Skolte Town in Neiden

The Historical and Cultural Fate and Development features of Customary Law and Legal Conceptions and use of resources of Neidensii’da in the Skolt-Sami area of South-Varanger

The flat area along the Neiden river below the waterfall “Skoltefossen” is situated the Skolte Town in Neiden

The historical and cultural fate of the Neiden Sii’da[ i ] as well as the developmental aspects of customary rights, legal conceptions and application of resources in the Skolte Saami area in Sør-Varanger. By Mikit Ivanowitz

As the seminar program states, my research is on the historical and cultural developmental aspects, customary rights, legal conceptions and application of resources in the Skolt area in Sør-Varanger.

The most important and recent addition to my research is in particular the chapter entitled “Developmental aspects and natural foundation”.

I hadn’t planned on including salmon fishing in the rivers or lost reindeer herding. However, it eventually became clear to me that if my work is to be used in a future separate Skolte Saami research project, I also had to say something about the early natural foundation, customary rights and general rights of the Neiden Skolte Saami. This foundation is necessary in order to demonstrate the continuity of their situation.

In this regard I have quoted from a booklet entitled “Østsamene i Neiden” (“The Eastern Saami in Neiden”), authored by Rolf Enbusk.[ ii ] He was a newly graduated Land Consolidation Judge. In his booklet published after his death, he presented much criticism of the early rulings. Enbusk expressed himself quite clearly about these rulings. According to him, the rulings had always gone against the Skolte Saami.

Enbusk feels that the names Skolt, Skolte Saami, Skolte Lapp, Russian Finn and Neiden Finn were often confused in the various court rulings. These names are mixed with the term Finn, meaning Kven (Finnish). People often meant Skolt, but wrote Finn. Later on, this mixture of terms created complications. Some have interpreted Finn to mean Finnish, while others have understood it to mean Skolt. Enbusk feels that because of this, many mistakes in several court rulings have occurred due to misunderstandings. Enbusk identifies an example from the 1930 ruling illustrating how the concepts have been mixed and can be misunderstood (Enbusk 1984, p. 20), quote:

“First it is said specifically that the Neiden Finns have certain special rights, and in another place it is said that the Neiden Skolts do not have any special rights.”

I have also used material by Professor Einar Niemi[ iii ] in the discussion on the Skolts’ loss of exclusive rights to Livjelak fishing/ and reindeer herding.

Einar Niemi and Ørnulf Vorren[ iv ] and others have used Eastern Saami to mean the Skolts, while Steinar Wikan[ v ] in his book “Grensebygda Neiden” (“Neiden Border Community”) has used the term Neiden Saami.

In the Saami Rights Report the term “Eastern Saami” is the most commonly used to mean the Skolts, and in chapter 7, page 340, second paragraph it says, quote:

“In Finland the term Koltta (Skolt) is consistently used to identify the Eastern Saami.”

This term has also been consistently used for the Skolts in Neiden up to the 1960’s. A number of authors and researchers who wrote about the Skolts before “the Saami movement”, always used the term Skolt or Skolte Saami.

The name “Skolt” has a longstanding tradition, and it has been a term in an historical context. From the early 1800s, the Skolts[ vi ] , Skolte Saami or Eastern Saami were called “Skolts”. During some eras, this term has had a negative connotation. As far back as I can remember, the inhabitants of the Skolte Town were always just called Skolts.
“The Skolte Waterfall”, “Skolte Voice” and “Skolte Town” are distinct symbols showing that the term “Skolt” has been a concept in Neiden for hundreds of years. There is not an historical location in Neiden referring to the Skolte culture in which the word Saami or Eastern Saami occurs.
But in older Danish-Norwegian sources there are numerous names for the Skolts that have created confusion: “Wild Lapps”, “Barents Sea Lapps”, “Russian Finns”, “Russian Lapps”, and “Common Lapps” are some examples. From the beginning of the 1800s came the names “Skolte Lapps”, “Skolte Finns”, and, later on, the name “Skolt”, which became the predominant term up until the 1960’s.

