditions to support the reindeer.