I should not have to feel guilty about getting a degree

31 March 2020

This article originally appeared in The Circle: Youth in Action. The Circle shares perspectives from across the Arctic, and the views expressed here are not necessarily those of WWF. See all Circle issues here.

I am making the difficult decision to go to school instead of helping my reindeer-herding family.

Our winters are disappearing. Our snow is melting and turning the ground to hard, thick ice. The reindeers cannot find food under that ice, and more of them are getting sick. I know what I see: this is the result of climate change. However, this knowledge isn’t taken seriously because I do not have an academic degree.

The Sámi people have depths of knowledge about nature that goes generations back. We have always lived at one with nature, and know its limitations. We feel it when nature is hurting, because when that happens, so are we. This is not an opinion, yet people treat it like one.

Multiple times when I have spoken to people about how we are being affected by climate change, they have responded with questions like: “But do you have any research to back that up?”

No matter what we—the reindeer-herding youth—say, governments and companies continue to treat us like we do not know what we are talking about. The only people who are respected in this system are scientists and researchers, because they have a piece of paper that I do not. Most of them have probably never seen a reindeer before, yet they are considered more credible than me.

Because of these people and this system, I have decided to pursue an education in environmental science. I want my knowledge and experience to be taken seriously. I want to do this to fight for our future.

But at the same time, I feel guilty when I think about moving away to go to school. I think about how there is so much to do here and how my family needs my help. Right now, I am the one in our family who makes the decisions during our fall and winter gatherings, and I do not want to put that responsibility on my baby sister. I want to be there if my cousin needs my help during the hard winter months when we are outside almost every day. Climate change is making those days even harder.

I feel like I am being torn apart between two different worlds. Sámi knowledge should be valued. I should not feel like I have to choose between helping my family now, or going to school so I can help our future.

My family supports me and my decision. They think I should go to school. And that is positive because I do not think I would be able to do it without their support. But shouldn’t we have a system that is adapted to and supports reindeer-herding youth who want an education—especially since we need education in order to be taken seriously?

MARTINA FJÄLLBERG, a guest editor for this issue, is a Sámi reindeer herder from northern Sweden who is passionate about combatting climate change and fighting for her culture. She is a board member of Sáminuorra, a Sámi youth organisation.