Elore 1/2003, 10. vuosikerta
Julkaisija: Suomen Kansantietouden Tutkijain Seura ry., Joensuu
ISSN 1456-3010, URL: http://cc.joensuu.fi/~loristi/1_03/vai103.html
E-mail:loristi (at) cc.joensuu.fi

Common-place of Common-sense

Local level arguments concerning the rightfulness of the ILO convention number 169

Jarno Väisänen

In Finland, Norway and Sweden, there is a debate going on about the rights of the Saami as an indigenous people. A central factor in this debate is the ratification and application of International Labour Organisation's (ILO) convention number 169 concerning indigenous and tribal peoples in independent countries. The aim of the convention is to protect the survival of the ways of life of indigenous peoples in the changing conditions. Furthermore, the decision-making processes and development projects must be done in cooperation with the traditional organizations of the indigenous people(s) in question.

The ILO convention number 169 also includes articles in relation to the re-organization of usage, administration and ownership of land and water, which the indigenous people traditionally occupy or have had access for. Norway ratified the ILO convention already in 1990, but the parts involving the rights to land and water are still open. Finland and Sweden have not yet ratified the convention and the main obstacle is land and water rights.

Cultural studies of ethnopolitics often tend to concentrate on the work of ethnopolitical activists and organizations. Especially the construction of "identity arguments" with the use of culture, tradition and history in the quest for political rights has been a dominant theme. (Anttonen 2001, 31–32.) From these studies and from the media, it is possible to get a good picture of what the representatives of the groups have said and done in public. However, the voices of those the representatives claim to represent remains hidden. Lived life sets different premises for argumentation and it is impossible to understand their argumentation outside the context of social practice. Without looking into the individuals' experiences and listening to their accounts, it is difficult to know what these processes actually mean. (Paasi 1996, 203.) In this paper, I will try to give a description of how the local people who are effected by the ILO convention – but do not make the decisions – argue about the legitimacy of the re-arrangement of the rights to land and water.

The empirical material for this paper comes from the field work I did in the Karesuando region of the northernmost Sweden in late fall 2000.(1) The ILO convention, in particular the re-arrangement of the rights to land and water, indicates significant changes, which are beneficial to some, but not all the inhabitants of the area. Therefore it is quite obvious that there are disputes and controversies also on the local level.

The rights to land and water is a special section of cultural rights, because land and water are a scarce resource. No more new land or water can be created, but what exists has to be divided and regulated. The actual text of the ILO convention and the detailed consequences of its application are unclear for the vast majority of the local people. Indeed, the inquiries and negotiations are currently going on and nobody possesses certain knowledge of the effects of the convention. The direction of the change, however, is acknowledged on the local level as well.

The re-arrangement of the rights by the ILO convention is based on ethnic group membership. The individuals of this community in the Karesuando region are either Saami or Lantalainen.(2)This status of every individual was generally known. In the current situation, it was deemed impossible to switch from one group to another. Thus, all the inhabitants of the area are affected by the ILO convention. It locates every inhabitant in the area. (Cf. Paasi 1996, 227.) Some community members will get rights provided through the ILO convention. At the same, some others will not receive these rights or may even lose some of the now-existing rights. On the local level, the direction of the change and those who will be receiving the rights are known. Founded on these principles it is possible for them to argue about the rights divided by ethnic basis.

These people live together now, and will continue to do so after the application of the ILO convention, as well. For this reason, it is essential to study the debates of the local people, their ways of constructing and presenting arguments, justifying and criticizing the rightfulness of the convention – especially to each other, to those individuals with whom they live.

Rhetorical approach

The methodological frame of my study is Michael Billig's rhetorical approach. According to Billig, rhetorical approach considers thinking as being essentially formed within discourse. In addition, rhetorical approach assumes that common-sense thinking is fundamentally argumentative and that common-sense thinking is composed of contrary, or as Billig prefers to call them, "dilemmatic" themes. (Billig 1992, 15.)

The implication is that if one wishes to observe thinking actually taking place, then one should listen to people discussing matters argumentatively. In the cut-and-thrust of discussion, one can hear the processes of thinking directly, witnessing the actual business of people formulating and using thoughts. (Billig 1992, 15.)

To bring out and document the arguing and thinking of the local people, I arranged and documented a total of seven argumentative group conversations in one week. In these conversations, 2 to 5 members of the community, both Saami and Lantalainen, together and separately, talked about the rightfulness of the ILO convention, especially about the re-arrangement of the rights to land and water.(3) Each session lasted approximately 45 minutes and, except for one, they were held in the home of one of the participants. There were 20 participants altogether. The material consists of 6 hours of recordings and 150 pages of transcription. I deliberately chose a mixed group of participants. My aim was to explore the shared premises for argumentation, so I did not try to stick to a demographically restricted group. In the argumentative group conversations, there were old and young, Saami and Lantalainen, male and female, Laestadian and non-Laestadian.(4)

According to rhetorical approach, ideologies are neither complete nor unified belief systems, which tell the individual how to react, feel and think. Instead, all ideologies are comprised of dilemmatic themes. (Billig et al. 1988, 2.) In this case, the ILO convention aims for equity by taking notice of the special features of the Saami and Saaminess with special actions directed only at the Saami. Equity defined in this way creates an ideological dilemma: equal treatment requires in some situations different treatment.