The term Skolt has been used as an insult at times, giving the Skolts an inferiority complex. The term has been subject to several interpretations. One of them has been “skalle” (bald), which rarely any Skolt liked, although some of them could have been bald. From the beginning of the 1960’s, the term Eastern Saami was gradually introduced by the Saami movement in Norway.
This new change of term after the 1960s led most of the Skolts living outside of the Skolte Town to start using the name “Eastern Saami” for themselves instead of Skolt. This was because the name Eastern Saami held a higher status than the term Skolt, which at that time carried a negative connotation. The Skolts have been made invisible for many years in Norway, because of the use of the terms “The Saami at Kola”, “Eastern Saami” or “Neiden Saami”.

This confusion of names has, in my opinion, caused the culture to become invisible and that most people in Norway cannot see any difference between the Saami culture and Skolte culture. Several well-known scientists have written that the Skolts are a separate ethnic minority. In this regard I would like to draw on two quotes from two researchers, Astri Andresen and Einar Niemi.

In the book “Sii’daen som forsvant” (The Sii’da that disappeared”) Astri Andresen [ vii ] writes, quote:

“The Skolt constituted a separate part of the Saami people. Among other characteristics, they had their own language, a separate geographical area and their religion was Greek-Orthodox. They called themselves Nuortelazzak (people from the East), and were also referred to as Skolts or Skolte Saami.”

In Aftenposten (national coverage newspaper) May 24, 1993, Einar Niemi said:

“The Skolte Saami, or Eastern Saami, are in several ways a unique minority. …It is sad what has happened to the Eastern Saami minority. …but it requires adjustment, and this is where the Skolte Saami disagree.”

History shows the various names of the Skolts, but from the beginning of the 1800’s and up to the 1960’s, the name “Skolt” was a term that had been used for more than 150 years. However, my own childhood and influence from the Skolte Town has given me an identity as a “Skolt”. It has, therefore, been important to me to use this term in order to make the Skolte culture visible in the Saami cultural landscape. I, therefore, hope that my use of names does not create more difficulties in the complex confusion of terms, but rather provides an explanation of why I am using this name. I was born during the war and grew up in the Skolte Town in Neiden. I remember well many tales and stories from that time. My grandmother had many stories, and she had participated in the traditional migrations between summer-, fall- spring and winter settlements. My father had many good friends among the Finnish Skolts after they moved to the Sevettijärvi area in 1949. This turned my childhood home in the Skolte Town to a meeting place for the Finnish Skolts coming to Neiden. There is little doubt that it is this background that has given me the special knowledge to be able to serve as an informant, as well as the knowledge of the Finnish Skolts’ usage of sea fishing grounds in Sør-Varanger far into the 1960’s. The fact that this author himself grew up in the Skolte Saami core area in Norway and belonged to the family that was central in the cultural struggle, may seem problematic. However, this author feels that his own cultural knowledge has been decisive in this research project, which lasted for about 3 months.

This author grew up in a multi-cultural society including Norwegians, Kvens and Skolte Saami/ Eastern Saami at a time where indigenous people and minorities still held a weak position in the Norwegian society. The drawback may be that this author grew up under these circumstances and possesses a subjective closeness to this culture. However, the strength may also be that this author has a multi-cultural background and unique knowledge about the culture.

The very fact that my childhood home was a central overnight and meeting place to the Finnish Skolts/Eastern Saami visiting Neiden at that time, has also given me much knowledge about the Skolts/Eastern Saami’s life and economic adjustment. The anthropologic field research builds on a combination of experiencing a culture on its own premises and an analytical distance to the culture on which research is being conducted. This author believes that growing up under these circumstances in the multi-cultural environment has been enriching and provided unique knowledge, exactly in order to be able to interpret nuances and images from this reality. Due to the internalization of their own societies, it may often be difficult for most researchers to acquire a “cultural relativistic” view on another culture, because one’s own culture has colored one’s ideas and thought patterns. According to the belief of this author, this can lead people to interpret other cultures’ ideas, values, standards, codes and symbols on their own culture’s premises.

