Sámi people

The Sámi are an indigenous people who constitute an ethnic minority in Finland, Norway, Sweden and Russia. They have their own settlement areas, language, culture and history. The indigenous term Sápmi, from which Sámi derives, exists in every Sámi dialect and has several meanings – the geographical region where they traditionally live, the Sámi population, the Sámi language and a Sámi person. A programme of Sámi policy adopted at the Nordic Sámi Conference in Troms in 1980 defines a Sámi as ‘any person who has Sámi as his or her first language, or whose father or mother or one of whose grandparents have Sámi as their first language, or considers him/herself a Sámi and lives entirely according to the rules of Sámi society and who is recognised by the Sámi community as a Sámi.’

Sámi geographical provenance
The Sámi area includes the northernmost parts of Finland, Norway, Sweden and the Kola Peninsula in Russia. In the south the Sámi region extends from Indre Dalarne in Sweden and the adjacent areas in Norway down to Engerdal in Hedmark County. In the north it stretches to the very north of Norway, Sweden and the northernmost municipalities in Finland and east to the Kola Peninsula.
Sámi population
No reliable population census of the Sámi people has been taken in any of the Nordic countries. Based on the definitions set out in the Norwegian Sámi Act, the total Sámi population spanning national borders is estimated to number between 50,000 and 100,000. The majority of these, at least 70 per cent, live in Norway, usually in the northernmost counties (Finnmark, Troms and Nordland), where the major centres of population are Kautokeino (considered the Sámi capital), Karasjok, Tana, Nessby and Porsanger in Finnmark. There are also smaller Sámi communities in the counties of Nord- and Sør-Trøndelag and Hedmark.
Sámi history
The earliest mention of the Sámi by European historians dates back to the Roman historian Tactitus and his Germania (98 CE). The most important early Scandinavian source of information is Otere’s story of King Alfred of England, dating from about the year 890. Otere’s story refers to the finnas, a word deriving from a Germanic source dating back to antiquity, meaning a trapper, fowler or fisherman. Reindeer herding and the use of reindeer as decoys are also mentioned. The Historia Norvegica saga from a few centuries later confirms the stories of Otere, providing a more detailed picture of the Sámi people.
The Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus mentions Sámi skills in skiing and archery in his Gesta Danorum (c 1200). Other historic traces can be found in the works of Greek historian Porocopicus in the 550s where he refers to a skritpofinni – a skiing finni. The history of the Sámi during the 19th century is linked with that of four different countries, and is thus difficult to follow as a separate development. At that time both Finland and Norway already had relatively independent status and the drawing of national boundaries was brought to completion during this period. The first borderline to be drawn through the Sámi area was the 1751 border between Norway – at that time part of a union with Denmark – and Sweden, which then included Finland. It is now the oldest existing border in Europe. From 1751 to 1809 Norway and Sweden had special bilateral obligations to each other that were directly related to the Sámi in the two countries. From 1883-1886 the various agreements between the two countries were replaced by internal national legislation. During the 19th and early 20th centuries the Norwegian government pursued a policy designed to incorporate the Sámi population into Norwegian mainstream society. The paternalistic attitude taken by church and schools contributed significantly to the suppression of Sámi culture and little attention was paid to Sámi opinion, indeed in situations of confrontation or conflict most Sámi ideas were considered inappropriate. World War II and the years immediately thereafter marked a turning point in this attitude on the part of central government. In 1956 a committee was appointed to study social issues related to the Sámi and to propose specific economic and cultural measures for their benefit; its findings were submitted to the Storting in 1962. This development demonstrated the willingness of the Storting to depart from previous policies and also marked the first occasion on which the situation of the Sámi was considered to be a matter of principle.
From 1979-1981 a hydro-electric project on the Alta-Kautokeino river provoked demonstrations and rioting by members of the Sámi community, securing extensive coverage in the mass media. In the meantime, the political and legal reform process proceeded apace and in 1984 the Sámi Rights Commission submitted a report which concluded with a proposal for the establishment of an independent Sámi Assembly and constitutional protection for the Sámi culture. The government and the Storting accepted these terms without reservation, recognising that international law provided for far-reaching legal protection of the Sámi culture. The Norwegian authorities subsequently implemented a general policy towards the Sámi people, acknowledging that the Sámi constitute an indigenous people within the Norwegian realm and an ethnic minority within Norwegian society. The main objective in the new policy was not only to guarantee a certain standard of living amongst the Sámi, but also to protect and develop their culture as an integral component of the Norwegian national heritage.