The ideological dilemma of the ILO convention reflects the ideological dilemma of multiculturalism. In some cases we think that it is just to take individuals'cultural backgrounds into account. However, if that were the case in every situation, things would get out of hand. In fact any general principle, rule and maxim must be facilitated by exceptions and qualifications, which are justified in the terms of other principles, rules and maxims. (Billig 1996, 241.) In some cases we can argue that it is just not to take notice of individuals' cultural backgrounds. We have to accept two contrary principles. Every time we are puzzled by this dilemma in a concrete situation we have to justify our choice – or in rhetorical context our argument. Also, in every case there is a possibility to present contrary, but nevertheless justifiable views.

An essential condition for all arguing is negation, ability to say "no" and justify it (Billig 1996, 18). Human issues of ideology, politics and ethics are of such a nature that pro and con arguments can always be found. There are two contrary sides for each question and in every situation it is possible to argue each side with equal rhetorical force. (Billig 1991, 24–25, 1996, 71.) When it comes to ideological dilemmas, qualifications are used as negation. This holds good especially when a limit of a generally accepted value or principle is reached. On the one hand, the reason behind the ILO convention can not be totally discarded. On the other hand, it can not be accepted without any limitations either, due to the nature of the rights. In the argumentative group conversations, i.e. in the arguments of the local people, the limit of a generally accepted principle was reached. From their perspective "same rights for everyone" and "no changes" are not options as the result of the ILO convention.

In the analysis of local level arguments, the focus is on how contrary yet justifiable arguments are constructed and how they are justified and held on to – or modified – when faced with counter-arguments. Thus, in the recorded sessions, I was not interested in the questions with definite answers, but in the choices made – how, and what, arguments had to be justified. I encouraged the participants to talk about issues important to themselves and steered the conversations to themes that are generally known. There was, for example, a lot of talk about the moose hunting. The hunting quotas been changed. The reindeer herding unit (i.e. Saami) had gotten a bigger quota. The moose, like the land and water, are a scarce resource and the amount of hunted animals must be regulated. From these types of changes, which are in accordance with the division to the Saami and Lantalainen, the local people drew a connection to the assumed result of the ILO convention.

On the local level the ILO convention and the anticipated changes are evaluated through the events of the everyday life as opposed to theoretical problems. Thus, when the local people of the Karesuando region talked about the rightfulness of the ILO convention, they also talked about much more: the village community, kinship, ethnicity, rights and justice, religion and morality, value judgments, livelihood, depopulation of the region, regional politics, et cetera.

Themes of the argumentative group conversations were familiar to the participants. The strange, in fact, unique feature of the argumentative group conversations was the audience. All argumentation is developed in relation to the audience. The speaker, in this case the participants in the conversations, had to start from the premises accepted by the audience. From these premises they had to derive the conclusions, their personal arguments and views.

The participants in each group conversation knew each other quite well, because they could form the groups quite freely. Besides the local participants I was there, an outsider with a recorder. Most importantly, because of my recorder and my aim to publish parts of these conversations, the whole community was listening. A community which consisted of individuals with many different, and also contrary, views. Regardless of my attempts at anonymity, the participants were quite likely to be recognized by other members of the community.

The value of argumentation is in the convincing or persuading effect on the audience. However, in this particular case, the participants hardly tried to convince or persuade the fellow members of their community to modify their views. Instead, in the argumentative group conversations, the participants tried to present themselves as reasonable persons who present reasonable arguments and as reasonable members of the community who live in accordance with values of their community. Moreover, they tried to present themselves as individuals who tried to avoid a conflict. This situation, according to them, was not a conflict between the Saami and Lantalainens of the community, but a case of mere confusion. According to them, there is no room for conflict in their small community. In other words, in the situation, when the division of the rights to land and water and consequently the ethnic and social divisions seem inevitable, the members of the community debate on the theme and still try to avoid a conflict at the same time.

Chaïm Perelman asks if it is possible to evaluate the goodness or badness of value judgments. According to Perelman (1996, 25), the premises and arguments of convincing presentation can be generalized and, in principle, accepted by the universal audience. Perelman's division to particular and universal audiences mainly fits these argumentative group conversations with one qualification. The universal audience exists only as construction of the speaker and it can not be persuaded with arguments ad hominem like particular audiences. The audience of the argumentative group conversations was not quite the universal audience, but nevertheless it was still more heterogeneous than a particular audience. To appear as reasonable individuals who lived in accordance with the values of their community, and to present reasonable arguments, the participants had to apply their common-sense, the communal wisdom shared by all the members of the community. This kind of "good rhetoric" is composed of premises accepted by both the Saami and the non-Saami of the community.

Common-sense is a form of ideology (Billig 1991, 1). The contents of everyday thinking, maxims, values and commonly held opinions are cultural products. In thinking and arguing, people use common-sense which is not invented by them, but has a history. Billig compares the character and influence of ideology on its adherents to the paradox of language. The speaker is at the same time both master and slave of language. On the one hand speech is an assertion by the self. On the other hand, speech is a repetition of old signs. An act of speech is paradoxically repetition which is more than a repetition. (Billig 1991, 5–9.)

As an ideology, common-sense also possesses the character of a dilemma. It happens only rarely that common-sense is tried to be present as an organized structure, and the contrary rules and principles are perhaps easily overlooked. The contrariness and the lack of consistence starts already from the language we use to organize our life-world. The words are not mere neutral labels for things and states of affairs. Words can be used to express moral evaluations. An individual who takes risks can be labeled "reckless" or "courageous". The contradicting maxims and phrases give us contradicting pieces of advice. It is good to "look before you leap", but it must be remembered that "nothing ventured, nothing gained". (Billig et al. 1988, 16.)