Cultural belonging and a wide knowledge base regarding one’s culture can, in this author’s opinion, have its advantages. Particularly when it comes to establishing a relationship of trust between the people who are to be interviewed and the interviewer. This factor may be of particular significance to this research. Initially, I hadn’t planned on writing anything about the Skolts’ historical and cultural background. But as the work progressed, it became clear to me that the historical background material was indeed important. This was particularly true for researchers, authorities, decision-makers and others who were to read this paper and had no previous knowledge about the history and culture of the Skolts.
Knowledge about the Skolte culture has been absent in Norwegian Public Reports for a long time, but these insights have been made visible in the Saami Rights Commission’s report. I am neither a legal professional or an historian, but since the late 1980’s, I have been reading and studying North Calotte history, particularly digging into literature on Skolte history in the previous Neiden Sii’da.
In his book “Skoltlaparna” (“The Skolte Lapps”), Tanner [ viii ] refers to several sources that underline the Skolts in the Kola area being the most significant of the hunting cultures on the taiga. According to a theory from Tanner’s book, people arrived at Kola and Sør-Varanger towards the end of the last Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago.

Einar Niemi writes that there are many indications of the Sii’da arrangement dating far back into pre-historical times. In his article “Østsamene i Neiden – ressurstilpasning og rettigheter” (“The Eastern Saami in Neiden – resource adjustments and rights”), he refers to archeological material from pre-historic time.

The coastal line eastward from Bugøyfjord was previously called “The Russian side”. During the Russian monastic expansion, the Skolts managed to use this border position to their own advantage, and the Czar was the protector of their rights. At the same time, the Danish-Norwegian authorities conducted themselves with care in this area in order to keep from provoking the Russians and to avoid being shut out. The Russians on the other hand were also afraid that the Skolts would turn to the west. The establishment of mining in the early 1900’s increased the pressure on the culture. One concrete example is how the waterpower of the Neiden River was considered so important that the areas by “The Skolte Waterfall” were made available to a possible transfer to the mining company.

According to Einar Niemi, there was a shifting in the legal thinking at the end of the 1700’s. This involved protection of exclusive rights based on age-old use being replaced by securing the needs of the general community by adopting formal equal rights for all within a local community as a principle. Niemi also reports that Norwegian authorities in the early 1800’s felt that the government had to deal with the time-honored rights of the Skolts. This was based on the fact that Norway was planning to either purchase or expropriate the fishing rights of the Skolts. This view was, however, abandoned. The reason could have been that it would have been difficult to defeat possible similar claims from Russia-Finland. Possible claims from other Norwegian interests might also have turned into a problem. They were afraid for land and fish rights and “sacrificed” the Skolts because of fear of claims from other nations.

The use of the Sii’da areas was very old, and this had created clear rules for who had the right to use and rule over this area. The Norrâz, the Sii’da Thing (parliamentary-type court) was responsible to make sure these rules were observed. The Sii’da unit was a community of people, households and families, and they were often not related to each other. The Skolts’ Sii’da areas were geographically defined land, basically for the exclusive use of the members of the Sii’da. “Norrâz” was both the Sii’da’s prosecution authority and court. Some rules had previously been repealed by the Russians, but the established regulations applied up until 1826.

In his book “Skoltlapparna” (The Skolte Lapps”), Tanner writes that according to tradition, the use of Sii’da land could only take place upon agreement with the Skolts. So the resources were strictly regulated in this manner. This shows that the Skolts had the right of use and rule to their Sii’da area and “Norrâz” regulated the usage of all resources up until 1826. But Norrâz could also give outsiders permission to use resources that the Sii’da did not need. The land belonged to everybody in the Sii’da, except the fall fishing places, which must be viewed as practically private property.

From the oldest written sources and up until 1826 when the area was sectioned, both the Neiden and Pasvik Skolts had an undisputed sole right to all salmon fishing within their Sii’das.

