3.3.8 Snowchange (Canada, Finland, Russia, United States)

Snowchange (Canada, Finland, Russia, United States)

The Snowchange Cooperative is a not-for-profit organization based in Finland. It was established in 2001 to document indigenous views on climate and ecology. Mr. Tero Mustonen has been leading the organization since its inception. Snowchange’s mission is to empower indigenous peoples by enabling them to conduct their own research. The program runs projects in the Arctic countries working with local indigenous communities. Snowchange responds to requests from communities and/or scientists to initiate research.

In addition to the Arctic countries, the program has partners in New Zealand, India, and Australia. All research activities, which often include scientists, are based on careful gathering of traditional knowledge about the environment by interviewing harvesters and sometimes recording interviews on video or audio. The results of the research are archived at the Snowchange office and are available for communities and researchers. Annual conferences, held in different countries, bring together international participants to share their experiences. Approximately 2000 people are estimated to have been involved with the project.

Status and Contact Detail


Head of International Affairs

Mr.Tero Mustonen


Ms. Saija Lehtonen (annual rotation) Snowchange Cooperative, Finland

Project Time: 2001 – on going

Funding: various government and private sources.

Q1. What are the main goals and activities of the project?
The Snowchange Cooperative is a program that consists of various projects aimed at documenting indigenous views on climate change and ecology. Snowchange activities are comprised of education and cultural events (crafts fairs, workshop facilitation etc.) and scientific research focused on traditional knowledge. For example, in a project on the Environmental Observations of Seal Hunters in the Community of Merikarvia, Southern Finland, (on the Baltic Coast) the goal was to find out what local knowledge could tell about environmental changes happening in the area. In ECORA Snowchange surveyed local residents to find out how indigenous peoples of the region, Chukchi, Yukagir, and Even, apply traditional knowledge to natural resource use.

Q2. Who are the participants?
Snowchange partners with researchers, as well as other organizations and institutions, such as the Northern Forum, the Academy of Science of Yakutia (Russian Federation), and the Saami Council, to implement its projects depending on its needs. Over the years, approximately 2000 local residents have participated in Snowchange projects.

Q3. Who initiated the project?
Initial meetings were held with Saami in 1996. At one of the meetings in 2001, an Inuit lady was talking about what united all indigenous peoples in the Arctic. Everyone agreed that it was snow. Then the conversation turned into a discussion on climate change and the fact that people should have a positive outlook on change, something that people can influence, rather than seeing it as negative and destructive. By combining two words together they got the idea of the Snowchange project. It took several years to organize it and in 2001 the first project activities took place. Snowchange’s approach is community-centered. It all depends on what people want it to do. Snowchange does not initiate activities.

Q4. What are the locations and how were they selected?
Snowchange has had projects in many Scandinavian, North American, and Russian communities. Some of them are Sevettijärvi, Merikarvia in Finland, Krasnochelje, and the Kolyma region in Russia. Snowchange does not select communities but engages in a dialogue with communities, and if the community expresses an interest Snowchange takes on a project.

Q5. How difficult was it to find funding and how long did it take?
Snowchange generates a small income from educational and cultural activities but the core funding and project funding come from various agencies and organizations. The list includes: Ministry of Natural Protection of Finland, Finish Academy of Science, MFA of Finland, Saami Council, Barents Sea Secretariat, and others. The project was built on a successful pilot project. Something small scale was tried first, it worked, and then the new project was built from there. That might have been what made this application successful. Also, the National Science Foundation is increasingly interested in local knowledge. The travel component of the project, to facilitate knowledge exchange between all these people and places, is huge. The participants are very grateful that NSF saw the value in that. They (via Polar Field Services) provided tremendous logistics support.

Q6. What are the relationships between the project researchers and the communities?
A typical Snowchange project is organized like this: After Snowchange has been approached with a request from a community, it organizes a visit to this community to listen to that community’s concerns. Snowchange, sometimes in partnership with scientists or other organizations, designs the research. The team goes back to the community to explain what they propose to do and the community holds a meeting to approve the work. The team spends substantial time in the community easing into the life of the residents, participating in some of their activities if invited.

