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Áldujohka Sámi, Finland

Description of the ICCA

The Áldujohka Sámi Indigenous Community Conserved Area (Áldujohka Sámi ICCA) is an area of approximately 70 hectares situated in the northern boreal forest-peatland-stream habitat along the Ivalo River in the Inari Municipality, Sápmi (Province of Lapland), Finland, approximately 220 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle.

The area is a restoration and conservation site that is a traditional fishing, reindeer herding and Indigenous land use area of the Sámi Reindeer Community of Huuhkaja (part of the Hammastunturi Reindeer Herding Cooperative but predates the modern unit of reindeer cooperatives). The Sámi are the Indigenous group living in Finland, recognized by the Constitution of Finland and various laws of Indigenous culture, livelihoods, and identity.

The Áldujohka Sámi ICCA is primarily used by the members of the North Sámi Reindeer Community of Huuhkaja and the descendants of Juhani and Lea Magga, a knowledgeable North Sámi reindeer herder. The contemporary Sámi community, involved with the Áldujohka Sámi ICCA, is co-led by two sisters, Bigga-Helena Magga and Sigga-Marja Magga and their descendants. There are approximately 10 Sámi people using Áldujohka, directly through the Sámi Reindeer Community of Huuhkaja either all year round or seasonally. The area is also used occasionally by members of the Hammastunturi Reindeer Cooperative.

What is the main livelihood of the local community?

Reindeer herding is one of the main livelihoods associated with this site, in addition to traditional Sámi handicrafts, household fishery in the Ivalo River and restoration activities. Due to the socio-economic structure of Sámi communities in Finland, the families using the site often have a separate, associated main occupation (such as cultural and service sector jobs) and reindeer herding is a secondary livelihood for the community involved. Professional herders are involved too. Herding is not only economically important, but is also of cultural, social and linguistic value for the North Sámi involved.

Due to the presence of peatlands, the Áldujohka site was chosen as one of the main reindeer calving areas in the 1970s by the father of the Magga family. Peatlands are central to the natural feeding pastures of reindeer mothers and calves in spring. The father passed knowledge to the contemporary Sámi regarding traditional skills and knowledge from the nomadic lifestyles of the early 1900s. Therefore, the site has been primarily used by Sámi herders for decades as their main livelihood and today as a seasonal activity.

What is special or unique about this ICCA?

As an ICCA site from the Nordic countries, the Áldujohka Sámi ICCA is the first of its kind. The Sámi are the only remaining Indigenous peoples of Europe. There are three other ICCA sites from Finland, but they are CCAs, i.e., developed by Finnish rural villages, rather than Indigenous Peoples. The Áldujohka Sámi ICCA represents many firsts; these are summarized below:

  • First ever ICCA site in Finland
  • First restoration and conservation ICCA site in Sámi area
  • First Arctic ICCA site from Europe

In addition, the site has exceptional biodiversity and cultural values, including rare plant species such as Diphasiastrum complanatum (ground cedar) and several endangered biotopes (e.g., +200 years old primary post ice age forest, esker forest native habitat), and a trout spawning stream. It has also produced important archaeological finds of cultural importance, including deer hunting traps and ancient reindeer fences.

History and current activities

Áldujohka Sámi ICCA was established as a part of the Snowchange Cooperative’s Landscape Rewilding Programme in May 2023. Bigga-Helena Magga, Sigga-Marja Magga and their descendants contacted Snowchange to seek Indigenous-led restoration of northern boreal forest and conservation in a pilot area central to the North Sámi reindeer herding.

The aim of the establishment of this ICCA relies on the Sámi’s need to demonstrate how conservation and restoration can work in Finland when Sámi knowledge, governance and will are central to forest conservation. Whilst the specific area remains relatively small in biogeographical terms (<70 hectares), the site is located inside heavily logged primary forests. It contains one of the primary spawning streams of endangered Lake Inari trout (Salmo trutta).

The aim of the original establishment of the Áldujohka Sámi Indigenous Community Conserved Area was to achieve a model that could be proliferated across other affected Sámi forests, i.e., conservation with Sámi land use and realization of Sámi management rights in conservation. In addition to the specific value of biodiversity on the site, the model serves an urgent need to establish and determine the value of the ICCA approach in Sámi forests of Finland. The Sámi have no land rights in Finland. Therefore, the site is an outstanding example of realizing rights in practice and as an ICCA pilot.

