Jussa Seurujärvi, 22, momentarily stops helping his father, 51, and sister, 16, pull up fishing nets from holes in the ice to take in the long, slow Arctic sunrise, which glows with pastel strokes of yellows, purples and pinks. His brow furrows slightly and he says with a gentle determination: “I want to continue living from this land just as my ancestors have done for hundreds and hundreds of years. This is a way of life for us – it is not just a job.”
His father quickly dispatches five prized white fish and a slimy looking burbot ensnared in the net. Almost every part will be used by the family, with even the burbot’s muddy-green scales destined for his mother’s handicrafts. “The Sami way has always been that you take what you need – you don’t take any more,” says Seurujärvi.
This is the scared heart of the Sami homeland in the upper reaches of Finnish Lapland. It is a largely pristine landscape of forests, marshes, scree-covered fells and deep, clean lakes. Often described as Europe’s last great wilderness, it is also home to lynxes, brown bears, wolverines and golden eagles. Thousands of tourists come every year to enjoy the unspoiled nature and marvel at wonders such as the northern lights; more than 100,000 foreign visitors, including 22,000 British tourists, passed through the region’s capital, Rovaniemi, in December 2017.
Read more: The Battle to Save Lapland