On the Trail of the Iriadamants
It was more than one year ago that we began searching for the archives of the Iriadamants, the so-called “lifestyle Indians”. After several trips to Oulu, we were finally able to locate the materials that had been placed in storage over 25 years ago. It was almost as if Ilpo and Seija Okkonen had wanted to store these materials as well as their memories of the time they spent with the Iriadamant community in a place where they would perhaps never be found.
With Ilpo leading the search, we looked through several rented storage spaces until we finally ended up in the attic of Ilpo’s and Seija’s house. After many hours of searching, we made our first discovery: a shrivelled piece of birchbark that had been adorned with strange symbols. We were on the right track, and soon we began discovering other materials as well.
This online article features multiple never-before-seen items from the Finnish campsites of the “lifestyle Indians” from between 1991 and 1993: press releases, detailed notes, meticulously organised plans, and disappointments.
This article is based on the materials that we discovered, Ilpo Okkonen's stories as well as numerous TV, radio and article interviews. All of this served as part of the preliminary research for “The Indians Are Coming!” documentary series.
Now, over 25 years after the Iriadamants’ camp was disbanded, we want to share the memories of this unique experiment with the wider public.
Founded in 1973, the group “La Tribu” (Tribe) later changed its name to Ecoovie (Ecological Life). In 1978, the group set up camp in the yard of a house located close to Paris, and they used this location as their base of operations where they could cultivate and sell natural products. In 1984, the Ecoovie community began a worldwide walk, planting trees and educating people about their philosophy, which was based on Native American traditions.
Later, the group became known as the “Lno-Iriadamant”, or just the Iriadamants, and in Finland they were also referred to as “lifestyle Indians”. The Iriadamants also had a few more permanent camps in Europe, such as in Italy. The Iriadamants’ Finnish camp housed almost 100 people.
“The Iriadamants dressed up in Native American garbs and adopted Micmac-language names. They wanted to implement their survival project as an ethnic group, as a group of people with its own culture and celebrations, manners, music, song and, finally, language. What the Iriadamants did not understand was that the Finns took their Native American antics literally.”
Professor Matti Sarmela (Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society, 3/2004) “How to define the Iriadamants”
Daily routines in the Iriadamant camp
Life in the camp revolved around planetary rhythms. The sun and the moon provided the basic rhythm for the day, month and year. The annual cycle was divided into three-month periods, with the year changing during the vernal equinox. Daily routines changed with the seasons.
The day featured three important moments, each with its own significance.
Morning/before noon - Spirituality, communality
In the morning, the members of the community performed the surya, their sun salutation. This act included yoga-like movements that were used to welcome the sun in a graceful manner. When the sun appeared, the fire watchers would say the word “surya”, after which the camp’s daily chores could begin.
The morning was dedicated to productive activities that served the entire community, such as plant gathering and the building of dwellings.
Day/afternoon - Material, global matters
The sound of drums served as a call for the community to gather and present the food that each member had found. The offertory, or gift-giving ceremony, would also occur during the day.
The members of the community made gifts for one another based on each other’s needs, such as ponchos, pearl headbands, bracelets and wooden sunglasses. The gifts were presented, and the maker of the gift described the fabric their gift was made out of, or what colour had been used to dye it. After the offertory, the people returned back to their work.
The afternoon was reserved for personal development and research work.
During the afternoon, the members of the community also began preparing the only meal of the day.
Evening - Emotions, privacy
The only meal of the day was served after 6 pm, and no other food or drink was to be consumed during the day. The meal was eaten in a circle.
The earth guardian gave each person a small piece of a chapati bread that had been cooked in an open fire, which was then broken and handed to the person sitting next to you, as was done in pre-Christian times. A common water container was passed from person to person. After the sharing ritual was complete, each person withdrew to eat in solace. The food that was served was completely vegan and contained a great deal of wild plants. During the summer, up to half of the community’s nutrition would come from wild plants.
After the people had finished their meals, they would gather around campfires and sing, play music and recite poetry. The evening often featured several parties, and in a camp of a hundred people, birthdays were a regular occurrence.
The rise of the Earth – i.e. the sunset – was witnessed while standing up. On top of our rotating planet, the people focused on the thought that it was in fact the sun that stood still while the Earth rose up.
The roles in the camp
The spokesman Apjoilno had been chosen unanimously in a special ritual to act as the camp’s spokesman. The role of the spokesman was to represent all others but oneself and speak on behalf of the camp.
Apjoilno did not lead the camp, but the guardians of the elements made all decisions concerning the camp together. Inside the camp, the spokesman acted as the person who transferred, taught and supported others in understanding the tribe’s age-old wisdom. He also served as the personal mentor for every person in the camp. All discussions were confidential in nature and each party was bound to secrecy.
