Enontekiö was already settled in the early Stone Age, some 8000 years ago. The first people in Enontekiö were hunters and fishers. Reindeer herding became an important livelihood in the last half of the 17th century. The reindeer is a semi-domesticated arctic animal that pastures in search of its food. Reindeer herders were nomads, following the reindeer herds. The nomadic way of life has disappeared elsewhere in Lapland, but it lives on in Enontekiö.
Reindeer herding is still an important livelihood for us. There are about 20,000 reindeer in Enontekiö. The reindeer pasture freely, but every animal has an owner, indicated by an earmark. Herding reindeer requires a deep understanding of both nature and reindeer, the knowledge being handed down from one generation to the next. Gathering the herd for earmarking in the summer is a good example of these skills. Today’s reindeer herding makes use of the modern technology ranging from snowmobiles to GPS devices.
Nature & Traditional Livelihoods
Traditional sources of livelihood in this area consist of a mixture of reindeer husbandry, fishing, hunting, berry picking, and the gathering of mushrooms and herbs. Handicrafts have traditionally had a subsidiary function and a number of people have practised small-hold farming, mainly in the form of livestock management, alongside other activities. Reindeer husbandry began spreading through the municipality of Enontekiö at the end of the 1600s.
Herders did not build permanent dwellings, instead they moved from one pasture to another each season. They herded their reindeer from the coniferous forest zone all the way to the shore of the Arctic Ocean in the north. The first permanent settlers - mostly Lapps, a separate group of people than the Sami herders - are believed to have settled on the shore of Lake Ounasjärvi at the turn of the 18th Century. However, many small Stone Aged dwellings have also been found in the Hetta Area; the majority of which are located on the north shore of Lake Ounasjärvi.
There are also signs of Stone Age settlements on Karjalansaari Island and on the south shore of the lake. Hunting and fishing were the first sources of livelihood in the area. Old hole traps designed to catch deer at the foot of Jyppyrävaara Hill are proof of the area’s hunting history. Today a short nature trail starting from the Fell Lapland Nature Centre Skierri winds its way along an ancient hunting route on raised boardwalks so that you can see the trap hollows and read about the history of wild reindeer hunting in the area. A restored hole trap is also on display in the grounds of the Skierri.
Just as in days of old, when those practicing traditional livlihood methods were often forced to look for complimentary income sources in different seasons, we too are challenged to find ways to support our lifestyle with the dogs through the 8 long months when they cannot work. Living close to the land in a place where the seasons are extremely different makes a year-round economy basis challenging.
Today, reindeer husbandry is the main livelihood that has persisted, alongside the emergence of reindeer associations. For some, it is the main source of income. However, for others, the lifestyle is supported by other means of income or, often, by the state. To enjoy the various special rights accorded to reindeer herders by the government (eg cheap loans and grant subsidies), you have to own c. 80 reindeer. Hence, many people have around this number although you need many more to be able to live from them as a main source of income. This puts a degree of pressure upon the system as a whole.
Between 1979-1998, a total of 72 reindeer farms and 65 traditional livelihood farms were built in Enontekiö. In 1997 there was a hard spring and grazing lands had deteriorated because of the high populations. Hence, herders started to bring their reindeer closer to their homes, keeping them within fenced areas for at least part of the year. This enabled them to feed the reindeer with reduced gasoline (snowmobile) costs.
As the costs of living have continued to increase against the value of natural products, this has placed traditional livelihoods under greater threat. However, traditional sources of livelihood are still a main source of livelihood for about 10% of the population, i.e. 60-70 families and are a partial source of livelihood for many more. It is very rare to find people who live here who do not fish, hunt and pick berries, mushrooms and herbs. Thanks to the pure and Arctic air, the natural produce found in Enontekiö – wild berries, mushrooms, herbs, fish, reindeer and game birds – are pure and aromatic and hence, the value of Lapland’s natural products is slowly getting recognised through Central Europe and a market for this produce is growing.