[C]ommon-sense may not be a unitary store of folk wisdom, but instead it may provide us with our dilemmas for deliberation and our controversies for argument. The dilemmatic aspects of common-sense, in short, might fill our minds with the controversial things which make much thought and argument possible. (Billig 1996, 222.)

The dilemmatic character of the common-sense must not be downgraded, because it allows argumentative critique (Billig 1991, 22). The ILO convention provides some solutions, but not without creating new problems. The dilemmas of the ILO convention are attached to the pre-existing common-sense. There can be contrary, but equally reasonable, arguments within the shared premises of common-sense. Ideology both makes argumentation possible and at the same time restrains it.

The intellectual ideology may not donate a series of solved problems to common sense. Instead, it may provide the conflicting themes of theoretical dilemmas to common sense, where dilemmas can be re-created and experienced in practical terms. Just as antithetical maxims represent the contrary themes of common sense, so ideology may be characterized by its dilemmatic qualities, which ensure that those living within the ideology cannot escape from the difficulties of dilemmas. The contrary themes of intellectual ideology can be represented in lived ideology, where, of course, they may be attached to the antithetical themes of older common sense. (Billig et al. 1988, 40.)


In the debate about the rights of the indigenous peoples, the past and the future are emphasized. On the one hand, there is the correction of suffered injustice in the past. On the other hand, there is a promise of a better future. On the local level, the conceptions of the past and future of the ILO convention are compared to communal wisdom about the relation between the Saami and Lantalainens.

Edward Bruner examines the narratives about the cultural change of the Indians. Through the 1930s and 1940s, the dominant story about the change depicted the past as glorious, the present as disorganization, and the future as assimilation. The new story emerged in the 1950s. The past was depicted as exploitation, the present as resistance movement, and the future as ethnic resurgence. In his article, Bruner argues that the depiction of one part is related to the conception of the whole. The constructions of the past, present and future are connected in a lineal sequence, which is defined by systematic or even causal relations. (Bruner 1986, 140–142.)

In my view, we begin with a narrative that already contains a beginning and an ending, which frame and hence enable us to interpret the present. It is not that we initially have a body of data, the facts, and we then must construct a story or a theory to account for them. (Bruner 1986, 142.)

Bruner (1986, 139–140) stresses the meaning of the wider social context in the interpretation of the communal wisdom. Transition in the dominant narrative structure was sharp and radical. It occurred within one decade and almost without historical continuity. The old narrative simply became discredited and the new story, the new thriving of the Indians in the future simply took over. As an explanation for this sharp and radical turn, he gives the change in social context. (Bruner 1986, 143, 151–152.) A new story articulated what had been only dimly perceived and legitimized new actions of the social movement. Coincidentally, the ILO convention number 169, aiming for protection, not for assimilation, is one of the most important results of the movement of indigenous peoples. In its principles the ILO convention number 169 is quite the opposite of its predecessor, ILO convention number 107 from 1954. Instead of assimilation and integration, the purpose of the new ILO convention is to protect the traditional ways of life of indigenous peoples in the changing conditions in the future.

The local people are either Saami or Lantalainen, but they are, and have been, much else besides than a member of an ethnic group. They may be relatives or in other social relation, they may be neighbors or work together, they may go to the same services of the local parish. Moreover, many activities go across the line Saami-Lantalainen and the local people are, and have been, in contact with each other in the everyday life. The significance of these activities and social organizations in relation to the rights to land and water is not clear. The global process demands action on the local level, but the general process can not take into account all the local level particularities. The new narrative has gaps and silences that open up space for argumentation on the local level (Cf. Bruner 1986, 152).

There are some very important, essential even, "we" and "they" that the global process does not notice, but which have to be accounted in the local level argumentation. These subjects can be labeled as topics, commonly used and commonly held notions and values (Billig 1996, 228–229). The topics, argumentative common-places of the common-sense, are shared by all the members of the community, the participants and the audience alike.

In the case of the community where I did my field work, these topics are Suonttavaara, Christianity and Verdde-relationship.(5) Suonttavaara is (or was), among other things, an administrative unit from 16th to 19th century. The community is in the origin area of a Christian movement Laestadianism that started around the middle of 19th century. A vast majority of the local people, Saami and Lantalainens alike, are confessing Laestadians and when speaking to the whole community, Laestadianism had to be accounted.(6) The third topic is verdde, a bilateral exchange system between herders and non-herders.

These topics form a sequence of their own. Because Suonttavaara was an administrational unit in 16th to 19th century, the arguments are based on documents. The verdde-relationship still continues although in an altered form. However, the majority of the local people have personal memories from the time when the herding Saami did not have permanent houses, but lived periods in the houses of the sedentary Saami and Lantalainens. Christianity is an important factor in this area. As a topic it refers to the shared past, but more importantly to the future. The Christian Saami and Lantalainens are going to the same heaven alike. The topics overlap temporally, but more importantly, there are no temporal gaps in the communal wisdom. The topics cover the entire time span from the documented and remembered past to the anticipated future. The communal wisdom has an argumentative place for all the historical periods.

