How Sami and Evenk reindeer herders conceive extreme events

How Sami and Evenk reindeer herders conceive extreme events

1, Marie ROUÉ, 2 Alexandra LAVRILLIER, 3 Samuel ROTURIER and 4 Semen GABYSHEV


1 CNRS/MNHN, France
2 CEARC, Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, France
3 AgroParisTech / Université Paris-Sud, France
4 Reindeer herding Evenk community, Russia


From climatologists’ perspective, or the IPCC’s, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, extreme events first have to be assessed, recorded, and their intensity measured, to establish a series of data leading to a level of confidence. Then comes the notion of complex system, linked to their unpredictability, which was stressed by both climate scientific experts and local knowledge holders, the difficulty of adaptation facing uncertainty, and the need for an ethical reflection on the responsibilities in the causes. Our communication will analyze the knowledge and conceptions of extreme events held by reindeer herders (Sami from northern Sweden and Evenk from eastern Siberia), to understand the similarities and differences with the ones of climatologists. Indeed, understanding these events is critical for the herders in order to build their resilience. We will also consider the importance of global changes in the development of adaptation strategies.

Understanding the physics of the snow cover has always been determining for Sami and Evenk reindeer herders, today more than ever. But what the herders observe and analyse, more than an accounting or the causes of the event, are the consequences. And what they observe, more than the acuity of a particular event, is the succession of events which, cumulated or repeated, can put them in a disastrous situation. They observe a process in which, for example, extreme winds, recorded by climatologists as an extreme event, will not be considered as such by the herders because they have no consequence. In contrast a series of variations cold/warm spell, even if each event does not reach a high intensity, can determine the establishing of an ice crust on the snow, preventing the reindeer to access their food. This sequence, or rather this process, will then be described as extreme event, or its equivalent, a catastrophic year for reindeer herding.

For the Evenk today, the ultimate extreme event are wolves, which can eat up to 30 heads of reindeer in two days. As they are depending a lot on climatic conditions affecting the quality and depth the of snow necessary to Evenk herding, results also from the ban of “regulating” predators’ populations as it was the case during the Soviet period. For the Sami, the extreme event is a winter during which the pasture is not accessible anymore and where they have to feed their animals instead of letting they graze freely. In both cases, the herder’s adaptive capacity is therefore limited.

For the herders it is only the intensity which defines the extreme event, or the place and time where it happens, or the accumulation and repetition of more “minor” events. To facilitate the dialogue between different knowledge systems (local and scientific) we will propose a typology of extreme events from the point of view of herders.



Marie ROUÉ

Marie Roué, Directrice de recherche émérite au CNRS/ MNHN, est anthropologue. Elle a dirigé au Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle l’UMR APSONAT, Appropriation et Socialisation de la Nature et publié plus de 100 articles et plusieurs livres sur les peuples arctiques et subarctiques, en particulier les Samis éleveurs de rennes du Nord de la Fennoscandie. Spécialiste des savoirs locaux et autochtones, des relations biodiversité/diversité culturelle, elle a travaillé avec les Inuit et les Indiens Cris de la Baie James (Québec arctique) sur les conséquences des grands barrages. Son projet actuel avec les Samis porte sur les changements climatiques, et la coproduction des savoirs, entre savoirs autochtones et sciences (ANR BRISK). Elle est membre du MEP (groupe d’experts interdisciplinaires) et du groupe d’experts sur les Savoirs locaux de l’IPBES (plateforme intergouvernementale sur la Biodiversité et les services écosystémiques).


Alexandra Lavrillier is Associated Professor in Social Anthropologist at the CEARC (Cultures, Environments, Arctic, Representations, Climate), University of Versailles – UVSQ , France; 20 years research experience in Siberia; two Siberian native languages’ speaker, nomadic school co-founder with reindeer herders; related current project – BRISK- BRidging Indigenous and Scientific Knowledge about global change in the Arctic (French National Research Agency funded) (UNESCO-MNHN-LMDCEARC) and BRISK’ OBS – Observatories of BRISK project (Institut Paul Emile Victor funded). Co-founder and co-manager of a transdisciplinary observatory of climate and global changes among the Evenk reindeer herders with S. Gabyshev.


Samuel Roturier is Assistant Professor at AgroParisTech in the lab Ecology, Systematic & Evolution, Paris, France, and has a double doctoral degree in biology and environmental anthropology. His research interests include the restoration of socio-ecological systems and indigenous and local knowledge systems in boreal regions, and more especially reindeer husbandry areas.


Evenk reindeer herder from Amur region of Russia and Southern Yakoutia (Siberia) (25 years’ experience), Siberian Evenk native language speaker, and Associated member of the laboratory CEARC (Cultures, Environments, Arctic, Representations, Climate), University of Versailles UVSQ, France – indigenous co-researcher in the project BRISK.

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