All of this is a part of the area’s identity and culture. Hence, do not be surprised that every second person walking around the supermarket is sporting a large knife on his or her belt – people still carry these and cups made of wood burls around with them since they can then easily make fire and enjoy a hot drink no matter where they are, in the wilderness. If you are here in mid winter or mid-summer, you may be lucky enough to witness one of the annual events in the reindeer herding calendar that continues to today – calf-marking on the high fells in the summer months in ancient calf-marking sites or reindeer separations closer to the roads in November and December.
Farming has always been a traditional method of livelihood in Enontekiö, and has been carried out on a small-scale for a long time. At one time, almost every house, even the summer huts in PöyrisjÄrvi Wilderness Area, had at least a few cows - some houses had as many as 8 cows. The white Lappish cows produced ten times less milk than the present day Ayrshire or Freisian cattle, which have now taken over from the traditional Finnish cattle breeds. During WWII most Finnish citizens fled to Sweden, and since cows were such an important means of living, they too were evacuated.
Cattle-farming was traditionally a woman's job, but nowadays there are many more men than woman working in agriculture. Nowadays, about 30 inhabitants in the municipality make their living from agriculture. Of these, 12 are milk suppliers, and supply approx. 650,000 liters of milk to Rovaniemi per year. There are about 120 cows in the municipality, with an average of 9.58 cows per farmer. Many farmhouses keep just as many heifers, bulls and calf's, not to mention several sheep and horses. There is even one (pet) pig!
Prehistoric Settlements and Hole Traps
Many Stone Aged dwellings have been found in the Hetta Area; the majority of which are located on the north shore of Lake Ounasjärvi. There are also signs of Stone Age settlements on Karjalansaari Island and on the south shore of the lake. Most of the settlements are small in size and for example quartz, burnt bone and jasper.
Hunting and fishing were the first sources of livelihood in the area.Old hole traps at the foot of Jyppyrävaara Hillare proof of the area’s hunting history. Today a short nature trail, with hole traps along it, tells the history of wild reindeer hunting in the area. A restored hole trap is on show on the grounds of Fell Lapland Nature Centre.
Reindeer Husbandry and New Farms
Reindeer husbandry began spreading through the municipality of Enontekiö at the end of the 1600s. Herders did not build permanent dwellings, instead they moved from one pasture to another each season. They herded their reindeer from the coniferous forest zone all the way to the shore of the Arctic Ocean in the north. The first permanent settlers are believed to have settled on the shore of Lake Ounasjärvi at the turn of the 18th Century.
Post was delivered to villages in the north even before a road network was built in the area. At the end of the 1800s post was delivered by foot over great distances. The postal routes used in those times are now called postal trails. When a road from Palojoensuu to Hetta was opened in 1906 transportation of post to the village became considerably easier. A postal car began to deliver mail weekly in 1923, but only during summer. From Hetta onward post was still at that time deliver by foot along postal trails. One of these postal trail leads from Hetta to the village of Näkkälä and from there to Pöyrisjärvi from where it still continues to Kalkujärvi. From Hetta it is a 60 km trek to Kalkujärvi.
Post was delivered every other week to the Lapp villages in northeast Enontekiö from 1928 onward. When the Lapps built permanent dwellings in these villages the need for postal routes in the wilderness lessened. The postal route was shortened so that it reached only Pöyrisjärvi and then again so it ended at the village of Näkkälä.
Post was delivered by foot during summer and by sleigh during winter. As bicycling became more common the area’s postal service sped up during summer. A fast postman could pedal the distance of the postal route back and forth in one day.
Kilpisjarviis a very small village, and its known history is young. The first permanent inhabitants came to the village as late as 1915. Anyway, nothing remains from those years, since it all was demolished in the Lapland War 1944-1945. At the end of WW2, Finland had to drive their former allies, the German forces, away. The Germans retreated towards north and then to Norway. German forces burnt everything behind them. This retreat and burning of structures left behind is called Lapland War.The road to and from Kilpisjarvi was much improved during the war because during the WW 1 (1914-1918) large amounts of war materials were transported through Kilpisjarvi to vicinity of Tornio. All this material was meant for the Russian front. At the most, between 1915-1916, 1400 horses were in duty to transport military materials on this road. This road, the Northern light road, is the only road in this area, so the Swedes and the Norwegians also use this road for transports to their fells. Kilpisjarvi is a very popular village to Norwegians and they spend holidays here both in summer and in winter time.