The members of the community have to accept the truth-value of the topics and they could not present themselves as ignorant of these topics. This is not only to form a basis for argumentation. The acceptance of the topics has also a moral dimension. By subscription of a certain set of topics, an individual subscribes to a membership of a certain community. And conversely, by criticizing those topics, an individual assumes some distance from that community. The local people can not criticize the topics without moral – and social – consequences. When the participants talked about the moral order, they were in the sphere of that moral order. The debates on the local level are not merely argumentative games of strategic choices, which aim for suggesting a solution and defeating the opponent. The argumentative group conversations have also a moral aspect. "Morality presupposes community, as community presupposes morality" (Jayyusi 1991, 240). Knowledge implies moral demand to act according to that knowledge. In the argumentative group conversations, the participants expressed their morality by taking the right and essential knowledge as a premise for argumentation.

In other words, the topics had to be accounted in a justified view. The stance had to be taken in relation to "we (descendants of) Suonttavaara", "we Christians" and "we verdde-associates". The arguments in the group conversations can be labeled as "we-accounts". However, the topics are by no means simple premises for argumentation and they point directly to the dilemmatic character of the common-sense. The topics are argumentative common-places of the common-sense precisely because they can be used to support both directions, to justify and criticize the rightfulness of the ILO convention. "We" as a modality of argumentation provides in its openness a useful instrument to organize the life-world. The relations of the groups and the members can be organized by connecting and disconnecting, potentially controversial, nominators.(7)

In this way, by the necessity of accounting and justification, the topics are the argumentative place where the dilemmas of the ILO convention are re-created on the local level. The depictions of the past and future, the 'we-accounts' given in the argumentative group conversations can not be considered solely as a source of information. The choices made are the arguments. They are for one view and against other views. Bruner, in his example, presents how the changes in the use of communal wisdom can be sharp and radical due to changes in the social context. In the case of the Karesuando region, the change is anticipated. In the following chapter my aim is to show how the topics are constructed in the argumentation concerning the rightfulness of the ILO convention. The following pieces from the argumentative group conversations(8) show the sharp and radical turns in the use of communal wisdom existing simultaneously.


The purpose of the ILO convention is to protect the traditional ways of life of indigenous peoples. In the argumentative group conversations, I encouraged the participants to talk about the life in the past. How have the local people lived in the past? How have the Lantalainens and the Saami gotten along?

Jarno: Who should then be the ones to decide for these rights? Because here is the confusion. Should it be the people themselves here who should make them?
Emil: It is clear that those who live here, they should decide for their lives. It is right.
Julius: It would be good if the people could.
Emil:That how to act here.
Julius: Um. Like before.
Jarno: How was it before?
Emil: It was siida.(9)
Jarno: To what time this siida goes?
Emil: It is not that much time.
Julius: And it was so that everybody had lodgings and verdde.
Jarno: Well what time this was then?
Julius: Before these houses came. That was 1960.
Emil: 60 came the first houses.
Julius: These first houses.
Jarno: Yeah 60s.
Julius: People lived here at verdde houses and they were kind of relatives.
Jarno: How it can have changed so much in 30 years? In 40 years, yeah. Right about.
Julius: Well, this modern world came.
Emil: Um. It was such a big step.
Julius: It was a very big step. The people are not so much dependent on others.

Julius and Emil bring forth the verdde-system as the way of the relationship between the Saami and Lantalainens in the time "before" the modern world. The verdde-system is a very interesting memory-dependent institution. Verdde is a topic, like Suonttavaara and Christianity, because arguments for and against the ILO convention are found here. Firstly, every reasonable view must take a stance in relation to the verdde. Secondly, the participants could not simply deny the importance of the verdde. This meant making choices and justifications. The accounting of verdde was necessary and the use of topic necessarily includes the argumentative dimension. In the arguments placed in verdde, communal wisdom is employed.(10)

As background information it can be said, that verdde is a bilateral relationship exchange system between herders and non-herders. The herders (Saami) had places and contacts (Lantalainens) along the herding routes. The herders received labor, supplies and accommodation from their hosts. In return, the sedentary hosts received reindeers for transportation and products from reindeer economy. The relationships do still exist in the form of various favors. However, the very concrete part of the exchange system, the periodical winter accommodation of the Saami in the houses of the sedentary Lantalainens (and Saami) practically ceased in the 1960s when the last of the herding Saami got permanent houses.

The life experience has an effect on the use of the communal wisdom. Local people about 50 years, like Emil and Julius above, and older remember the moving of the herding Saami to their own houses. They often stated this change in social relations as the end of the verdde-system – although cooperation still continued. In one session, I had a chance to talk with a reindeer herder, younger than I, who claimed that the verdde still exist.

Jarno: Now that we a bit younger are gathered here, how was it before? What kind of picture you have of the old times to which all the people refer to? How has it been back then? Now that it is us who going to continue this
Valtter: [Um-m.
Jarno: to the future generations, but haven't seen that old times. None has lived the time when those houses were not built there. What kind picture you have gotten of the old times? I think it is very interesting question to younger people.
Valtter: Yeah. No well, well, it has been more connection between people, that people have needed each other. It has been so that. (.) That they have like here that Lantalainens and Saami they have. (.) As long as people need each other, so long the connection lasts and (.) peace too.
Jarno: Well Simon you mentioned that the verdde-system still works.
Simon: Yes yes, the verdde still exist.

Simon was born in the 1970s, but he nevertheless has verdde relationships. While herding the reindeer, he has even had accommodation in the house of his hosts, who are Lantalainens.

The Verdde has been a central institution in regulating the cooperation, social life and division of labor and resources. After the previous piece, I asked Simon directly what the verdde-system consists of.