In more recent times, information has been obtained from the Skolts in Russia, indicating that the perception of the Skolte Town’s sole right to Sii’da land was so strong that permission had to be obtained from the town in order to settle on this land. The same is true for Swedish/Finnish Lapp land. If such a utilization of another town’s land was desired, an application for permission had to be presented to the town that owned the land. Such permission was mostly granted if the town did not need this area themselves.

The Neiden Skolts eventually lost the right to travel on the Finnish-Russian side, and therefore became totally dependent on the resources on the Norwegian side of the border.
The legal disputes in the 1800’s and 1900’s caused them to lose the sole right to salmon fishing in the Neiden River, and later also their domestic reindeer herd, which was their last economical foothold in their survival as a cultural people. Court rulings on rights to fishing in 1848 and 1930, as well as salmon court rulings in 1864 and 1891, had a negative impact on the economical adjustment of the Skolts/Eastern Saami. However, it was the 1908 ruling that practically led to the loss of the Skolts’/Eastern Saami’s special rights to Livjelak fishing.

In 1929 the two Skolte-/ Eastern Saami reindeer rangers were dismissed, which caused the Skolte Saami reindeer herding to be dissolved. Cases on fishing rights and reindeer herding have since been tried before the courts in the 1930s, 1950-60s and 1980s and 90s.
Despite losing all their special rights within their own Sii’da area, several of the Neiden Skolts have maintained their own legal conception of their ownership of the natural resources. These legal conceptions have been the cause of a number of conflicts and court cases in which the Neiden Skolts have been involved since the border was established in 1826 and up until the 1980s.

As early as several hundred years ago, the Kjøøya Island and sections of the Skogerøya Island have been the fishing villages of the Skolts. Kjøøya is a small island at the outer end of the Kjøfjord towards the Varangerfjord and the open ocean, while the island Skogerøy and the mainland together form the Kjøfjord.
The Border Convention brought about the greatest consequences to the Neiden Skolts. The Skolts had the right to rule their Sii’da area while they were under Russia. However, they lost this right when they were taken under the Norwegian Government.

According to Tønnesen[ ix ], both the “Swedish” and the “Russian” Saami had their own limited territories, to which the Sii’das had proprietary rights. Tønnesen maintains that the Skolts and the Saami had sole rights to the exploitable goods that came in question, namely hunting, fishing and grazing rights. Before the border establishment and colonizing of the Sii’da area, they had full control over their own resource areas. By their own local conceptions, they had had the right to deny outsiders settling in their Sii’da area.

Erik Solem[ x ] writes in his report “Lappiske rettsstudier” (Lapp Legal Studies”), quote:

“With a primitive people living off of hunting, trapping and fishing, there will basically not be a need for proprietary rights in the modern sense. The need for such a proprietary right will only arise when the land in some way or another is prepared, either by construction or farming. At the development stage of the Lapps at the time, the concern was about the right to hunt rather than proprietary rights. According to the available information, I also feel that the usage right which the individual Lapp or Lapp family has had to their “land” has not been unconditional.”

When the colonizing began and after the border setting, the Skolts in reality had to give up their right to govern their resources to the Norwegian Government. Solem felt that in the transfer to Norwegian rule, the Neiden Skolts’ conception on customary rights should have been respected. This would have been in accordance with the Norwegian law’s requirement to protect age-old use.

Tønnesen says that during the first 25-year period after the Kven (Finnish) colonizing, the Skolte Saami’s “prescriptive rights” based on “age-old use” were not accepted by the national authorities.

Einar Niemi states that it was unthinkable for the Norwegian Government to recognize the rights of the Skolts. The most important issue in the security-political situation was to secure a permanent border against “The Russian Threat”.

Historical documentation and details from informants show that a gradual change of customary rights, legal conceptions and utilization of resources took place in the Skolte Saami area in Sør-Varanger in this century.
Up to the Second World War, these changes were not significant. However, the war led to dramatic changes in the Skolts’ usage of natural resources, both on the mainland side and in the Kjøfjord area. After the border establishment, reindeer herding, fjord fishing and Livjelak fishing became the most important elements in the economic adjustment of the Skolts. The Skolts kept their reindeer herd at Skogerøy Island during the summer, but the reindeer were moved towards the Finnish border and to Finland during the winter.

