There may be an ocean between the First Nations partners of Saskatchewan, Canada’s Prince Albert Model Forest (PAMF), and the Saamí partners of Sweden’s newly formed Vilhelmina Model Forest, but the two indigenous groups share one very important purpose: ensuring that their forest-based cultures and traditions live on ― and flourish ― in a rapidly changing world.
Both the PA Model Forest’s First Nations peoples and the Saamí depend on the forest for their livelihoods. The First Nations peoples are involved in sawmill ventures and the production and sale of arts and crafts, such as birch-bark baskets and tanned moose hides. The Saamí have a tradition of reindeer herding, producing and selling reindeer meat and hides, and creating well-known arts and crafts from reindeer antlers and bones.
With a common purpose and similarly based livelihoods, developing a partnership in which each group can draw on the knowledge and experiences of the other was a natural step. The result? On September 4, 2004, in Fatmomakke, northern Sweden, the PA Model Forest’s First Nations partners, the North and South Vilhelmina Saamí village peoples, and the Fatmomakke Saamí Association signed a Letter of Intent to Cooperate.
The Letter was signed on a historic occasion for the Saamí ― the 100th anniversary of the creation of the Fatmomakke Saamí Association and the selection of a representative to present Saamí concerns to the Swedish government. Creating such an association in 1904 was a monumental task, given the large distances between different Saamí groups and the lack of communications and transportation.
“The Letter of Intent to Cooperate was a wonderful anniversary gift from our indigenous brothers and sisters in Canada,” said Karin Baer, Leader of the North Saamí Village and one of the agreement’s signatories. “We hope that we will be able to contact each other in times of trouble as well as joy.”
“It was fitting that our two indigenous groups signed an agreement on the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Fatmomakke Saamí Association,” said Gene Kimbley, General Manager of the PA Model Forest who signed the Letter on behalf of the Prince Albert Model Forest’s First Nations partners. “As indigenous peoples, we want to keep a foot in the past by maintaining our culture and traditions, yet we also want to move ahead in the 21st Century by undertaking, using, and sharing the latest SFM research.”
The cooperation, which will see the exchange of people, ideas, and experiences, comes on the heels of the launch of the Vilhelmina Model Forest only three days earlier on September 1, 2004. But the seeds of the agreement go back to 2002, when Canada, which has observer status on the Barents Euro-Arctic Forest Sector Task Group, was invited to make a presentation on the Model Forest Program. That’s when Ken Macartney of the Canadian Consulate in Stockholm interested Leif Jougda, a land-use expert with Sweden’s Regional Forestry Board in Västerbotten county, in the success of the model forest approach in helping to resolve land-use conflicts, among other activities.