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Ethically responsible tourism initiative to preserve Sami culture

AFP
Published : Dec 25, 2019, 11:47 am IST
Updated : Dec 25, 2019, 11:47 am IST

Tourism's gifts and woes for Santa and Sami homeland.

Sami representatives accuse some tourism providers of pretending to be Sami when they are not, or selling products and tourist attractions portraying Sami people as magical and primitive. (Photo: AFP)
 Sami representatives accuse some tourism providers of pretending to be Sami when they are not, or selling products and tourist attractions portraying Sami people as magical and primitive. (Photo: AFP)

In Finland's remote Lapland region, the Santa Claus Village amusement park is a snowy wonderland of reindeer rides, ice castles, snowmobiles and igloo hotels where Christmas holds sway 365 days a year. At its centre, a wooden, fairytale-esque cabin houses Santa's grotto -- since the 1980s, tourism chiefs have set out to market the main town, Rovaniemi, as the world's official home of Santa Claus.

More visitors are now coming to experience winter in the Arctic than ever before. But Lapland is also the homeland of the indigenous reindeer-herding Sami people, who protest that some in the tourist industry spread offensive stereotypes about Sami people and seek to profit from their ancient culture.

"Almost every day there are people coming to the Sami area asking 'Where can I see the shamans, where are the Sami witches?'" Tiina Sanila-Aikio, president of Finland's Sami Parliament, tells AFP. "It's only a picture that the tourism industry has created and developed," she says.

Once known by the now obsolete term "Lapps", the Sami are spread out across the northern parts of Sweden, Finland, Norway and Russia's Kola Peninsula. Sami representatives accuse some tourism providers of pretending to be Sami when they are not, or selling products and tourist attractions portraying Sami people as magical and primitive. Last year, the Sami Parliament issued guidelines for "ethically responsible" behaviour from tour operators and visitors in order to preserve Sami culture.

"If, for example, one person refrains from wearing Sami dress because they do not want to be photographed by tourists, that is one person too many," the proposal warned. Husky rides, among the most popular tourist attractions in Lapland, have also been singled out for criticism by the Sami community, which has herded reindeer across the area's vast fells and forests for over 3,000 years.

Sami representatives claim the dogs, which are not a native Lapland tradition, distress the reindeer which freely roam the forests. The Sami also object to the growing number of "igloo" hotels in the region, which are a non-Lapland tradition borrowed from elsewhere in the Arctic.

The parliament proposal says the igloos risk creating a "mongrel" and homogenised culture in the region, and suggests instead that tourist providers build accommodation relevant to Lapland's history, such as the Sami "goahti" -- a teepee-like wooden tent traditionally used by reindeer herders.

Tags: finland, tourism, santa
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