Despite legal recognition, in Finnmark, the major area of Sámi population in Norway, there remained tensions between the Sámi and the non-Sámi inhabitants, particularly around land-usage rights and the exploitation of natural resources. In April 2003 the Norwegian government proposed the Finnmarksloven (Finnmark Act) which seeks to institute an organisation controlled equally by the Finnmark County Council and the Sámi Assembly for local land management. The Act is rejected by the Sámi on the grounds that it does not acknowledge the traditional Sámi ownership of the land and that it may lead to industrial development and militarisation.
Sámi government
Since 1989 the Sámi community has had its own popular assembly, known as Sametinget. This functions as an advisory body to the Norwegian authorities in cases concerning the Sámi population. Sameting elections are held every four years, concurrent with the general election. The Sámi have their own national flag, which was adopted by the Nordic Sámi Conference in Åre (Sweden) on 15th August 1986. The colours red, green, yellow and blue are known as the ‘Sámi colours’. The flag’s circle depicts the sun (red) and the moon (blue).
Sámi language
The Sámi language belongs to the Finno-Ugric linguistic group along with Finnish, Hungarian, Mordvinian, Estonian and some other languages. There are three major Sámi dialects, southern, northern and eastern Sámi, which nonetheless constitute one unit since the immediate neighbouring dialects are mutually understandable. The maintenance of the language is considered to be of great importance, not just because it serves as a tool for communication between individuals and groups, but also because it conveys elements of philosophy, beliefs, social organisation and notions about the surrounding world. The fact that the Sámi language has until recently been an oral language underscores its primary role as a means of passing on the common heritage of the Sámi people from generation to generation.
Sámi society
In the far north the Sámi ethnic minority people constitute just 1 per cent of the total population of Norway. Traditionally most Sámi families are involved with farming, reindeer herding, fishing, hunting and craft making or any combination of these traditional economic activities, which are an important part of everyday Sámi life and constitute an integral part of the Sámi identity. The Sámi community is family-orientated and the typical Sámi family usually comprises more than two generations living together.
Sámi economy
Sámi economic activities are mainly represented in the primary industries. Agriculture is heavily influenced by the fact that Sámi settlement areas are located in the Arctic or sub-Arctic areas where production is mostly limited to meat and milk. Sámi farms are relatively small and farming in the coastal areas has traditionally been combined with fishing or other activities. A fairly low degree of capital investment is involved. As the secondary and tertiary industries are not represented in Sámi areas, many choose to commute to larger cities where work opportunities are better.
The financing of the activities of the Sámi Assembly is the responsibility of the Norwegian government which annually allocates around 75 million NOK of state funding towards the Assembly (1994 figures). Out of this around 17 million NOK go towards the Sámi Trade Council, just under 9 million NOK towards the Sámi Cultural Council, over 16 million NOK to the Sámi Language Council and just under 10 million NOK toward the funding of other Sámi activities.
Sámi culture
The Sámi are a society rich in cultural traditions which are represented in folk stories told from generation to generation, stone carving, woodblock printing, silver jewellery and beautiful national costumes. Much of this history is preserved in the Sámi Culture Museum in Karasjok and in the Sámi Museum in Varangerbotn. A strong tradition of music and dance has also been preserved by the Sámi community. Central to Sámi folk music is the joik, an improvised and highly-personal style of singing in a sort of epigrammatic form. Often describing nature or animals, the joik illustrates the close relationship which the Sámi people have with the world around them. For centuries these traditions were maintained within the confines of Sámi society and remained relatively unknown to the rest of the Norwegian population. However, in recent decades they have undergone something of a renaissance, becoming the basis for a variety of new cultural developments which are accessible to the wider Norwegian population.
Numerous Sámi artists who lived through the time of neglect have acquired a new audience, including John Andreas Savio (1902-1938), whose work is now showcased in a dedicated museum, the Savio Museum in Karasjok. Sámi literature has also prospered, attracting interest far beyond the Sámi reading public. The Sámi National Theatre Company and the Sámi Theatre Association are also active in Norway and throughout the Nordic region.
Noteworthy Sámi artists of recent years include poet, musician and visual artist Nils Aslak Valkeapää (also known as Aillohas), sculptor and visual artist Iver Jåks, ethno-musician Mari Boine and film director Nils Gaup. Sámi musicians and bands such as Berit Nordland, Ailu Gaup, Orbina and Transjoik are also well known, especially as a result of Sámi recording companies such as DAT and NRK Sámi Radio.