Until 1903 all of the common land, called Skolte Town today, was joint property of all the Skolts in Neiden. Due to the hydroelectric development plans, the areas were dissolved and individual private property distributed instead. This was a part of the plan in order to be able to more easily expropriate these properties.

The new situation of privatization brought about great upheaval and problems to the traditional joint household of the Skolts. Being forced to establish private households for each family created major difficulties in the establishment stage. One can perhaps say that this hasty rearrangement due to privatization was one of the causes for a faster dissolution of the Skolte community in Neiden.

Still, the privatization did not lead to drastic changes in the economic adjustment of the Skolts in the first round. Such changes didn’t come about until 1908 when the Skolts lost the sole right to Livjelak fishing in the Skoltefossen waterfall. Later on around the end of the 1920’s, they lost the right to practice their own reindeer herding. As a result, several of the Skolts took up work in Vadsø as crew onboard fishing boats or on the docks. Fjord fishing for cod, coalfish, haddock, halibut and other fish species also became more important to the Skolte household.

Some of the fishing sites remembered by the informants were in the Kimbukta bay on the outside of Skogerøy Island, on Kjøøy Island, in Nordlevåg, Storbukt and Valen. According to one of the informants [ xi ], Natalie Romanoff, who was a widow, had her fishing place in Nattleigåp’pi in Kjøfjord. This place has been named after her, but the name has been somewhat distorted, according to the informant. This author interviewed four Norwegian and five Finnish Skolts/Eastern Saami between the age of 60 and 89 years. Only two of the informants were women. This author tried to interview several of the Norwegian Skolte women and one man who were relevant to the research, but they did not wish to be interviewed.

In Tanner’s book “Skoltelapparna” (“The Skolte Lapps”), he quotes from a letter written by a teacher in Neiden in the 1920’s, saying that particularly the girls who went to Kirkenes as servants came back after a year with a half-breed child. This reveals a strong racist attitude towards the Skolts at this time. This author believes that this early discrimination led to a very negative connotation, particularly for the girls in puberty who can be very vulnerable. One may, therefore, have reason to believe that the women who refused interviews still had problems acknowledging their ethnic background. In my view, this is very understandable based upon the historical circumstances.

People may feel that the number of interviews is low, but the remaining living Skolts/Eastern Saami having been raised in the Skolte Town are few in number. Up to the Second World War, the Skolts conducted fjord fishing in the Kjøfjord during the summer, fall, winter and spring. The informants believed that the Skolts had customary rights to these fishing grounds, and that the local population had previously respected these rights.

This fjord fishing was very important to the households up until the Second World War. After the war, the fjord fishing of the Neiden Skolts also dropped drastically. According to several of the informants, the reason was, that all the fishing huts, nets, gear and boats were burnt during the war.

After the war, the Skolts had become so poor, that they did not have the finances to purchase fishing plants, boats or build fishing huts at their fishing grounds. Thus their fishing grounds were gradually taken over by others living in the municipality. Since reindeer herding was on the decline, it was necessary to establish farming in the same manner as the immigrated Kvens. However, this could only be done on a small scale since the Skolts were not allocated additional land outside the Skolte Town.

This author’s father repeatedly attempted to apply for additional land, but was rejected every time. Frans Hallonen also applied for additional land, and got it. Frans told this author about a public statement after he was given the additional land. He learned about this statement from a person working at the same office as the man who allocated the land to him. The information was, according to Frans, that the agency would not have given him any additional land had they known he was a Skolte Saami/Eastern Saami. Frans believed that he was given the land because of his name being Hallonen. Hallonen was an ordinary Kven (Finnish) name in Neiden, and the Kvens had no problems whatsoever acquiring additional land. Frans felt that the Skolts could not get additional land due to the old racist attitude on the side of the local authorities. This author has not been able to find any other explanation to this event.
Berries have always been a very important resource to the Skolts. Collecting roots and mushrooms also used to be of great significance to the Skolte household. Up until the Second World War when food in the stores was scarce and people didn’t have much money, all kinds of berries were important to the households.