The guardians of the elements included the guardians of fire, earth, water and air. Every three months, a new set of guardians was selected, and those who were chosen were given new names for the duration of their term.
Each guardian had their own responsibilities and tasks.
The fire guardian was responsible for the security of the camp, maintaining social relations, as well as heating and construction activities.
The earth guardian was responsible for procuring food and taking care of the camp's alveoli zoning.
The water guardian’s responsibilities included taking care of the camp’s supply of drinking water, watering the crops, transportation-oriented tasks, as well as health care.
The air guardian was responsible for music, communications and clothing, among others.
In addition, the reflect, ensured that every guardian had what they needed.
Ilpo Okkonen’s role was to serve as Apjoilno’s right-hand man and to be in contact with decision-makers, public authorities and the press. He also served as the spokesman's chauffeur, ready to depart at a moment's notice, even in the dead of night. Ilpo also worked as an interpreter and translated documents into Finnish and English.
Seija Okkonen’s duty was to greet visitors and tell them about life at the camp. Seija also taught the camp’s community about parenting, music and veganism.
The spokesman of the Iriadamants, Pierre Doris Maltais, was a native-born Native American of the Micmac tribe, or so he claimed. He was known by other names as well, such as Apjoilno and Norman William. In this article as well as in the documentary series, we will refer to him as Apjoilno, as this was the name that he was popularly known by in Finland at the time.
Apjoilno established his group La Tribu (“The Tribe”) in Canada in 1973. He served as the group’s spokesman throughout its existence.
Those who spoke with Apjoilno described him as an especially intelligent, fatherly, decisive, stable and radiant person who could also act tough when he needed to. Others described him as a skilled manipulator and megalomaniac.
After the Finnish camp was disbanded, rumours began circulating within the community. Apjoilno’s dishonesty towards the group began to surface, and he lost the trust of his followers.
By the end of autumn in 1993, a trial began in Belgium where Apjoilno was accused of embezzlement, fraud, and misuse of his position of trust. However, he would never appear in court.
After many twists and turns, Apjoilno finally managed to retreat to Nicaragua, where he ran an inn.
According to unconfirmed sources, Apjoilno died in Nicaragua in June 2015.
The ESSOC project
Erkki Pulliainen, Member of Parliament and director of the Värriö research institute, invited the Iriadamant tribe to Finland to participate in a 7-year research project that was to be arranged in collaboration with the University of Helsinki. The ESSOC (“Ecological Sylvilisation and Survival with the Aid of Original Cultures”) project was the brainchild of both Okkonen and Pulliainen.
According to the press release sent by Pulliainen, the project “is a purely scientific project that focuses on survival in Finnish conditions with the plants that nature provides throughout the year, and the effects of Native American methods for tending the soil on the forest’s rotation cycle.” The project also included the development of survival strategies for economic and ecological crises.
The project featured data cards that were used to survey the soil, organisms and vegetation for the camp’s alveoli fields. The camp's aim was to become self-sufficient within seven years.
The community’s previous know-how and the research data that was collected in Finland were to be collected into books, in collaboration with the Finnish National Agency for Education. These books would have focused on the collection and utilisation of wild plants, for example, and they were meant to be included in the national curriculum for 1994-95.
The University of Life
The University of Life was established in Paris at the end of the 70s. The university’s first president was Johan Galtung from Norway (Professor Matti Sarmela (Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society, 3/2004) “How to define the Iriadamants”). Galtung established the Peace Research Institute Oslo in 1959.
The community's philosophy, adopted traditions, educational methods, handicraft skills, natural knowledge, planetary history, the future, as well as the principles of sustainable development were all part of the University of Life's curriculum. Life at the camp was one of constant study.
The plan was to establish a separate Arctic Forum, whose purpose was to facilitate even more wide-ranging co-operation with universities from around the world.
The camp's aim was to become self-sufficient within seven years. Before they arrived in Finland, the Iriadamants had begun farming crops in Sollefteå, Sweden. The community stored its food in Pajala, Sweden, and its stockpile was replenished with the help of the Iriadamants’ other sites in Europe. The storehouse in France was used to provide oil, salt and vinegar, for example.
The tribe was forced to smuggle potatoes from Sollefteå into Finland in the dead of night, as Finnish law did not allow for any unwashed potatoes to be brought into the country, and the campsite in Finland had not managed to grow any crops yet. The camp received food donations from organic farmers in Sweden and Finland as well as winter clothing and supplies from its support association and from private individuals.
The people in the tribe could also make clothes. The most skilled craftspeople could make wooden sunglasses that were used to reduce the sun's glare when the tribespeople trekked across the snow in spring.