Q7. What type of monitoring and what methods do you use?
Researchers conduct open-ended interviews with local residents. Sometimes local peoples are trained to interview but the interviewing is performed only during the team’s visit. If permission is granted, information is recorded on audio and video, and locations are mapped. In the project on the Environmental Observations of Seal Hunters in Southern Finland, Snowchange researchers have been coming to the community every year since 2002 to document and map the use of the sea-ice in the Baltic Sea and the interactions between sea-ice and seals. Oral history, as told by the hunters, was compared with scientific data. In partnership with the Saami Council, Snowchange has been working in two communities, Sevettijärvi in Finland and Lovozero in Kola peninsula in Russia, to document observations on climate change and biodiversity on and off for about ten years. The observations collected in 2000 and 2002 were included as case studies in ACIA in Chapter 3.

Q8. How do you organize your data management?
Snowchange’s office maintains digital archives of interviews, audio/video recordings, and other project materials. All interviews are transcribed. Metadata is created for all material. Access is defined by the communities where the data was collected. Snowchange archives only the data that the community has permitted us to store. Residents also specify what final products they would like to receive. Snowchange follows up on all requests.

Q9. Volunteers versus paid staff and participants: how did you address this issue in your project?
This is a difficult topic. In some areas Snowchange has to pay, for example in North America. Mr. Mustonen personally opposes this, as it creates an unhealthy situation in his opinion. The cost of Community based monitoring in North America is substantially higher than in Russia and in Northern Europe. For example, the cost of activities for one year per community in Russia ranges between ten and twenty thousand Euros. Snowchange may have six to eight communities at a time. Most of the budget is allocated to travel to enable visits to communities. Compensation to participants is provided only in communities, which mostly are located in North America, where this practice became a norm.

Q10. What problems have you encountered and how did you work them out?
Working with researchers could be frustrating, as they have a difficult time understanding the holistic nature of Indigenous and Traditional knowledge. One cannot focus on just one topic, such as index species, and not pay attention to anything else. This presents a challenge when designing surveys. Scientists should also be sensitive to the ownership of knowledge. People in the communities own their knowledge – scientists don’t. The use should be negotiated prior to any release to the public and people in the communities should have an opportunity to review. It is difficult to include women’s observations. Women should be in the center stage of research as they are key to many subsistence activities but in some cultures traditionally only men are interviewed.

Q11. What do you think is the main achievement of the project?
Snowchange has gained valuable experience over the decade of its work. An expansive library of materials has been accumulated and shared with communities and scientists. Several books based on the research results and articles in science journals were published. The main benefit, for example to the Finnish community of Merikarvia is in the recording and preservation of traditional knowledge. This is one of the few communities in Finland where these stories are still told. By nurturing long-term relationships, Snowchange is helping communities to develop their own capacity for Community based monitoring .

Q12. What advice would you give to others who would like to develop a similar project?
The most important message from Snowchange is that communities should have opportunities to continue their subsistence practices and be able to speak their language, as the paramount condition for the continuation of traditional knowledge. Recordings are not the traditional knowledge; the knowledge can only exist if people use it. Community based monitoring is one of the means to entice people to use it.

Q13. What future do you see for this project?
Snowchange is successful and effective. Many multimillion dollar programs disappear but Snowchange is still here. It is grass roots and there are no plans on expanding. One of the strengths of Snowchange is its cost-efficiency in organizing its projects. It does so by building long-term relationships with communities and organizations across the Arctic. Generating grass-roots support is the most important condition for sustainable Community based monitoring . No long-term funding is available for Community based monitoring in the Arctic. Local people should contribute their time to collect information on their own. It does not take a lot of money if there are good relationships with communities. Snowchange is trying to define these relationships relationships without money.



  • Longevity based on flexible and creative approach
  • Built partnerships outside the Arctic
  • Earned communities’ trust
  • Encouraged indigenous communities to value and practice their traditional ways of life
  • Provided valuable input to one the major scientific assessments of climate change, ACIA Won 2002 WWF Panda Prize for best national environment project

Opportunities for Improvement

  • Mutual understanding with scientists