After the Second World War, picking mountain cranberries and cloudberries became the most important resources next to salmon fishing in order to bring money into the households. However, the other kinds of berries were still important in the daily diet.
The cloudberry held an important position in the Skolt traditional utilization of resources, and had great significance to some of the Neiden Skolts in the finances of the household far into the 1970’s.
Each Skolte family had their own berry marsh to which they had customary rights. When and how this customary right had arisen is difficult to determine. None of the informants could recall any of the Skolts ever discussing or distributing the marshes among themselves.
Until the early 1960’s, the local population recognized the Skolte families’ customary rights to the berry marshes. However, later on, other people gradually started using these areas, as well. Whether the customary rights to the berry sites were recognized is somewhat unsure, but at least these sites were not used by anyone else in the municipality until that time.

In addition to fishing and berry picking, hunting small game such as ptarmigan, hare and fox was important to the Skolte household. Before the war, they also caught Arctic sparrow in the spring as an addition to their diet. According to several of the informants, trapped Arctic sparrow was traditionally a part of their spring diet for hundreds of years.

Several of the informants had been engaged in snare hunting, but mostly for ptarmigan. Hunting and snaring small game for sale was also an important resource to the household income. Individuals within each family usually did this snaring. It may seem like the snare hunting up to the Second World War and for some time after, may have had a certain place in the Skolte families’ joint household income in the Skolte Town.

After the war, this hunting gradually developed into an individual way of earning money, because there were otherwise few ways of taking a paid job in the community. The traditional trades have most likely been essential to the Skolts in order to hang on to their identity and their cultural community. It may seem as if ethnic identity and social organizing are closely attached, and these become central elements in a future cultural re-establishment process. Some of the Skolts who lived in Boris-Gleb prior to the Second World War, and who were forcefully moved from there in 1939, later settled in Sevettijärvi. They had had their fishing grounds in Ropelv, Jarfjord and Pasvik. Several of the Finnish Skolts continued using their fishing grounds on the Norwegian side for a long time after the war.

Among other people, Katri Jefrimoff and the brothers, Masja, Mikko and Illeppi Gerasimoff, spent their summers at their traditional fishing grounds in Jarfjord as long as their health held up. They also used their customary rights and fished for salmon every summer in the Pasvik River.
Katri Jefrimoff and Mikko Gerasimoff conducted fjord fishing into the first half of the 1960’s, but finally had to give it up due to old age and failing health.
The Finnish Skolts customary rights and rights to the fish resources in Jarfjord and in the Pasvik River were recognized by the local population. They managed to maintain these areas as long as they kept using the resources. It must, therefore, be supposed that the Neiden Skolts customary rights and rights to the fish resources in the Kjøfjord also would have been recognized in the same manner, had they had a financial basis to continue their fjord fishing after the war. Some of the informants reported that the Skolts utilized resources on the Finnish side of the border far into the 1950’s, and they believed to have customary rights to these areas. The Finnish forest ranger who was in Pahkanajohki at the time, accepted this resource usage, a fact which has been confirmed by both the Norwegian and Finnish informants.

Several places in the Finnish area still carry the names of the previous harvesting settlements. Among others, this author’s grandfather had his harvesting settlement by Rekkijärvi and this settlement is still known by the older Skolts as “Mikitän kentä”. I would like to conclude this presentation with a brief summary of the history of the Skolts/Eastern Saami and the historical developmental aspects of the prevailing customary rights and legal conceptions. Before the border establishment, the Skolts were semi-nomads with seasonal settlements.