Simon: Well now it is not so that you live at their house. But it does. I do not know how it does.
Jarno: Do you have verdde in the both ends {of the herding route}? How is it in this herding unit? You have them at that village.
Simon: In {that village} are some and in yes they in {that another village}. Yes so it is.
Jarno: So that they are kind of on the way. Or can you say so? How is it bound to reindeer roaming?
Simon: Well, that is there. With that somehow.
Jarno: Um. People have said to me that it was before, this verdde-system. But it appears they mean that people lived in the houses before.
Simon: Yeah.

The participants in the argumentative group conversations, like Simon here, could not give a general description of the verdde system. It is typical that it is difficult to describe states of affairs abstractly and separately from their normal context. The non-formalized nature of the verdde does not mean that it would not have been a morally demanding part of social relations.(11)

By using the communal wisdom and the topics, the debaters could construct subjects, "we" and "they" relevant to the argumentative context, that represent groups or situations that either justified or criticized the rightfulness of the ILO convention. Michael Billig (1992) uses the concept of double-declaiming as a way of constructing "us" and "them" in the argumentative context. There can not be "us" without "them". Billig's idea is that, like in argumentation in general, both the explicit and the implicit aspects must be noted. One constructed "we" must be seen in relation to other constructions of "we" and "they". An argument for some view must counter some other view(s), even though it is not expressed explicitly.

As a topic, the verdde deals with personal experiences and eye-witness testimonies of how the life was "before". It is not possible to give an exhaustive account of any topic, independent of the argumentative context. In the context of argumentative group conversations, this was not even attempted. Instead, glimpses of the past and life as experienced were brought into the argumentative context. With these chosen fragments, the participants could justify their views about the present and the future – and the re-arrangement of the rights to land and water. In other words, the we-constructs of the double-declaiming are especially characterized as metonymical (Billig 1992, 139). (12)

In this way, the participants were never directly wrong in front of their community. They merely chose to bring forth what was their own or commonly shared experiences. Everyone had to have some knowledge at hand about the verdde and the understanding that verdde was a central institution in the cooperation of the Saami and Lantalainens.

In the argumentative group conversations, the metonymical double-declaiming through verdde was quite evident. The central part of the verdde, the periodical accommodation of the herders in the houses of sedentary Lantalainens had ended. The reason for this was modern times and the changes it had introduced. From the time "before" the shared accommodation was stressed.

Jarno: We already talked about how it was before. I am interested in how it has been before when, well. Was it better this verdde-system?
Olav: Yes when you go to old times and for example from what I remember, verdde-system was good. (.) Each siida had verdde and houses where to go to in the winter time. (.) And what I have heard from many of the old, they tell that when they were children, they waited when they could hear the reindeer herds and jingling of the bells coming closer, then they jumped up and down out of joy that now come the verdde.
Monika: Mm.
Olav: And usually they were given the old side {of the house} to live, because many had built new buildings.
Monika: Mm.
Aune: But many lived together.
Olav: Yes and many lived together where there was no that kind of=
Monika: =And in very crowded places. I have heard.
Olav: Where there was not that old side as it is said, they lived together with the families. That the floors were packed with people. There were reindeer pelts and there were dogs and there were children and there they were in full amity. At that time
Monika: [Yes.
Olav: they the people needed each other.
Roger: Yes.
Olav: It was necessary.
Monika: Yes. Now it would not be possible like that.
Olav: Never, never. Nobody particular, but it is so, it does not fit our times.
Karolina: Yes, and it has become that people have it too good now.
Olav: People=
Karolina: =That is why the quarrels are.
Olav: But people are so selfish and vain. That does a lot. That nobody cares about the other.
Roger: Yes and then it is this living like.
Olav: The way of living.
Roger: The way of living.

The verdde is presented here by a detailed metonym. After that there is an abrupt jump to the modern times and to a breach in the social relationship. The next example follows this pattern. After the metonymical detail, comes a quick shift to the present day. The tone of the participants is not positive like in the previous one and it is not difficult to conclude their side in the ILO convention. Nevertheless, the demand for solidarity and honesty is expressed.

Ella: You can hear it from everything that they are not equally worthy as humans=
Anita: =You see it is their forefathers' heritage that you are with Lapps(13). That when Lapps came to the house a feast was organized.
Aukusti: It was of course that=
Ella: =But they were good friends
Aukusti: [Friends they.
Ella: and they were guests when the Lapps came to the house.
Aukusti: Yes and at that time the Lapps did not have a roof over their heads. They lived in huts. And if I went to them, I was taken care of.
Anita: Yeah, but they lived like=
Aukusti: =Well yeah sometimes lived.
Anita: In the winter months and=
Ella: =Yes, but that was usual. It was so. They lived in the houses during the winter.
Anita: Yes, yes.
Aukusti: Yes sometimes, but
Anita: [Yes, but the families were big
Aukusti: it was thought that they did not live during the winter either. You see they had the reindeer.
Anita: Yes, but the families were big. So how could it be when they all could not fit (.) on the floor.
Aukusti: Yes yes, but.
Ella: Fellowship will make room.
Aukusti: . . . many were taken indoors.
Anita: But I had amity yes, but they were a little false these Lapps.
Aukusti: But no, no Lapp.
Anita: But I said to Lapps in the evening that must all be gone the morning. And they were.
Aukusti: Yes you said.
Anita: Anita spoke in Finnish. I did not cuss, but said strong words, so the Lapps did leave. There were two women and their kids and their men were in jail for stealing reindeer. And then what a mess=
Ella: =Well you could have done a Christian deed if you had taken the women and the kids there.
Anita: No.
Aukusti: You were . . .
Anita: [They were. No they were behind the back.
Ella: Why did you throw them out?
Anita: I threw them out when the time had passed. And then . . . I threw them out. And one woman with kids went to another and the other=
Ella: =If the men had stolen reindeers, the women are not thieves because of that.
Anita: The same, well. There is no stolen meat here by the men if I am not with them. Yes. So I threw them out because of lies. The women had lied, yeah.
Aukusti: Well, I don't know.
Ella: Yes, but I feel it has somehow turned, this Lapps' and Lantalainens'
Anita: [Now are Lapps
Ella: cooperation. They used to be good friends indeed and live in the same.
Anita: Yes, but now the Laps have houses themselves.
Aukusti: Yes, but it was, you see, it is now so that all the Lapps have houses themselves.
Anita: [And fine ones.
Aukusti: The state built them the houses to every place.
Ella: Mm.
Aukusti: Where was needed.
Anita: Yeah
Aukusti: That village is full of Lapps houses.