Organic waste was made into compost and all excrement was used as fertilizer.
According to a press released by the Iriadamant tribe on 23 August 1991, the activities of the University of Life were financed in the following way: “The first ten days spent among [the campsite] (lodging, food and teaching) will cost 150 Finnish marks per day (around €37 today), 11-30 days 120 marks per day (€30), second and third month 90 marks per day (€22). After this, you will have received the required education to be able to fully participate in our activities and produce what you use. At the same time, you will also learn about living with the forest and Mother Earth. If you only require food or lodging, the cost is half of the aforementioned sums.”
In addition, the financial aid provided by municipalities totalling 2500 marks (€620) allowed the Iriadamants to arrange workshops in different municipalities for people who were interested. This aid also enabled the Iriadamants to research the suitability of different land areas for the use of the camp.
The annual membership fee for the Elno Iriadamant support association was 50 marks (€12.50) for students, 100 marks (€25) for private individuals, and 300 marks (€75) for associations.
Eleven municipalities offered the use of their land areas for the Iriadamants’ camp and research work. The municipalities provided the Iriadamants with thick information packages on the vegetation, trees and waters in their areas. In the end, the tribe decided to set up camp in Lainio, Kittilä, on the lands of the Polartrio company. This area would have featured the facilities necessary for arranging the tribe’s planned international meetings. The area also contained several buildings that could be used by the camp's information unit and secretariat. The local tavern in Lainio prepared vegan food and arranged winter events. The cottages in Polartrio's vacation area also featured enough space for the Iriadamants’ extensive archives. In addition, the airport in Kittilä could fit a jumbo jet if necessary.
“An area is a cell whose heart is a village. The village itself has a heart, and it operates in accordance with organic laws from the moment that it is established. A village is a holographic depiction of the structure of the cosmos.”
The alveolus - the cell of the Earth
As the camp was being set up, its area was charted and the first alveolus, or cell, was measured. The location of the first alveolus was determined on the basis of some significant tree or other natural phenomenon. The alveolar honeycomb was formed on the basis of the cardinal directions.
One alveolus was a circle with a diameter of seven metres, representing a cell of the Earth. Six other alveoli were measured around the alveolus. These intersected the edges of the centre alveolus, creating a six-sided honeycomb. In between these intersections, an oval-shaped area was used to grow plants once the camp’s farming activities began.
At first, an alveolus was divided into six sectors that were all charted.
The vegetation, minerals and organisms in the area were identified. Individual data cards were made for each alveolus for archival purposes. The card also included a list of the measures that had been done to it, which allowed the camp to monitor the development of its crops and environment on a long-term basis. All crops were grown using polyculture, i.e. diversified farming methods.
After the area of an alveolus had been determined, a large stone was placed in its centre, or stella, and smaller stones were assembled around it. These stones were used to store the heat generated by the sun during the day, and they would then release the heat for the crops around them during the night. Several alveoli were used to create entire fields, and thanks to this cultivation method, the tribe was able to develop its own microclimate for the area.
In the video, Ilpo explains the charting process for the Lainio area using an alveoli map that was found in his attic.
Religious practices in the camp were similar to the animistic beliefs of indigenous cultures, i.e. the belief that everything has a soul. Life on planet Earth was to be respected and protected in every possible way. The Earth was seen as one giant, living organism. Humans, organisms and plants were all significant in their own way, and everyone and everything was connected to one another. The camp was meant to safeguard life, and thus no animal-based food or clothing was used.
During their evening campfires, the Iriadamants continued honing their grand plan for the salvation of the planet. Lapland presented a setting that could be used to implement long-planned ideas. According to the Iriadamants, their plans would have required enough space to house up to half a million persons at first.
The Iriadamants had become familiar with the concepts of the exchange economy and Hanseatic trade. They planned to establish a new world trade union for third-world countries that they could use to gain an equal status during trade negotiations with other countries. Finland would have served as an impartial mediator.
The Headquarters of the United Peoples
There were also plans to establish the headquarters of all nations in Lainio, where representatives from different nations could meet other cultures, implement sustainable development projects, and promote world peace.
The World Fair
An exhibition site in Lapland that would have housed examples of all the items in the world.
The Eco Bank
A bank that would have invested in sustainable development companies and actively informed its investors about what companies the bank had invested in.
The bank would have applied for funding from e.g. Japan, the US, and Australia. The Eco Bank’s return on investment for its green investments would have been 0 %, but investors could have withdrawn their money whenever they wanted. The idea behind the Eco Bank could be summed up with the following thought: Investing in a green future will provide your children with a promise of a better tomorrow.