Áldujohka Sámi Indigenous Community Conserved Area began to operate in May 2023. The main activities carried out since then are:

  • Documentation of Sámi knowledge, place names, land use and occupancy and oral histories regarding the site and its biodiversity.
  • Vegetation, terrain, bird, fish, and moss inventories.
  • First restoration plans for the clear-cut area of 9 hectares in the eastern part of the Áldujohka Sámi Indigenous Community Conserved Area for restoration.
  • Biogeographical mapping of corridors and interconnections in aquatic habitats of Áldujohka and Ivalo River.
  • Establishment of first vegetation recovery zones.
  • Establishment of the ecological corridor and needed fences to enable vegetation recovery on the clearcut area.
  • Áldujohka Sámi Indigenous Community Conserved Area Guardian programme to include young Sámi gathering intergenerational knowledge of the site.Conservation and ecosystem services

Áldujohka Sámi Indigenous Community Conserved Area contains many endangered and vulnerable ecological species and habitats that need to be conserved. As an example, this includes:

  • Several biotopes that are under the responsibility of Finland internationally:
    • Primary post ice age north boreal Scots pine timber forests that are over 200 years old
    • Ridge forest
    • Esker forests (vulnerable throughout the whole country)
    • Medium-sized streams in coniferous forest zone
    • Sand banks of lakes and rivers and erosion eskers
    • Rich spring fens (Vulnerable/NT throughout the whole country)
    • Rich pine fens (Vulnerable/NT throughout the whole country)
    • Spring complexes (Vulnerable throughout the whole country)
  • EU Directive biotopes:
    • Small streams and rivers
    • Inland flooded forests
  • Several species of note:
    • Mountain everlasting (Antennaria dioica, NT)
    • Black moss (Bryoria fremontii, NT)
    • Native trout (Salmo trutta) spawning and juvenile fish habitats’
    • Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus, EU Directive Species) 
    • Siberian tit (Parus cinctus, NT)

Áldujohka Sámi Indigenous Community Conserved Area has springs and the Áldujohka trout stream runs through the site. It is very important for these endangered salmonids. For the local Sámi, the site is of outstanding value as a traditional use area for calving and other reindeer herding activities, and it is a primary example of Sámi-style reindeer herding building on the nomadic lifestyle of the past. The area also contains pre-historic deer hunting pits and systems, so it has tangible universal cultural heritage value.

Impacts of the conservation actions

The conservation actions protect approximately 60 hectares of primary boreal forest (Scots Pine and Spruce) and enable a piloting of restoration of logged sub-Arctic timber forest habitat. Parts of the ecosystem are in prime condition and other segments have been impacted by human use. The aquatic habitats along the Áldujohka stream and the native sand bank, mella, are sites of globally threatened species, some of which require undisturbed habitats. Full species inventories and status and trends will become available in 2024.

It should be noted that the site was included in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations annual Arctic Report Card in December 2023 as an example of ICCA-led restoration of Indigenous lands in the Arctic that was featured, for example, in the New York Times.

The impact of Áldujohka Sámi ICCA is being monitored using both Sámi knowledge and biogeographical scientific monitoring. The first season of monitoring was in 2023. The specific methods include:

  • For vegetation on the ground and peatlands, statistical indicator species, Sphagnum coverage and coverage of degraded condition indicators
  • Transect and points of bird counts.
  • Literature and remote sensing of species present and inventoried using national databases.
  • Photographic and biogeographical inventories of mammals, fish, and insects
  • Culturally important species
  • Oral histories of ecological change over time to determine the present status.

Management and governance

Áldujohka Sámi ICCA is primarily co-governed by Snowchange Cooperative and the Indigenous primary traditional owners, Bigga-Helena Magga and Sigga-Marja Magga, and their descendants. Huuhkaja Reindeer Unit is also involved in determining issues of reindeer herding on the site. Unfortunately, there is not currently any form of government support or laws in place that help the local management.

Impact of the ICCA process on the community

The start of the ICCA process is very recent, so the socio-economic indicators are only forming now. The site continues to deliver for Sámi culture, livelihoods, and protection of Arctic biodiversity. More specifically, the Sámi in the community have emphasized during the preparation of the ICCA Registry process that being in the forest is an all-encompassing being. It includes, but is not limited to, for example, berry-picking, fishing, making hay for the traditional reindeer shoes, Sámi Duodji, i.e., traditional handicrafts. Therefore, the area is both influencing the Sámi well-being and economic affairs, but first and foremost it is supportive of Sámi cultural aspects that are the foundation of Sámi well-being. Also, the sense of belonging to a specific site, in this case, Áldujohka strengthens the self-identity as an Indigenous community.

Future challenges and next steps

Restoring logged forests in the northern boreal region poses significant challenges. The key task ahead is finding a balance between leveraging Sámi traditional knowledge and modern biogeographical science to achieve successful restoration. Therefore, the restoration of these areas continues in 2024, as do inventories, monitoring and the cultural heritage work.

In addition, the promotion of the first ICCA Sámi site in the Nordic Countries and Finland is one of our next steps to proliferate the model and approach rapidly. Áldujohka Sámi Indigenous Community Conserved Area has in the short window of work proved already to be of outstanding value as a pilot area for Indigenous-led restoration and conservation in the Sámi area. Inclusion into the Arctic Report Card, December 2023 and subsequent media coverage has also proved the potential of mainstreaming this model.

This case study was originally published by UNEP-WCMC in 05/24. The content was provided by the custodians of this ICCA. The ICCA has been self-declared and has not yet been through a peer-review process to verify its status. More details on this process can be found here. The contents of this website do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of UN Environment Programme or WCMC.