Traditional Sámi snow terminology and physical snow classification—Two ways of knowing
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Original versionCold Regions Science and Technology 85(2013), 117–130. doi:10.1016/j.coldregions.2012.09.004
Humans describe the natural environment on the basis of their local experience and their interactions with nature in terms of its relevance to their daily lives. These descriptions are incorporated into local languages and form a specialized terminology that is unique and specifically applicable to needs and practices. In Guovdageaidnu (Kautokeino), Northern Norway, snow covers the ground more than seven months of the year in winter. Therefore, snow defines most of the conditions which must be met to support Sámi reindeer pastoralism. Snow is a prerequisite for mobility, tracking, visibility and availability of pasture plants. The terms used to describe the snow on the ground include characteristics needed to communicate snow properties relevant to reindeer herding. In this paper, traditional Sámi snow terms and their definitions are compared with the scientific and physical classification of snow on the ground. The study of traditional Sámi snow terms was carried out through historical documentation and interviews with reindeer herders. The results showed that many traditional Sámi terms describe snow conditions as they are defined by the international standard; whereas, other traditional terms describe the physical processes leading up to certain snow conditions. A group of snow terms have as their main purpose the clear communication of the snow conditions for reindeer herding to serve as a tool for internal communication within the herding community. A major finding was the herders' snow knowledge which was more holistic and integrated into the ecology of the herd and pastures than the international standard snow terms. The richness and relevance to reindeer herders of Sámi traditional snow terms show a distinctly different view of snow compared to the purely physically-based international classifications. This paper gives an overview of the most important traditional terms, their definitions, and the physical processes associated with those terms. Application of the terms was compared to local weather conditions and the physical processes that created the different snow conditions. The analysis underscores the richness and accuracy of Sámi snow terminology. In addition, this study illustrates the importance of using traditional Sámi terminology when developing adaptation strategies to future climate change for Sámi reindeer herding emphasizing the importance of two ways of knowing.