The Sami of Lapland

Sami is an indigenous culture that live in the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and a small part of Russia and is known as Sapmi, or more commonly Lapland. They are thought to be the first people to reenter Europe after the last ice age some time around 8000 BC.

The Sami of Lapland

Sami Flag created in 1986

After the 15th century the Sami faced increasing pressure from the countries in which they inhabited. It was at this time that reindeer husbandry, which had so far been limitedly practiced, became their main source of hunting. This led to a decrease in numbers of wild reindeer and all reindeer became more or less tamed with each having an owner.

In the last 200 years there have been many changes in the surrounding countries that have directly effected the Sami. In 1826, the Norwegian border was established and the Sami were no longer allowed to roam freely as they once had. They could still cross between Finland and Sweden until 1940.

The Sami experienced the most pressure in Norway during the first half of the 20th century when the government invested money to wipe out Sami culture in an attempt to make Norwegian language and culture universal. In Finland and Sweden the efforts were less dramatic but with increased development in the north led to a weakening of status and economy for the Sami.

Conflicts continued through the 20th century with the proposed hydroelectric dam in Alta in northern Norway which would flood the Sami village of Masi. The protests against the construction had a large impact on the nation’s politics and were successful in saving the town but construction continued, this time with less environmental and cultural impacts. During the protests the first unofficial Sami flag was used which led to the introduction of a second design in 1986.

Today, reindeer still play a central part in Sami culture but their economic value is decreasing and they look to other avenues. With the increased pressure to assimilate to modern culture only nine Sami languages or dialects have survived to the present day and they are still threaten. In recent years there have been positive developments in the preservation of Sami culture with the introduction of the Sami Parliament and a National day on 6th February.

This post continues with the Sami’s involvement in Indigenous Tourism