Michelle Saunders, UArctic International Secretariat Office intern from Memorial University of Newfoundland, describes her trip below.
Leaving from Rovaniemi for Inari, I was immediately pleasantly surprised by the mode of transportation, bus. Coming from Labrador, Canada, when travelling in the North, we only have the option of snowmobile or plane in the winter and boat in the summer - travelling so warm and comfortably in the Arctic was a very welcome surprise.
After we had arrived in Inari, we visited the Sámi Education Institute where we got the opportunity to see where students can study Sámi language and culture, Sámi handicrafts, reindeer husbandry and more. It was absolutely amazing for me as an Inuk woman to see students have the chance to learn so much about their Sámi culture. Students showed us the handicrafts and tools they were working on and I noticed so many similarities between the Sámi and Inuit styles, it's truly eye-opening to see the similarities Indigenous groups have even if they are so far apart.
On our way to the Skábmagovat film festival, one in our group got the call to come to the reindeer roundup in Sevettijärvi and so we joined - not sure what to expect as this was my first time partaking or even seeing real reindeer. What I experienced soon after was nothing short of amazing. There's a certain feeling in the air that I'm not sure if more experience but when I'm around Indigenous people, there's a deep connection that is not talked about out loud but felt everywhere. Arriving at the roundup in Sevettijärvi felt like I was back home again with my people. We were shown the ropes on how to catch reindeer and tag the calves and soon got the hang of it, I laughed to myself at times thinking how fun it would be to catch a caribou in the Labrador wilderness with my own hands as I was doing with the reindeer. And just as a night of many firsts came to a close and we didn't think it could get any better, the Northern Lights shone brightly above us. With new friends from around the world admiring the lights with me, I told them about how some Inuit in Labrador whistle to the lights to get them to dance and come closer. We believe the northern lights are our ancestors or loved ones passed on in the sky and by whistling, they can hear us so we all whistled a tune for my mother and watched as they shifted and moved, dancing for us.
The Skábmagovat film festival came and we attended 2 full days of film screenings. The same feeling I got at the roundup in Sevettijärvi was so prevalent at the festival with Indigenous people all over the world attending - a deep sense of connection and belonging. The films screened were from all over - Canada, USA, Russia, Greenland, Sápmi, Finland, Norway and more. It was so incredible to learn so much about other Indigenous groups, there were often laughs during screenings and also tears. I believe there is such a connection between Indigenous groups anywhere in the world because most of us have grown up the same way, faced the same challenges and issues but also have similar beliefs and values and can share in each other's accomplishment, overcoming the odds. Some of the films that really made an impact on me were "WE UP!: Indigenous Hip-Hop of the Circumpolar North" directed by Priscilla Naungagiaq Hensley (Iñupiaq) and David Holthouse, "Beaivvi nieida/Daughter of the Sun" directed by Sara Margrethe Oskal and "Maj Doris" directed by Jon Blåhed.
It was truly incredible to experience so many things on my trip to Inari, seeing the Sámi Education Institute, going to the reindeer roundup in Sevettijärvi, watching the northern lights and seeing some incredible films at the Skábmagovat film festival - I got to experience and see how connected the Arctic really is.