Let’s talk about the Sámi 

If we think about the term indigenous people, usually the first thing that comes to our mind is North or Latin America. But did you know that you can find them in Europe as well? The Sámi, which are the only indigenous people in the European Union area, are living in North Europe with their interesting culture. 

Most of the Sámi people are living in four countries, half part of Norway and Sweden, north part of Finland and part of Kola Peninsula in Russia.That area is called Sapmi and they have inhabited this area for thousands of years. Depending on the calculation method, the Sámi population is 60 000 to 100 000. 

In history, Sámi people’s livelihoods were fishing, reindeer herding and handcrafts. These are important things for them nowadays still, especially reindeer herding but these days Sámi people also live in cities and do different types of work as well. For example in Finland, most Sámi people are actually living in the capital, not in Lapland. It says that the Sámi people are integrating more and more into the Scandinavian lifestyle but that doesn’t mean that they would not be Sámi anymore. In general, it can not be said what kind of lifestyle or character a Sámi person has because they are individuals the same way as anybody else.

Sámi people’s traditions and culture are something that everyone should know at least a little bit. Reindeer herding is a hundred of years old traditional livelihood for them and their main occupation. You can easily see reindeer herding areas if you are traveling in Lapland. In history, the Sámi people used to wander to other places with reindeer herds depending on what time of year it was. In the winter time, they wandered into the forest and in the summer time, they were at the coast. Nowadays reindeer herding is a not that popular source of livelihood and some of the Sámi’s are focusing on tourism. Every tourist still must remember to appreciate Sámi people’s privacy and to not take photos without permission or go to their yard just because of curiosity. 

Sámi people’s traditional costumes are also an important part of their identity. Every costume is unique and every Sámi can choose what they want to wear. Of course, some similarities appear in the outfits depending on whether you are for example Skolt Sámi or Inari Sámi. In addition, the colors of costumes also have meanings. Green means nature, blue water, red fire and yellow sun. Nowadays, the Sámi people are using their traditional costumes usually only at celebratory events. This month, the 6th of February is National Sámi Day. On that day the Sámi people celebrate their history and community. In 1917, the 6th of February was the first Sámi National Assembly so the 6th of February is also dedicated to the memory of the first meeting. 

The National Assembly’s purpose is to develop and maintain culture and languages. Many people might think that Sámi only have one common language but there are actually nine of them. These are minority languages and the threat is that some of these languages might disappear. Nowadays also governments are trying to save languages and, for example, the government of Sweden provides financial support to help to preserve minority languages. 

However, historically it was quite the opposite way. For example in Finland, from 1940 to 1970 the Sámi went to school where they were forced to only speak Finnish, not their own languages because at that time the Finnish government wanted to unite the minority culture with the major culture. That same happened in other countries as well. That’s why nowadays many young Sámi don’t know how to speak their own languages because their parent’s never got educated about that. Luckily these days many people are more aware of Sámi’s positions and rights and there are many influencers who point out why it is important to save the Sámi culture and languages. 

If you search for information about Sámi, many Google searches show ads about tourist tours. Sámi people are still much more than just some tourist attractions, although tourism is a source of livelihood for some of them. They are very unique indigenous people and all of us should show some respect for them.

Katariina Weijo

Visit Inari – Saamelaiset ja poronhoito

Sweden.se – Sami in Sweden

Studeo.fi – Asuvatko saamelaiset Lapissa

Photo: Anssi Kömi,  EATNAMEAMET – Our Silent Struggle

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