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  • Mapping Land and People in the North:Early Modern Colonial Expansion, Exploitation, and Knowledge1
  • Carl-Gösta Ojala and Jonas Monié Nordin


This paper explores the early modern Swedish expansion in Sápmi2 by examining the mapping of Sámi lands and the exploration and exploitation of Sápmi's natural resources, in particular in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. In the paper, we analyze this process of expansion as a double colonial process. On the one hand, it entailed the construction of the Sámi as "the Other," radically different from mainstream understanding of Swedishness as it was articulated during the early modern period. On the other hand, it was important for the agents of the Swedish state, the Swedish Church, and private [End Page 98] industry to gain more knowledge about, and somehow "understand" and develop relations with, "the Other" in order to control the land, resources, and people of Sápmi. However, in this process, Sámi populations were not passive "objects," but participated and acted in various ways, using different strategies of adaptation and resistance in relation to colonial pressures.

The processes of Swedish expansion in Sápmi took place in competition with the Danish-Norwegian kingdom and Russia over Sámi territories, and similar strategies were exerted by the three main powers in the northern parts of Fennoscandia. In this article, we will, however, focus primarily on Swedish colonial history and what is today the Swedish part of Sápmi. The strategies to gain control over natural resources, trade, and taxation, and to integrate the Sámi population into the Swedish state and the Swedish Church, were founded on surveying and mapping projects. In order to be controlled, the land and the people needed to be mapped and understood. Furthermore, map-making served to define, depict, and transform Sámi lands in order to make them Swedish. These maps, surveys, and projects of knowledge production form the empirical foundation of this paper.

Our aim is furthermore to emphasize the complexities of colonial relations in Sápmi, including the practices of colonial mapping. We wish to underline the importance of Sámi knowledge about the land and its resources, and the different roles of the Sámi population, Sámi agency, participation, and resistance in the early modern colonial processes—a question that has been largely unexplored in earlier research. By looking at Sámi agency, it is possible to deepen our understanding of Swedish colonial dynamics and development in Sápmi. Finally, we wish to point to possible alternative modes of mapping land and history in Sápmi, which have been put forth as part of the Sámi ethnopolitical and cultural revitalization movements (relating to similar movements in Indigenous cartography and counter-mapping in other parts of the world), and which may offer opportunities to engage with and visualize colonial histories and relations in a more dynamic manner and furthermore contribute to decolonization movements in Sápmi and Sweden.

Maps, Colonialism, and Power

In the colonial processes in Sápmi, and elsewhere in the world, the conquest and control of land has been one of the most fundamental [End Page 99] issues. Today, land—to be used for mining, forestry, dams for hydro-electric power, wind power, or tourism—remains central to state and corporate interests in the Sámi areas. At the same time, the Land (with a capital L) is in many ways of fundamental importance for upholding and developing Sámi culture and identity, as well as for the possibility to express Sáminess. This centrality of land is shared with indigenous groups in many parts of the world who are facing similar threats to their traditional living spaces. Consequently, land and the understanding of land have been, and still are, of central importance in the colonial confrontations and negotiations in Sápmi, and certainly in the different mapping projects affecting this region. Today, conflicts over land rights in connection with the expansion of mining projects and other industrial enterprises in Sápmi are of great concern to Sámi communities and a priority for Sámi activists and politicians. The multiple pressures...


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pp. 98-133
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