Case Indigenous rights and ecological care at Snowchange Cooperative

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Snowchange Cooperative is a self-described network of local and indigenous cultures, an ecological project, and a powerful scientific organization. Founded in 2000 and headquartered in Selkie, North Karelia, Finland, Snowchange is engaged in myriad environmental justice–oriented endeavors with a specific focus on the endemic cultural-historical idiosyncrasies of non-globalized, communal relation–based ecological governance (Mustonen, 2017). Snowchange Cooperative’s activities include traditional knowledge and culture preservation; winter seining and other traditional fishery operation; ecological restoration of previously extractive industry–based sites (“Rewilding”); and the connection and coordination of indigenous communities across the globe, from the circumpolar North to Australia and Aotearoa. These communities work together in climate change science, traditional knowledge preservation, and collaborative governance (Snowchange Cooperative, 2020; ICCA 2020). The pressures put on global economic and material-supply-chain systems by the current COVID-19 pandemic have only further stressed the need for autonomous, self-reliant communities and ecologies such as those championed by Snowchange Cooperative.

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, North Karelia, Eastern Finland, Finland FI

Authors Andrea Zoll
Topics Climate change, Earth jurisprudence, Ecovillages, Environmental justiceClimate change, Earth jurisprudence, Ecovillages, Environmental justice
Case Report Volume 2: "Resilience in the Face of COVID-19"
Number of participants
Photo courtesy: Snowchange Cooperative

Process that led to the community being resilient (Pre-covid)

The community resilience leading up to the founding of Snowchange is part of a ten-thousand year cultural process stretching back to prehistory (GTA, 2020). Self-sustenance, autonomy, and local-traditional/indigenous uses of land form the basis of Finnish and Sámi heritage—of course, these principles are also at the forefront of environmental justice discourse (Mustonen, 2017). The fishing communities that form the core of Snowchange have long been food-autonomous for their basic nutritional needs, thus minimizing dependence on unstable globalized food systems. Food security—and by extension, food sovereignty—has consistently shown itself to be central to notions of socio-ecological sustainability (Patel, 2009; Patel, 2012; McMichael, 2012). Moreover, the autonomous food security of rural, circumpolar fishing communities is inextricably tied to their specific cultural-historical relations to nature and endemic systems of ecological governance, which echo back to more broad ideas of self-governance on the whole.

It is this autonomy that characterizes the resilience of the circumpolar north and the communities with which Snowchange Cooperative is involved. With Finnish state-sponsored environmental policy largely ignoring the histories and needs of these communities in favor of “development” and extractive industries such as logging and peat mining (Mustonen, 2017; SBS, 2020), these communities have learned to value and prioritize small-scale, localized systems of sustenance and socio-environmental governance. In this realm, Snowchange Cooperative works to connect these communities with each other so as to form a more united, effective body with which to engage state governments. Further, Snowchange also sponsors apprenticeship programs that train young fishermen, preserve traditional knowledge, and make rural community life more attractive (Snowchange, 2020).

Photo courtesy: Eero Murtomäki, Snowchange Cooperative
Photo courtesy: Snowchange Cooperative

How resilience that was established has helped during the pandemic

The autonomy of Snowchange Cooperative’s fishing communities has helped to curb the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2020, market demand for these communities’ fish plummeted, and thus they are facing financial pressures on top of annual fishing seasons continuously made shorter and shorter by the effects of climate change. However, these communities’ low dependence on mobile and globalized society has kept them better able to maintain community self-sustenance, and thus weather not only the COVID-19 pandemic, but any kind of crisis-induced lockdown or economic standstill.

Snowchange’s rewilding work, undertaken in small teams in rural “wilderness” areas as it is, was largely unaffected by the pandemic. However, mobility impediments into Norwegian and Russian sites were encountered due to the closing of state borders.

Lessons learnt

The global pandemic has served to highlight the pitfalls and shortcomings of the modernity and efficiency-oriented world. The current global situation is, as Tero Mustonen put it, “aligned with the continuing onslaught on biodiversity and ecosystem health”, and thus serves to reiterate the need to prioritize traditional and indigenous nature relations – and, consequently, the need to for formal recognition of communal land rights grounded in those relations. For Tero, the pandemic ultimately raises several questions: How can communities respond to stress autonomously? What is the distance between lived reality and formal power? As Snowchange Cooperative’s work shows, autonomous communities removed from the socioeconomic core are better able to respond to the pressures of power and history through their self-governance and self-sufficiency—something for all of us to consider as we move forward through the COVID-19 pandemic.


  • McMichael, Phillip (2012) The land grab and corporate food regime restructuring, The Journal of Peasant Studies, 39(3-4), 681-701, DOI:10.1080/03066150.2012.661369
  • Mustonen, Tero (2017). Endemic time-spaces of Finland: from wilderness lands to ‘vacant production spaces. Fennia, 195(1), 5–24. DOI: 10.11143/fennia.58971
  • Patel, Raj (2009). Food sovereignty. The Journal of Peasant Studies, 36(3), 663-706. DOI: 10.1080/03066150903143079
  • Patel, Raj (2012) Food Sovereignty: Power, Gender, and the Right to Food. PLoS Med 9(6):e1001223. DOI:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001223
  • [SBS] Special Broadcasting Service [SBS Dateline] (2020, September 22). Can Finland become carbon neutral by 2035? [Video file]. Retrieved from