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Saami people are trying to stop exploitation of indigenous handicrafts

Saami Council is helping sámi duodji associations to create a wider protection to Sámi Duodji.

The Sámi Duodji mark was established 35 years ago, but it only tells that product is traditional sámi made product. There is a need for more.
Kuva: Aslak Paltto / Yle

Sámi people live in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia and are the only indigenous people living in Europe. The Sámi history goes back thousands of years and one corner stone for the Sámi is Duodji. Just by looking our traditional costumes you can tell where a person comes from with many other details. Our culture is still alive and evolving. But the constant misrepresentation of our culture in different platforms has created a need to protect the culture.

Misuse and exploitation of different indigenous cultures happens almost every day and is very difficult to control, but saami council wants now to put a final stop to the misuse of saami culture and protect it by a trademark. This platform then could later be used around the world by other indigenous peoples.

A trademark that could protect more than traditional sámi handicrafts

Saami Council approved the Sámi duodji mark in 1980 and registrated it as trademark in 1989.  The meaning of the mark is for example to show to the buyer that the maker of the product is a Saami and to protect Duodji from copying. The mark is governed by handicraft associations in each of the four countries.  A year ago Saami council arranged a meeting for all sámi  duodji-Associations  to find out if there is a need to change the mark, to protect also other than traditional handicraft and art.

Saami council launched a short project in this autumn based on this meeting.  The aim of the project is to renew the Sámi Duodji-trademark or at least give references how duodji could be better legally protected in guidance with saami experts. Associations from four countries are  together working with the project to find out solutions. Project is mainly funded by the Saami parliament of Norway.

Educate to tell the difference between fake and genuine

Master of law, Piia Nuorgam is preparing a research about the right of the saami to their culture. She is working it for the University of Lapland, faculty of law. Duodji is one of Nuorgam`s case studies, in which she wants to find out when speaking of duodji- how is the right to your own culture applied. Nuorgam is also researching  traditions in saami clothing and and legal understandings about the rights to traditional clothing. For Nuorgam, this project aims to one goal:

 “the idea of this work is to teach how to make the difference between Sámi and fake. All copying of Saami duodji can't be solved by broadening the trademark protection. We believe that if the customer can choose, they will more often choose the authentic Saami duodji and products and not the counterfits and that might in practise diminish copying. In this project we will find out what are the needs of the Saami handicrafters and Saami people and what they think is worth protecting in Saami culture.”

Jacob Adams is working together with Piia Nuorgam to identify the best way how to protect the sámi Duodji. Adams is a stipendiate of the law school in the university of Tromsa, In Norway and is specialized to trademark law and he sees the same problem as Nuorgam does :

 “To say this is traditional duodji, this is modern duodji, and these are fake or imported, or cheap. With a sertification mark its very easy for visitors and tourists, they don`t need to know the intricasies of the tradition, they don`t need to know the history nor the lineage of a certain maker. But they can trust, if it has an identifying symbol on them, like a mark. That`s what they want, something genuine.

How to tell the difference between genuine and fake?

The first meetings that were open for all, with duodji-associations have been completed during this week, the last one was in Guovdageaidnu, In Norway. According to Jacob Adams its not just handicrafts what needs to be protected:

“So we have to think of a way to protect not just the products, but in turn the culture from that type of exploitation. And I think that`s one of the ways that we are trying to approach, that is with a certification type mark. And thats the project that we are working, trying to look at a system of sertification to say to the consumer: give the consumer, the tourist the information they need to be able to choose genuine or not.”

“People want to know that this a Sámi duodji made by a Sámi”

Petteri Laiti is one of the most known sámi artisans in Finnish side of Sápmi and his shop Samekki is known to the visitors all over the world and sees the importance of the trademark.

“In the eighties when Saami duodji mark was approved by the saami council, saami handicraft associasions had many exhibitions around the world and the saami duodji-mark became known. People know what to look for and its easier to trust with guaranteed quality.”

Laiti has been making traditional duodji all of his life but he sees it important to understand that duodji isn’t the same forever.:

 ”Of course Duodji also evolves and there are new needs and saami duodji enriches when needed. These things can also be solved if it honors traditional knowledge.”

Petteri Laiti has officially retired as artisan and says that he has no need for the mark, but for the future generations its going to be important like his son Sami who has taken over the shop.

“ A Belief that artifact is a sámi made, because people want to know that this a sámi duodji made by a Sámi and not brought here from anywhere else from the world for sale and then tricked that its handicraft from the area.”

Stop the exploiting before it really happens

The Duodji Project looks hard to handle but Adams ensures that it`s just a complication and because the trademark laws are and registration systems are very similar in all four in countries in Sápmi, they have the structure set up.

 “we need to as Saami culture start moving over and playing that system, looking at this more as real legal protection, real property, with real consecuenses, meaning that - if there is a system set up, not will it only protect the culture and the products, but it also gives the Saami people the opportunity to stop others from doing certain things.

 I: Exploiting?

Adams: “Exploiting, which at this really moment we really don`t have that here. “

Project has still three meetings with the sámi handicraft associations in spring 2016 before finalizing the project. You can follow up the process in www.dollagaddi.com

Here is the survey in three languages that is part of the project: The survey

Links underneath showcases how indigenous cultures are being exploited around the world, just during this week.

Oaxaca traditional desing copied in Isabel Marant garment

A petition against Isabel Marant

Nunavut family outraged after fashion label copies sacred Inuit design

Tuoreimmat: Saame

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