Inari Sámi people have lived in the area from time immemorial. They have lived off fishing and hunting, and in the last centuries from small-scale farming of cattle and sheep. In the beginning, reindeer herding was also in small scale. The reindeerherding Sámi people from Norway came to the area during the winters. Because of power politics, the borders were closed in 1852. However, the reindeer still crossed the border for over a hundred years, until a fence was built between the two countries. In the 1860s, the first reindeer herding Sámi people from Norway settled in Vätsäri. The importance of reindeer herding increased among the Inari Sámi people in the beginning of the 1900s. Nowadays, Vätsäri Wilderness Area forms a part of four local herding co-operatives: Muddusjärvi, Näätämö, Paatsjoki and Vätsäri, and reindeer herding is an important source of livelihood in the area.

Shafts. Photo: Sampo Parkkonen

The Siidas, Sámi Villages

Vätsäri area belongs to the municipality of Inari, which is a continuation of Inari siida. Siida was the old Sámi society structure. The word siida was used for a community formed by certain families, and for the area that the community prevailed.The inhabitants of other siidas could practise fishing and hunting in the area of another siida only by renting the right to do so. These areas were mostly formed in the Middle Ages, when marking the boundaries of the siidas in the terrain, and documenting them, began. The arctic region was divided into tax districts according to the siidas and, since the peace treaty in 1751, the state borders also followed the boundaries of the siidas. Sweden, Finland and Russia tried for two hundred years to draw the borderline in the Varanger Fjord and the River Paatsjoki area so that trade and access to the Arctic Sea would be possible. However, since the Second World War, Finland had had no connection to the Arctic Sea. So the remote area of Vätsäri has been an important scene of action in the history of three states.

Finnmark Route

Tradesmen and fishermen have crossed Vätsäri area on their way to the coast of Finnmark. The most important route was across Lake Inarijärvi to Suolisvuono Fjord, and over the land to the far corner of the fjord. Trade and fishing was practised on the coast of the Arctic Sea. As late as in the end of 1880s, about 150 people from Inari went fishing in Finnmark every year. The markets of Finnmark are mentioned as early as in the 1500s. The goods of inland were exchanged for seafood and foreign goods. The people from Inari sold live reindeer, reindeer products, fur, shoes made of fur, birds, game, root ropes and baskets. They bought or exchanged hodden, broad cloth, foreign fabrics, hemp, brass cookingware, gunpowder, guns, axes, grain, flour, spirits, tobacco, salt and spices. Depending on the regulations at the time, trade was conducted with the Russians and the Norwegians.

It was not until the end of 1800s that improvements were made along this route by the state. A track from the northern end of Suolisvuono Fjord was lined out until the Norwegian border, the boat routes were marked, and a 45-metres-long rolling bridge was built over Suolistaival to make it easier to draw boats across. The open wilderness huts of Pisteriniemi and Suolisvuono were built to provide shelter at Lake Inarijärvi.