Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

The Long Walk VI: An Interview with Robert Paine in Three Acts

Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

The Long Walk VI: An Interview with Robert Paine in Three Acts

Article excerpt

March, 2001 Robert Paine, and Hugh Beach, two enthusiasts of Saami ethno-politics, reindeer pastoralism and northern studies in general, have ensconced themselves at the latter's home in Stockholm. Their mutual project assignment from the journal Nomadic Peoples is to come away with the makings of an interview article featuring Robert, and toward this end the table at which the two white-haired anthropologists sit is strewn with papers and books on herding, and cluttered with cassette tapes, microphone, recorder and a freshly opened bottle of Glenfiddich.

it is evening, and Robert, recently arrived from Tromso, Norway, and bursting with the latest developments in Norwegian Saami affairs, is flatly disinterested in any mellow career summation. For him this is a glorious opportunity to talk reindeer and Saami affairs. In fact, for the both of them the pleasures of field memories and herding comparisons prove irresistible, but in the back of a mind whose acuity decreases with the Glenfiddich, Hugh knows he must also coax from Robert some basic reflection on the why, how and wherewithal of his pastoral engagement.

Act I

As the curtain rises, Hugh is fiddling with the recorder, mumbling 'testing, testing', while Robert is off and running.

Robert: They're doing it again! The Norwegian reindeer administration is making the point that Saami competition among herders must be reduced, as it is 'conflict generating' and 'resource destructive.' Whereas Saami pastoralism is based on such competition!

The Norwegians are now dictating that Saami must have this regional board (omradsstyre) and are proud that they have handed this decision-making tool to the Saami. Yet these regional boards are framed in Norwegian terms. What we get is herding competitors from different groups placed together in the same board. Next thing you know, the Regional governor (Fylkesmannen) criticises the regional board for being composed only of Saami and pushing only the interests of herding Saami while neglecting the interests of other Saami. The governor throws in the enlightened comment that herding is not alone in being the bearer of Saami culture.

Hugh: It's the usual divide and conquer scenario. Swedish Saami policies have been built up on the framework of creating Saami category factions which are then pitted against each other in resource competition. So these national state administrations claim on the one hand to be eliminating allegedly destructive Saami competition between herders, while on the other hand they create and cement competition between factions in another frame--not to mention the skewed competition for land use allowed between Saami interests on the whole and those of extractive industries such as forestry or hydro-electric power dam construction.

Robert: The governor goes on to say that he agrees that pastoralism is too heavily regulated by the state and that the pastoral business should deal with its own internal issues itself. It sounds great, but he then claims this is not so easy with biased interests controlling regional boards. Hence the state should place the upper limit for herd sizes in an area, with other interests (Saami and Norwegian) in mind, such as fishing. In a nutshell, authorities who launch 'models for' regulations of Saami pastoralism sometimes give them some autonomy but then claim they are misusing it, causing internecine conflict and thus necessitating state controls.

Hugh: Let's hear some more about the positive aspects of the competition between Saami herders.

Robert: The first thing is that it is an egalitarian society and therefore there is competition. What is the competition about? Well, I'd say it is about the meaning of life. And so much of that, for these pastoralists, is bound up with reindeer: their husbandry, and pride in herd composition. Competition is really high in egalitarian societies. However, some people are likely to step over the mark, not to act within the moral consensus. …

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