Youth in Action
© hugovk, CC, flickr.com
Kicking up an Indigenous storm one pop culture reference at a time

When democratic means of achieving Indigenous rights prove futile time and again, what can be done? One group, tired of dealing with a seemingly rigged system, has turned to witty works of art and poignant pop culture references to unleash their Indigenous ire.

Lydia Taylerson and Aslak Paltto write, Suohpanterror is gaining international recognition as an emerging Sámi voice that is challenging the world’s conventional views of the Sámi.

The land of a thousand lakes, a pillar of gender equality, and consistently mentioned as a top contender in World Happiness Reports, Finland is often regarded as a haven of serene landscapes and social justice—and for the most part, it lives up to those expectations.

However, just beneath the surface of Finland’s shiny exterior lurks a jagged splinter in the form of suppressed Indigenous rights and very real fears of a disappearing way of life.

Finland is home to Europe’s only recognized Indigenous People, the Sámi, who traditionally live in the northern-most region of Lapland. Their territories extend across neighbouring borders into Sweden, Norway and a sliver of western Russia.

Time-honoured Sámi trades revolve around fishing, handicrafts and reindeer husbandry, and the traditional knowledge and language entwined in such skills remain integral to the Sámi way of life. But in Finland, these livelihoods are under constant threat because the Sámi lack the rights to secure their own future in their homeland, Sápmi.

While the Finnish government has made strides to support Indigenous People—from constitutionally recognizing their status in 1995, when the Sámi parliament was established, to granting them the right to develop their language, culture and livelihoods—a chequered colonial past and modern unwillingness to ratify International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 169 has hindered the march of progress and left many Sámi frustrated. ILO 169 would grant the Sámi people the rights to their land, giving them considerable powers in matters that affect their future.

In 2015, Finland’s Supreme Administrative Court added 93 individuals to the Sámi electoral roll despite the objections of the Sámi Parliament. In 2017, the government restricted Sámi traditional fishing in the Teno river in Sápmi. Both of these decisions whipped up a furore, and in 2019 they were deemed violations of Sámi Indigenous rights. There is also frustration all around Sápmi in response to land-related injustices, such as the clearcutting of forests, construction of wind parks and intrusive exploration activities related to mining.

Because of shortfalls like these—where the Finnish state has behaved more like an enemy than an ally—Sámi activists have been forced to explore alternative approaches to bringing about change. Suohpanterror, an anonymous art collective brandishing aggressive artistic activism and unafraid to call out the top dogs, is one of these approaches.

Suohpanterror, created in 2012, is an anonymous artist group known for sharing provocative poster art online. Based out of Finland, it is considered a transformative phenomenon within Sámi cultural life. The “artivist” group creates art that questions society’s commercial lifestyles and economic structures. Suohpanterror came into existence at a time when Sámi politics seemed to be running into dead ends and the state media lacked the freedom, power or willingness to turn a spotlight on controversial issues.

Suohpanterror, created in 2012, is an anonymous artist group known for sharing provocative poster art online. Based out of Finland, it is considered a transformative phenomenon within Sámi cultural life. The “artivist” group creates art that questions society’s commercial lifestyles and economic structures. Suohpanterror came into existence at a time when Sámi politics seemed to be running into dead ends and the state media lacked the freedom, power or willingness to turn a spotlight on controversial issues.

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In the Sámi language, a suohpan is a lasso—the gentle weapon of choice used to catch reindeer. Combined with “terror” to make “suohpanterror,” it suggests nonviolent resistance.

You may find the work of Suohpanterror in solo, street or group exhibitions in Sápmi, Nordic countries and elsewhere in Europe, or online.

In the Sámi language, a suohpan is a lasso—the gentle weapon of choice used to catch reindeer. Combined with “terror” to make “suohpanterror,” it suggests nonviolent resistance. You may find the work of Suohpanterror in solo, street or group exhibitions in Sápmi, Nordic countries and elsewhere in Europe, or online.

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A form of nonviolent resistance, Suohpanterror is like a channel that expresses the feelings of Sámi people. It expresses thoughts and ideas that the Sámi are afraid to say out aloud. When you see a post from Suohpanterror, you can be sure there is real news to read and a deeper meaning beneath the surface.

A form of nonviolent resistance, Suohpanterror is like a channel that expresses the feelings of Sámi people. It expresses thoughts and ideas that the Sámi are afraid to say out aloud. When you see a post from Suohpanterror, you can be sure there is real news to read and a deeper meaning beneath the surface.

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© Lydia Taylerson

LYDIA TAYLERSON, a guest writer for this issue, is a recent graduate of Tampere University’s Peace and Conflict Studies program, where she focused on Indigenous issues, including Sámi activism.

ASLAK PALTTO, a guest writer for this issue, is a Sámi journalist working mostly in Yle Sápmi in the Sámi language who spends much of his time herding reindeer in the tundra of Lemmenjoki National Park.

© Aslak Paltto