Managing Laponia : A World Heritage Site as Arena for Sami Ethno-Politics in Sweden

Abstract: This study deals with the implications of implementing the World Heritage site of Laponia in northern Sweden. Laponia, consisting of previously well-known national parks such as Stora Sjöfallet and Sarek, obtained its World Heritage status in 1996. Both the biological and geological significance of the area and the local Sami reindeer herding culture are included in the justification for World Heritage status. This thesis explores how Laponia became an arena for the long-standing Sami ethno-political struggle for increased self-governance and autonomy. In many other parts of the world, various joint management schemes between indigenous groups and national environmental protection agencies are more and more common, but in Sweden no such agreements between the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency and the Sami community have been tested. The local Sami demanded to have a significant influence, not to say control, over the future management of Laponia. These were demands that were not initially acknowledged by the local and national authorities, and the negotiations about the management of Laponia continued over a period of ten years. This thesis shows how the local Sami initially were marginalized in the negotiations both because of their alleged “difference” and because of their alleged “similarity” to the majority population. By navigating through what can be described as “a politics of difference,” the Sami involved eventually succeeded in articulating their cultural and historical difference in such a way that they were perceived as different but equal in relation to the other actors. By describing the many twist and turns of the negotiations between the local Sami and the local authorities, this thesis shows how the involvement of international agencies and global protection aspirations, such as the World Heritage Convention, might establish a link between the local and international levels that to a certain extent bypasses the national level and empowers indigenous/local peoples and their ethno-political objectives. As such, this study demonstrates how local/indigenous peoples’ involvement in environmental protection work is above all a political issue that ultimately leads to a situation where their relation with the state authorities is reshaped and reassessed.