The Skolts’/ Eastern Saami’s utilization of the resources involved migration between four seasonal settlements. Their land areas were part of a larger community of Sii’das each of which had their territories in Sør-Varanger and parts of Kola. They were originally a trapping, fishing and hunting people like most indigenous people, but the special annual cycle of moving to permanent settlements was quite characteristic of their culture. Up until the border regulation and for some time after, their summer settlement was located in Neiden, because the river was the life blood of the culture. They moved to the summer settlement early in spring, among others to fish for salmon in the Skoltefossen waterfall. The Livjelak fishing was one of the most important reasons for the summer settlement being placed in the Skolte Town. The Skolts also traded with Russian and other sea-faring merchants centuries before the area became Norwegian territory. Their land areas were divided into Sii’das, in which the Neiden Sii’da was the smallest and most significant of the Skolte Sii’das. The Neiden Sii’da was split in two in 1826 because of the border establishment.

The Skolts/ Eastern Saami are the indigenous people of Sør-Varanger and Kola, and the Skolte culture is by many regarded as ancient Saami and one of the pillars of the Saami culture. International politics, social Darwinism, colonizing, the Russian revolution and the Second World War brought dramatic changes to this cultural joint community. After the border establishment in 1826, the Neiden Sii’da was split in two. The population of the Sii’da remained on the Norwegian side. Later on the Sii’das east of Neiden were evacuated and forcefully moved to the Nellimand Sevettijärvi area in northern Finland and to Lovozero at Kola, leading to a very difficult situation for the Skolts.

After the border, the Skolts began a newer form of reindeer herding which became more extensive as time went on. Therefore, reindeer herding in combination with fjord fishing and the fishing in the Neiden River became important elements in the economic adjustment of the Skolts/Eastern Saami up until the Second World War. After the war, carpentry and wood construction, roadwork combined with a small farm were activities that sustained the Skolts in Neiden. However, the modernization of agriculture in the 1960’s also led to the Skolts having to stop farming. Most of the Neiden Skolts live off of social benefits today.

Norwegian minority policies and colonizing caused the Neiden Skolts to lose their economic and cultural foothold. The cold war caused the Skolts on the Russian side to be driven away from their economic areas on Kola during the war. The Skolts currently live separated and distributed among the national states of Russia, Finland and Norway. The Skolts who used to live in Pasvik and Suenjelli Sii’da, today mainly live in the Neiden Skolts’ previous Sii’da area in northern Finland. Lately, the situation of the Skolts has been given attention in Russia, Finland and Norway. But in contrast to Russia and Finland, the Skolte Saami cultural traditions in Norway have been extremely weakened.

The Skolte Town in Neiden has been the summer settlement of the Neiden Skolts for thousands of years. However, since the border, it eventually became a year-round settlement. Historical documentation shows that prior to 1826, the Skolts had control over the resources in their Sii’da areas with their governing “Norrâz”. The Skolts used to be a prosperous people, but the border establishment in 1826 caused them to later lose their valuable resource areas and rights.

The border and the public minority policy caused the Pasvik Skolts to be evicted from Norway and the Neiden Skolts to lose their entire natural foothold. They finally got to keep a small part of their summer settlement, “The Skolte Town”. The Neiden Skolts first lost their sole right to the river and later on they lost their reindeer herd. After the Second World War, they gradually lost their customary rights to the fishing grounds in the Kjølfjord and in Sør-Varanger in general.

The Skolte Town, salmon fishing in the river, Livjelak fishing in the Skoltefossen waterfall and St. Georg’s Chapel have been strong symbols characteristic of the identity of the Skolts in Norway. The Orthodox religion and the annual religious service the last Sunday in August in particular have been important symbols to this culture.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, the local community and society in general started using all the resources to which the Skolts previously believed to have customary rights. Among other things, it became quite common in the late 1960’s that people from out of town and others in the community started picking cloudberries on the marshes that the Skolts had considered to be their areas.

Modernization in the agricultural sector after the war brought about mechanizing. This led to a change in the way farms were operated, requiring larger tilled fields and farming machines. Since the Skolts were not granted additional land, they did not get a livable condition regarding their economic adjustment. The small pieces of land owned by the Skolte families in Skolte Town didn’t provide the profit necessary to purchase machinery for farming.