The Living Museum of Arts and Crafts
A museum for all the nations in the world, which would have been connected to the United Peoples’ headquarters.
The museum’s register would have contained a large catalogued collection of items and other cultural artefacts from private individuals. These items could be seen during certain periods of time in the areas that they were located in. This way, all the items, traditions and age-old knowledge and skills of the world could have been gathered under one roof and stored for future generations.
The Biocosmos: an arctic plant and animal bank
A place that would have been used to store the seeds of every plant on Earth and the genetic ancestry of all animals, so that they could never be erased from existence. A similar plan was implemented in Svalbard, Norway in 2008.
The Lno-Iriadamant state
A new state that would not have been tied to any geographical region. Anyone could become a citizen of this state, and a representative of this state would have been a true citizen of the world. The plan was to create a passport featuring 24 languages.
The Iriadamant camp in Lainio, Kittilä could broadcast its own radio programmes in 1992 with the help of a transmitter and radio mast that had been donated by a Swedish radio amateur. Okkonen had also brought his TV broadcasting equipment from his advertisement company, and plans were made for a TV studio. The goal was to create an alternative media source, to spread information about the community's philosophy and goals for sustainable development.
In the photo, the citizens of Kalliokylä in Kiuruvesi are introduced to the Iriadamant tribe.
In the early summer of 1993, the Iriadamants’ residence permit was not extended, which meant that they would soon face deportation. The Iriadamants painted black X’s on their faces and began a Walking Speech march across Finland, presenting their way of life and philosophy to the locals that they met. They gathered over 7000 signatures for their petition in support of the Iriadamants. This petition was then sent to president Mauno Koivisto.
Their encounters with locals were friendly and many people openly wondered why the Iriadamants could not stay in Finland and live in peace.
Press release for the Walking Speech campaign
The media and the authorities
When the Iriadamants arrived in Finland in 1991, the media regarded the group with an inquisitive interest until it was revealed that they were not, in fact, Micmac Native Americans as they had implied in their first press release. After this, the media was split into two sides: those who were for and against them. The camp was placed under intense scrutiny, and even the smallest misunderstanding could be used to manufacture sensational headlines.
A book written by Belgian reporters in 1990 titled “Ecoovie- le Mic-Mac des services secrets” also contributed to the situation. The book contained several sensational accusations, and the Finnish magazine Vihreä lanka published an article on 11 February 1993 that was based on the book with the headline “The spirit of evil - Parents search for children in sect leader’s camp in Kittilä”. French parents travelled to Finland to meet their children who were now in their forties. These children, now adults who had completely changed the way they lived, refused to meet their parents.
The Finnish authorities’ reaction to the Iriadamant tribe was extreme: the peaceful group was treated like a terrorist threat. 25 police officers surrounded the camp in Kuhmoinen, the campers were handcuffed, and their passports were confiscated. However, no charges were ever filed. The campers’ residence permits were not extended since, according to the authorities, the Iriadamants did not have a place to stay. The campers had already signed a ten-year lease in Kuhmoinen for the nominal fee of 1 Finnish mark per year. Despite the lease, the Iriadamants were deported.
The disappearance of the Iriadamants and the disbandment of the community
In the autumn of 1993, the Iriadamants were prevented from accessing the camp in Lainio. Anticipating this, the community had moved its extensive archives into a barn beforehand, from where the documents were loaded into cars. Quietly, a busload on passportless Iriadamants drove across the border to Sweden and all the way to the Netherlands without ever being caught. Apjoilno is said to have travelled in the comfort of a cruiseferry to Stockholm, from where he continued on in his private car to the Netherlands. A meeting was held in Maastricht, where Apjoilno attempted to manipulate Ilpo and Seija by claiming that Seija and her children had decided to become fulltime members of the community and leave their old life behind. Ilpo said that he did not believe that Seija had ever said such a thing, prompting Seija to admit that no such agreement had ever been made. Apjoilno's plot was revealed in the presence of the entire community.
Apjoilno had already displayed a clear lack of judgment beforehand when he had given the order to transport a man who had fallen gravely ill during the Walking Speech march in a car through Sweden to Belgium, where the spokesman was at the time. The man never made it to Belgium, as he died in a hospital in Sweden.
After the meeting in Maastricht, a group of members departed for the community in Italy to inform them about the death and the events that had just transpired. After a series of long negotiations, they decided to end the entire 20-year tradition, thus disbanding the entire community.
Script, direction, sound design, music and videos
Script and direction
Graphic design and animations
Architect and photographer
The main character of “The Indians are Coming!” documentary series and the man who brought the Iriadamants to Finland
Violin teacher and Finnish wise woman Aino of the Iriadamant camp