Nutti Sámi Siida Leads the Way for Responsible Development of Indigenous Ecotourism in Swedish Sápmi

My experience with Nutti Sámi Siida has been a dream come true. My interest in ecotourism began while I was studying Scandinavian studies, geography, and tourism at universities in Germany and Sweden. During my research, I observed that travelers today are ever-more fascinated by the uniqueness and distinctiveness of indigenous cultures, as well as by the often stunning natural environments where these cultures reside (Zeppel 2006, Notzke 2006, Hinch and Butler 2007, Butler and Hinch, 2007).

However, while tourism is spread to many different geographic areas, it often happens that these areas are indigenous peoples’ inhabited homelands. This type of touristic encroachment has happened, for example, in Sápmi in northern Scandinavia, which is the traditional homeland of the Sámi people (the indigenous people of Fennoscandinavia).

Another issue that has arisen since indigenous tourism has gained popularity in recent years is that there are sometimes cases in which people who are not members of an indigenous community may exploit the touristic appeal of a particular culture. For example, there have been instances where people who are not Sámi have showcased the Sámi people and culture in an inaccurate way, thus creating and spreading untrue stereotypes. This is sometimes referred to as “Disneyfication.”

Considering the subject of Sámi tourism, I noticed that there was a paucity of knowledge regarding these important issues, and that ecotourism in the Sápmi region had been scarcely addressed. Thus, I decided to write my Master of Arts paper on the subject of “Indigenous Ecotourism in Swedish Lapland.” I contacted several Sámi tourism entrepreneurs in Swedish Sápmi about my plan, and requested a visit to their businesses so that I could experience Sámi tourism first hand, and could distribute my questionnaires to their guests. One of these Sámi tourism companies was Nutti Sámi Siida, based in Jukkasjärvi in the far north of Swedish Lapland.

Nutti Sámi Siida invited me to join them in Jukkasjärvi, and I remained there from December 2007 until March 2008. My experience during this time is one that I will never forget; the people, the reindeer, and the natural environment struck me deeply and would later draw me back without hesitation.

The Story of Nutti Sámi Siida

Nutti Sámi Siida is a Sámi tourism enterprise situated in the village of Jukkasjärvi in Sweden. The enterprise is owned by Nils-Torbjörn Nutti, a reindeer herder from Saarivuoma Sámi village, and Carina Pingi from Gabna Sámi village. During one particularly bad winter in the pastures, starvation of the reindeer forced Nils and Carina to move their reindeer to corrals and feed them there. The high costs of feeding the reindeer caused Nils and Carina to come up with an additional source of income. So, in the winter of 1996 they invited visitors to the corrals; these guests paid for their unique experience, and also helped with caring for the reindeer.

This creative idea of combining reindeer husbandry with tourism led to the foundation of Nils and Carina’s tourism enterprise in 1997. Their new tourism venture worked together closely with the famous Icehotel in Jukkasjärvi from the very beginning, and is still today the Icehotel’s main supplier of Sámi tourism activities. All products offered by Nutti Sámi Siida are based on nature and the Sámi culture, and especially on activities with the reindeer. Opportunities and activities with Nutti Sámi Siida are diverse. Among other things they include reindeer sledding, visits to a reindeer corral, lasso throwing, tasting Sámi food, touring the area, opportunities to see and purchase traditional handicrafts, and education about Sámi culture and livelihoods.

Nutti Sámi Siida’s Contributions to Swedish Ecotourism

Nutti Sámi Siida is a member of the Ecotourism Society of Sweden and an approved operator of
Nature’s Best Sweden. All of our reindeer sledding tours have met the Nature’s Best criteria and have been certified. Moreover, Nutti Sámi Siida received the Grand Travel Ecotourism Award for Swedish ecotourism in 2011. The following accolade was given by the judges of the award program:

“Nutti Sámi Siida wins the award for its long-term and patient work in uniting the Sámi culture with the global traveller’s quest for genuine and modern experiences. The concept has not just been a successful ambassador for Sweden’s Sámi population, but has also created attraction value and promoted one of our biggest tourism icons, the Ice Hotel.”

Nutti Sámi Siida has also been awarded the jury declared Indigenous Tourism and Biodiversity Website Award 2010. Nutti Sámi Siida is the only company offering reindeer sledding tours through woods, across frozen lakes and rivers, and even over the tundra. On these tours guests get to handle their own reindeer, while driving the sled in a standing position. These tours, featuring the traditional way of life and transportation in Swedish Sápmi, are truly unique experiences that visitors cannot get anywhere else.

Sámi Ecotourism at Its Best

Since returning to Jukkasjärvi in 2010 to work at Nutti Sámi Siida as the sales and booking manager, it has felt like a long time dream has come true. I now get to work in Sámi ecotourism, which I care strongly about, and every day I work hard to contribute to the development of Sámi ecotourism in a responsible way. I am truly grateful to work for Nutti Sámi Siida.

One of the challenges we face is that many people are not really aware of what Sámi tourism means. To address this problem, in January 2011 our team from Nutti Sámi Siida traveled to London together with VisitSápmi to participate in a travel fair, and to speak about new developments in Sámi tourism. We at Nutti Sámi Siida, together with our friends at VisitSápmi aim to spread its true meaning to people around the world. We also cooperate with other Sámi entrepreneurs in the region in order to make Sámi tourism products more accessible, and able to portray the magnificent land of Sápmi in a sustainable way.

We aim to stop the improper use of Sámi culture and to get rid of harmful stereotypes. We want visitors to experience and encounter true, pure Sápmi in both the winter and summer seasons, guided by real outdoor experts: the Sámi people. This is Sámi ecotourism at its best. Sámi hosts and ecotourism operators, together with mindful visitors, can contribute to the benefit of local communities. By participating in responsible ecotourism activities in Sápmi, visitors can help to conserve the natural and cultural environment within which local enterprises operate and on which Sámi ecotourism is all about.

About the Author: Katja Bechtloff

Katja BechtloffI was born in Germany, and studied at the University of Greifswald, and completed Scandinavian studies and geography with tourism as the main orientation. During the semester breaks, I traveled to Sweden in order to learn the language and to gain work experience in tourism. In 2006, I went to Östersund and Vålådalen in Sweden, working as an intern at ETOUR (European Tourism Research Institute) in Östersund and at Vålådalens Fjällstation. I then decided to write my Master of Arts paper on Sámi Ecotourism in Swedish Lapland. As part of my research, I spent 4 month at Nutti Sámi Siida and were taken out to the work with the reindeer – experiences that I will never forget and I will always be grateful for.

I am now working at Nutti Sámi Siida, the most inspiring workplace, as the sales and booking manager. I am very proud to work for Nutti Sámi Siida and hope to contribute to an ethical development of Sámi ecotourism in Sápmi – Sámi eco adventures. I live in the town of Kiruna, 17 km west of Jukkasjärvi, together with my boyfriend.