Your All-Holiness patriarch Bartholomew, dear listeners!

The Skolt people in northernmost Finland are grateful to the Orthodox Church of Finland for the care that it has shown to us. I would like to also thank His All-Holiness for your love towards our people and their history. We remember very well your visit to Sevettijärvi when the 70 th anniversary of the late archbishop
John was celebrated.

In my speech, I will address some aspects of climate change affecting our people, the Skolt Sámi . 

The Sámi are the only indigenous people residing in the European Union. Their status as indigenous people is affirmed in the Finnish Constitution, where it is stated (§17) that the Sámi , as indigenous people, have the right to sustain and develop their language and culture. Since 1996, the Skolt have enjoyed constitutionally affirmed autonomy regarding their language and culture in the areas where they live. The duties of the Skolt autonomy are governed by an elected parliament called Saamelaiskäräjät. In addition, the traditional village meeting, Saaʹmi siidsååbbar, is an ancient form of the Skolt Sámi autonomy, which entails joint meetings between different Skolt villages as the primary body of decision-making. In addition, in those meetings, particular village boards are elected, serving three years per term. This system of village meetings is led by the elected Skolt steward (also serving three years per term).

The Skolt languages are indigenous languages spoken in Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Russia. All the Skolt languages spoken in Finland, Skolt Sámi , Inari Sámi , and Northern Sámi , are endangered languages, and especially in danger are the first two variations. We, Skolt Sámi , are a small minority of the Skolt. The Skolt Sámi language and culture are greatly endangered. According to some estimates, only about 300 people still speak Skolt Sámi. There have been, and still are, attempts to revive the language by the “language-nest” -model and, amongst other things, by short courses and a one-year study program of the Skolt Sámi language and culture offered by the educational center of Sámi region for adults. For a language to survive, it is essential to have an active language environment, for without such a setting, the language withers, and the culture is assimilated gradually into the majority culture. Dissolving a minority language and culture into a majority culture can happen in unnoticeable increments when it is happening from multiple sides at once.

The home region for the Finnish Sámi people is located on the Northern side of the Arctic Circle, and the area assigned to us by the Skolt law, Skolt Sámi , is in the county of Inari. I am a herder of reindeer in Näätämö, located in the north of Inari, and our herd region (“paliskunta”) is bordered in the south by the Lake Inari and in the north by the county of Utsjoki and Norway. Here with us today is also Kaisja Semenoja from the herd region of Vätsäri, a neighboring area to us in the East, bordered by Norway and Lake Inari in the south. In our parts, we herd the reindeer according to Skolt Sami tradition and speak Skolt Sami at
work. Herding the reindeer is based on the sustainable use of natural pasture. The quantity of specific herds must be accommodated with the sustainability of the meadows, and it is essential to allow the reindeer to forage according to their natural patterns. The pastures are usually divided into summer and winter pastures. In the summertime, the reindeer graze (“palkia”) in the northern parts of our region, on the treeless fjelds and swamps, whereas in the winter, after the round-up of the animals, the reindeer will graze in forest areas (“outamaa”) where the primary nutrient for them is lichen.

The Arctic areas warm more quickly than other parts of the world. According to studies, the climate in our area warms up twice, even four times quicker than in the rest of the world. The Sámi livelihood and culture have developed precisely in the Arctic conditions. The winter, like all the eight seasons of the Sámi , has an important meaning in our way of life. For the Sami, readjusting to climate change can be seen as a cultural change process. At the current speed, the change is quicker than the culture can readjust itself to.

The indigenous peoples of the Arctic have observed that the situation has changed and have been forced to integrate their livelihood methods accordingly. The scientifically observed changes affect the length of seasons, the warming of winters, and the transformation of plants and weather conditions. We herders can and must observe these facts daily to be able to manage the sustainability of our pastures. For example, the mild weather with a lot of rainfall in the early winter can ruin particular areas completely unusable for herding. As ways of addressing climate change, we have been forced to use additional feeding, technological aids, and use of intra-regional regulating (“siita”). In addition, we have been forced to alter the old herding model permanently. These adjustments have had their cultural and societal effects.

The global changes and methods of readjustment have had a weakening impact on traditional knowledge. At the same time, unpredictable weather conditions have increased the risks of accidents and altered the structures of traditional viewing of different seasons. It is no longer possible to induce future conditions
from the old signs: the wintertime varies greatly, the composition of the snow has changed, and the temperature differences are enormous. These observations are confirmed also by the other indigenous people of the Arctic.

It has been shown that reindeer herding can adjust to climate change, but it is highly endangered as a form of living culture. We are concerned about the loss of traditional knowledge and the transition of these traditions to subsequent generations in a world where the norms are dictated by climate change, other
forms of land usage, economic parameters, and legislation. In the course of these changes, methods of preserving traditional knowledge and transferring it to subsequent generations must be created through educational measures and also by the authorities. Luckily, there has been rising consciousness about
traditional wisdom and its status as being on the same level as other scientific forms of knowledge.

It must be said that the methods aimed at containment and adjustment to climate change have remarkable negative consequences for us Sámi . The green transition in society, building wind turbines, new mining activities, and transferring environmental resources away from the Sámi directly or indirectly impacts Sámi cultural communities and their abilities to readjust. The rise in expenses, the need for investments, and the difficulties in traditional livelihoods directly result from such vast environmental projects. We, the Skolt Sámi , do not want these kinds of projects in our lands, threatening the prerequisites of our cultural and communal livelihood, i.e., reindeer herding, fishing, hunting, and gathering. Clean nature and pure water are a few of the great riches of our region, and we strongly oppose the exploitation of holy nature and the loss of biodiversity.

Climate change is a threat to the whole of humanity. Yet indigenous peoples, we Skolt Sámi included, are first to suffer its negative consequences. We will do our share of containment of this phenomenon but hope that those who are genuinely responsible will do more to leave our living environment in peace to
serve as necessary carbon storage and resources of pure nature.

Your All-Holiness, I would like to take this opportunity to express our concern for the Chapel of St. George, which is located in Norway, near our border. The chapel was built in the 16th Century and was used, according to tradition, by the Saint Tryphon of Petsamo. The local county owns the chapel and the property. It has been several years since we have been unable to pray in that historical sanctuary, greatly beloved by the Skolt. I certainly understand that Norway is under the jurisdiction of the revered metropolitan Cleopa, and I do not believe that he personally opposes the use of the chapel. I would like to
inform your All-Holiness and revered metropolitan Cleopa that we plan to plead to the authorities that the chapel would be reopened in the summertime and that we Skolts and other pilgrims could pray there at least occasionally. In this matter, we ask you for your prayers.

Thank you!

Veikko Feodoroff, Skolt Sámi Trustee