The solidarity and cooperation of the Saami and the Lantalainens were not born solely from the good will of the local people, but from the necessities of the lived life. These Lantalainens (like reindeer herders Emil and Julius above) stress that in the past one group needed the other. The partners in the verdde needed each other to survive. The change and the modern times come from the outside. The metonymical features here are the houses that the state built for the herders. After that, there is no return to the verdde as it was. In the present-day individuals and the two groups can live on their own. And because of this, there is room for conflicts. The argumentative meaning of the verdde-system was the same in all the argumentative group conversations, regardless of the composition of the group: the needs of the both groups must be taken into notice.

The verdde-system is a topic, an argumentative common-place of the common-sense where the rightfulness of the ILO convention is examined. The topics are like abstract values: the general acceptance does mean consensus in the concrete situation. The argumentative meaning, solidarity between the two groups, was generally accepted. The other group must take care of the oppressed group – but which group is which? And what are the needs?

There is no one single way to use the topics. This holds true for not only the two groups, but also for single individuals. The topics had to be accounted in any reasonable view, so the participants had to make different qualifications, depending on the argumentative context.

On the one hand, there are accounts that stress the complementary character of the verdde-system. The different ways of life of the Saami and Lantalainens complemented each other and there was no competition on the scarce resources. On the other hand, there are accounts that emphasize the hierarchical character of the verdde-system. In the following example, Olav and Aune describe the relationship of the Saami and Lantalainens in a significantly different tone than above. The theme is the same as Ella's arguments to Anita. The Saami have not always been treated as equals with the Lantalainens.

Olav: It is very unfortunate if there will be something between the Christians. This kind of racial disdain and rejection of other people. It is wrong.
Monika: Yeah. That is what is so terrible.
Olav: Yes. It is. It is unfortunate.
Aune: Yes and to children . . . it has been sown.
Olav: And then sown to children.
Monika: That it is that it is sown to the children they will carry it along when they grow up, as adults.
Olav: To the next generations.
Monika: Yes. That is so terrible.
Aune: But when you look at what it has been, it really has been so that the Lapps have always been looked down upon, well often times.
Olav: Yes yes they have.
Aune: That they have not been valued like other people.
Olav: That has been very much here.
Aune: . . . and I believe there has been a lot that if they had fallen in love, they have not been allowed to get married because the other one was a Lapp.

To this hierarchical situation, the ILO convention hoped to bring a change. When directly asked, Emil and Julius, also Saami, mention this as a good effect of the ILO convention. What is new in the ILO convention is the global aspect. Now the state will have to obey its own and international laws. The global organizations of the indigenous peoples and their supporters can put the pressure on the state of Sweden.

Jarno: What does it mean then? Now it is time to clear this to me. That, what you think about it. Because there are many kinds of opinions about what it is. So what is it going to be?
Emil: It will at least give . . .
Julius: I do not know how it will effect, really. That it would give more justice, likeprotection to these, like reindeer areas.
Jarno: What kind of protection is that? Is it somehow off of someone? It is more to some and nothing off of anyone? How do you see this?=
Julius: =Um well. Like the big foresting companies.
Emil: Come.
Julius: Come, fell the woods and then leave the problems for the people
Emil: [Yeah.
Julius: and then go.
Emil: That it would indeed give more.
Julius: That protect these.
Emil: Protection yeah.
Julius: Nature.
Emil: Well. (.) It is not really. Yes ILO gives of course, that it is easier with the state . . .
Julius: To carry law suits.
Emil: Yeah.
Jarno: Yeah.
Emil: It will become a little for Saami people. That there indeed are rules. Now the state of Sweden does not have to care about them at all. And the state of Sweden has written so that the Saami have a right to . . .
Julius: Yes. Yes that those rights that are must be complied. Is it so?
Emil: {Something about King Gustav Vasa and 16th century.}
Julius: Yeah. Those old contracts, that to comply them.
Jarno: What about the times of Gustav Vasa?
Emil: Well written already in that time. The states of Denmark, Norway and Sweden and the papers still exist. But the state of Sweden has not of course cared about them.

In the accounts of the verdde-system, it was often stressed, that division of labor of these two groups was clear in the past. The Saami were Saami and Lantalainens were Lantalainens. As a result, the two groups complemented each other. The verdde-system was a significant institution in the regulation of the scarce resources in the past. Now the ILO convention also aims to regulate these resources.

Especially the status and the rights of the non-herding Saami were examined in this context. The reindeer herding can be understood as a means of livelihood. However, the reindeer herders form only a small part of the total amount of the Saami. In the past there seems to be no non-herding Saami. What are their traditional rights? The separation of the non-herding Saami from the Lantalainens in the relation to the rights to land and water is a major problem in applying the ILO convention and this was reflected in the local level arguments.

