Wild West of the Arctic – Saami and Settlers

AjtteRoughly 150 years before the Homestead Act (1862) in the United States, the Swedish government encouraged people to move to the north and start farming. The incentives were 15 years of tax amnesty and no military service. Ájtte – Svenskt Fjäll- och Samemuseum (Swedish Mountain and Saami Museum) has an exhibition about the life of the settlers.

The incentives enticed many people to leave their homes to start a new life in the north. People from south of Sweden, the coast, Finland, and even Saami people grabbed their ax and two-three cows and immigrated to places like Jokkmokk.

The goal of the government was to establish farmland that could provide food for people in the north and the military forces. It was important for creating the infrastructure and society that could enhance other activities as well. Fishing and hunting were trades that the government could tax. It laid premises for mining, forestry and other economic activities. It was also part of a strategy that would secure Sweden’s borders in the far north.

Life as a settler was a harsh one. The first summer the family was able to build quarters that they would share with the animals the first winter. The following summer they would be able to set up housing separating folks and animals.

To cultivate new land with bare hands is hard work. Farming wasn’t always enough to keep families afloat. Making tar and coal were a source of extra income. Fishing and hunting were also potential sources of revenue. The settlers had to be able to handle very different kind of work, and they were new in an unfamiliar terrain.

The Saami people had a great advantage on how to handle the challenging environment. They had through thousands of years developed the know-how to do things in this environment. They were familiar to how to use the flora, and they would know where to find the salmon etc.

A dispute would every now and then come to fruition between settlers and the Saami. The settlers would make ájttes of hay for feeding the cows as far as 10 km from the farm. Once they got there in the winter, transportation was often easier with sleds on the snow, reindeers sometimes had eaten it. Records show that this was one type of disputes.

In exchange for “goatsitting”, the Saami would provide reindeer meat to the settler and his family

Overall there was cooperation between the settlers and the Saami people. One way of working together involved goats. The Saami had goats for the milk, and brought them to the mountains in the summer. In the winter they stayed in the forest areas, and the settlers would include the goat in their herd. In exchange for “goatsitting”, the Saami would provide reindeer meat to the settler and his family.

There were times the government didn’t fulfill their promises. There were intervals of waves of emigrations to the Norwegian coast. Traveling was just as much west – east as north – south in the settlement era.

Settling the north wasn’t as bloody as the Wild West, but the environmental challenges were.

Ájtte

Elina Nygård at Ájtte

Ájtte

A settler with his ax at Ájtte

Jokkmokk

Jokkmokk

 

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Posted in Jokkmokk, MIDNIGHT SUN ROAD

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