These changes in agriculture from the late 1950s and early 1960s, as well as the municipality’s restrictions on the Skolte Town from the 1960s, constituted two of the most significant reasons why the Skolte families had to stop farming.

The previous restrictions and the current protection process have caused the two last Skolte families, who for many years have been trying to establish an economic livelihood in Skolte Town, to be forced to move away from their last core area in Norway.

In Skolte Town there has been life and activity throughout the summer for hundreds of years. For almost two hundred years now, there has been activity all year round, but this activity is now gone. It was once said that the Skolts were a happy and content people. Today there are few traces left in Neiden and Norway documenting and making visible the Skolts’ previous way of living, their culture and language.
Ever since the border, the Neiden Skolts have been aware of their previous historical rights to the resources in Sør-Varanger, and have conducted a continuous battle to keep their traditional customary rights, but to the present without any result.

The informants told about the Skolts previous and current utilization of fishing grounds, hunting areas, berry marshes and other resource areas. They also talked about their previous and current customary rights and legal conceptions regarding these resources. Some of the informants feel that the Skolts should be given back their rights to reindeer herding and the administration of the entire river including Livjelak fishing. A smaller group, including this author, feel that the Skolts should be given back the rights to Livjelak fishing and the administration of the sections of the river that are part of the protected area for the Skolte Town. They feel that the section of the river that is being automatically protected is to be a part of the resource basisfor the re-establishment of the Skolte culture, because one of the principal premises for the protection is precisely the re-vitalization of this culture.

Previous research on the Skolts’ customary rights and legal conceptions regarding resource usage in the various Skolte Sii’das, previous legal disputes over salmon fishing and reindeer herding, as well as the informants’ own reports and opinions show that the Skolts have had, and still have, the legal conception that they can still exercise certain fishing and reindeer herding customary rights.
However, many of the interviewed Skolts feel very frustrated because their views have never been given any weight in any public forums. They feel that the authorities continue to disregard their interests. The past losses in court and the present protection of the Skolte Town have brought about a state of depression among several Skolts. The historical course and previous discrimination has caused many of them to lack faith in changes in official policies occurring any time soon that would improve their situation in the near future. However, all of the informants were still convinced that these areas had been used by the Skolts for centuries. Most of them believe that the Skolts/Eastern Saami still should possess the rights of resource utilization in these areas.

Documentation shows that the cooperation between the Skolte groups and their utilization of resources have been boundary-breaking after the Second World War and up until 1960’s. This shows that the Norwegian and Finnish Skolts have had a good and close cooperation and that the proposal of the Saami Rights Commission on a future cooperation may become a reality.

Therefore, the conclusion is that although many of the Neiden Skolts continue to feel that they have customary rights to the resources of the area, the previous court rulings on the Skolts’ special rights to salmon fishing in the Neiden River and reindeer herding have gone against the Skolts. Most of the Norwegian Skolts therefore currently have little faith in justice ever being done in their favor.


[i] Sii’da: Territory, relations and life of Saami families; the people belonging to one unit.

[ii] Rolf Enbusk: The Eastern Saami in Neiden. Published by SLF in 1984. Trykkeriservice AS, Lakselv.

[iii] Einar Niemi: The Eastern Saami in Neiden, resource adjustment and rights – 1989.

[iv] Ørnulf Vorren: Reindeer herding and nomadism in the Varanger region.

[v] Steinar Wikan: The border community of Neiden.

[vi] NOU 1997:4 The Natural Basis for Saami Culture, Ch. 7.1, p. 340, second to the last paragraph.

[vii] Astri Andresen: The Sii’da that disappeared – 1989.

[viii] Väinö Tanner: Anthropological studies in the Petsamo area. “The Skolte Lapps” – 1929.

[ix] Sverre Tønnesen: The right to the land in Finnmark.

[x] Erik Solem: Lapp legal studies – 1970.

[xi] Informants: Nine informants (ref. pages 6 and 7 in the research report).