What is traditional, was for example examined in relation to the moose hunting. There had been recently changes in the quotas and the period of the moose hunting. The reindeer herding unit (Saami), had gotten a bigger quota. The moose are in a sense a scarce resource. Unlimited hunting would lead to extinction of the moose from the area. These changes were taken as precedent case of the ILO convention.

To this problem of defining the 'traditional rights', is aimed the next argumentation of two Lantalainens, Lennart and Kaj. These two men below, like Anita and Aukusti above, bind Saaminess, livelihood and rights to land and water together. According to them, the Lantalainens have from the beginning been hunters and fishers – and lived in permanent houses. These livelihoods are their culture and these cultural rights should be protected in the ILO as well.

Lennart: Yes they have had it differently like the moose hunting. They have not had fishing or moose hunting at all right in the beginning. It has not belonged to Saami's culture.
Kaj: No.
Lennart: That they have started it only recently. Now they are allowed to
Kaj: [Yeah.
Lennart: they have, they have soon emptied the moose hunting, too. They can sell to the merchants the meat. That they do not consume it themselves.
Jarno: I have heard a lot of talk about these moose hunting rights now in here=
Kaj: =Well it has been a lot about that in this fall.
Lennart: It will of course vanish=
Kaj: =You see, when this whole area gets a certain quota of moose. (.) That has been put by the provincial administration that they get this many moose. And if the Lapps want to get, that has to be taken from the Lantalainen's quota. It means less for Lantalainens.
Lennart: Yeah yeah.
Kaj: If they want to have bigger areas and shoot more moose. Well they have take from others, from us who used to hunt a lot. It will be taken from those, there will not be more of them. (.) They will not let them to live in peace. Government, if we say, there has been given 200 moose. We have had about (.) 150. They have had 50. They want 100. (.) We can not have 150 anymore. It will be down to 100 for us as well. This is how it has changed.

This change "only recently" is, they claim, so recent, that there is no need for documents. Lennart refers in the following piece to his own parent's reminiscence and Kaj to his brother-in-law who has witnessed "when the first Lapp bought a gun". From this metonymical incident the argumentation moves to the ILO convention and its injustice. The rights are taken from the Lantalainens, whose tradition they belong to, and given to the wrong group

Jarno:Well. How was it before? It used to be like=
Kaj: =I do not know about our times=
Lennart: =Or before us like our parents. They were together hunting and fishing, that means these Saami did not hunt or fish.
Kaj: [Or either.
Lennart: Very little what we helped with oxen and like that that they transport=
Kaj: =Like I have an uncle who remembers when the first Lapp bought a gun in here. That he remembers when he bought the gun. And he is not more that a little over seventy.
Lennart: =That has not been part of their culture, that=
Kaj: =That they have not been hunting, say not more than 50 years ago. They did not hunt moose at all.

The Lantalainens also stressed the change in power relations. On the local level there have been many unwritten practices – like the verdde. It is hard for the state or the ILO convention to notice the informal rules and maintain their flexibility. The local people have been bending the law before, but now the Lantalainens were worried that there would be more supervision and sanctions.

Valtter: . . . it has, it has been good that we have had. (.) Well we have had it well. There has been like unwritten laws, if you can put it like that. That there have been. We, that we as like villagers have had a little bit more rights in the fjells than those outside this village. That those Lapp men have accepted if we too fish in the fjell lakes even if we do not {have official permission}. (.) Well that kind of connection has somehow existed. But it caused, I believe (.) The Lapps have seen that they also have. Well somehow had a debt, felt that they have owed to those they have been in contact with. One should not be too strict, if you will, even if they do not have. (.) And if we look at this now, they are afraid that they have nothing to do then. That they can not go outside they own yard, if this goes like that.

The Lantalainens described their situation without any means of influence. "They", in this case the Saami, do have to take into notice "us", like "we" took "them" in the past. From the depicted state of equality and complementarity, the Lantalainens here argue, they are in danger to become the oppressed. As opposed to Olav and Aune, or Julius and Emil, who argued that, at least partly, because of ILO convention, the Saami will not be oppressed anymore, they argue that the Saami are the oppressors. Lennart and Kaj claim that Saami have the state and the general opinion of the Swedish on their side, but who would speak for the Lantalainens?

Lennart: But I think they have all chosen and these Swedes from down there. They have chosen their side and they defend this Saami culture that is not any=
Kaj: =And if we say, we say if it is shown for instance something on TV that goes all over Sweden. If it is shown, say something (.) sort of negative for the Saami, that they think is like wrong for them. (.) They think in the South that they {Lantalainens} are evil, that why they oppress them {Saami} like that. Those from the south Sweden take a stand that why they now do like that to the Lapps=
Lennart: =That means the Saami.
Kaj: Yeah, in other words the Saami, but. (.) I have sometimes said that it is the other way around, that it is a total apartheid movement. (.) That minority oppresses majority. (.) If we say something that is little (.) against the Saami view, we are called racists. But they can say whatever they like and still they are not racists. Why is it like that then?

As a topic verdde-system gives an argumentative place to argue and think about the rightful co-operation, co-habiting and power-relations of the Lantalainens and the Saami. The abstract values, cooperation and solidarity are desirable also in the future. The abrupt transfer from the metonymical past experience in every account, Saami and Lantalainen, underscores the inevitable change and impossibility – or unwillingness – of returning to the past. From the way of living in the past, it is not possible to derive unambiguous and unanimous obliging instructions for the rightful future. Nevertheless, the past must be used as a justification in arguments – for or against the ILO convention.

Context and product

The ILO convention number 169 concerning the rights of the indigenous peoples is not systematic, but it is instead dilemmatic containing contrary principles. In the local level argumentation these dilemmas are attached to the older common-sense and experienced in practical terms. (Billig et al. 1988, 4, 40.) The rightfulness of the convention is examined in topics, argumentative common-places of common-sense. These topics are accepted by all the members of the community and they have to be accounted in every reasonable view – for or against – the assumed changes. Ignorance, or criticism, of the topics has moral and social consequences.

The common-sense does not enforce a one single view of the rightfulness of the convention. Each account of a topic necessarily includes choices, which in the context of a wider controversy are arguments defending one position and criticizing other counter-positions. On the one hand common-sense as an ideology fails its adherents by continuously giving pieces of advice that contradict one another. On the other hand this dilemmatic character of the common-sense is highly important in itself, because it makes argumentative critique possible. The common-sense provides resources for argumentation and the local people do not have to dismiss the shared premises of common-sense. Common-sense is used to criticize common-sense. (Billig 1991, 21–22.)

The topics as argumentative places are not completely inventions for the purposes of the present-day. They are both the context and the product of cultural actions (Knuuttila & Paasi 1995, 32–33). In the argumentative group conversations, we do hear the echoes of the past. Nevertheless, the local people are not "blind dupes" who unthinkingly repeat the phrases of communal wisdom. Argumentative use of communal wisdom is more than repetition. The local people use the communal wisdom and, at the same time, argumentation does not leave common-sense unchanged. Each repetition is creation. (Billig 1991, 2, 17, 22.)

We see them thinking, but within the constrains of ideology and with the elements of ideology. Thus ideologies in everyday life should not be equated with the concealment, or prevention, of thought. Also, in a real sense ideologies shape what people actually do think about, and permit the possibility of thought. (Billig et al. 1988, 27.)

In this paper I have presented how the arguments of the local people concerning the rightfulness of the ILO convention can be methodologically constructed. Argumentative group conversations provide a way to get a glimpse of arguments – and thoughts – of the local people who are effected by the re-arrangement of the rights to land and water. These argumentative conversations can not be derived from the arguments of the national and international scale. The topics of the local people, in this case Suonttavaara, Christianity and verdde, are not topics in the general argumentation concerning the rights of the Saami. These topics, or "we accounts", can not be presented as whole narratives. They are only fragmentary and their assumed consistency would implode, if they were presented as complete narratives. The fragmentary character, however, does not mean that they are less significant for the local people than the official narratives presented by professionals. The local people, Saami and Lantalainens alike, can not bypass the topics.


1. This article is based on the fieldwork my Master's Thesis (Väisänen 2001). I have done two new sessions of fieldwork in Finland, Norway and Sweden in 2001 and 2002 for my doctoral dissertation.

2. In this paper I use ethnonyms Saami and Lantalainen (pl. in English Lantalainens, originally in Finnish "Lantalaiset"). Lantalainens is the ethnonym generally used of the Non-Saami by the local people. The ethnonym is composed of the word meaning 'land' and can be roughly translated as 'Landman' or 'Landmen'. In Saami language, the equivalent word is Láddelaš.

3. To guide the conversations, I had a list of themes varying from personal roots and local history, to religion and also to more immediate issues concerning the ILO convention, for example re-arrangement of hunting quotas.

4. Laestadianism is a Christian religious movement that was created by Lars Levi Laestadius in the middle of 19th century in the Karesuando area. It can be described as pietistic movement, which emphasizes the confession of the sins and forgiveness. Leastadianism is still an important factor in the area.

5. I use the Saami word verdde, plural verdet. In Eidheim 1971 verde and in Pehrson 1964 verdi. Orthography is now different.

6. More about Christianity as a topic, Väisänen 2002.

7. The ethnic status of each individual was generally known and deemed impossible to change. Therefore, there were no "I" and/or "you" accounts, but the argumentation was formulated in plural as "we" and/or "they".

8. I have used the ethnographic transcription. The language used in the conversations was mostly Finnish with parts in Swedish and Saami. The main signs in the transcripts are:

= the second speaker interrupts and the first one gives way.

[ speaking at the same time.

(.) short pause.

{} clarificatory addition.

. . . inaudible or incomprehensible speech.

9. Saami nomadic unit.

10. There are only a few studies of the verdde (for example Pehrson 1964, Eidheim 1971, and Länsman forthcoming).

11. This type of questions, shifts from the practices of lived life to general principles have been reality in court cases concerning the rights to land and water. Terje Brantenberg (1995) describes these situations and their unfortunate consequences in his paper.

12. One experienced event or one case – an example – is used to present the whole.

13. Some of the participants used the ethnonym Lapp when referring to the Saami.


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List of participants in the group conversations

1. Kaj M55, Lennart M60
2. Anita F80, Aukusti M80, Ella F50
3. Emil M45, Julius M40
4. Simon M25, Valtter M30
5. Aune F65, Karolina F25, Monika F35, Olav M65, Roger M35
Age +/- 5 years. F=female. M=male. I was 26 years old at the time of fieldwork. I am male.

Jarno Väisänen, M.A.
University of Joensuu, Finland
Folklore Studies
jarno.vaisanen (at) joensuu.fi