Exploring Sámi Culture *Video*

One of the advantages of visiting Lapland was the opportunity to explore a new culture: The Sámi.

The Sámi people are the indigenous people inhabiting the Arctic area, a swath of land about the total size of Sweden, encompassing the northern bits of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia’s Kola Peninsula.

Sámi Heritage

While the Sámi have been living in Lapland for more than 5,000 years, today there are less than 250,000 people claiming Sámi heritage. Most live in Norway, although a sizable population of 30,000 live in the U.S. There are about 10,000 Sámi living in Finland.

Traditionally, the Sámi lived a semi-nomadic life, following the migration of the reindeer herds. They also engaged in coastal fishing, fur trapping and sheep herding. Their traditional housing was an easily movable tee-pee-like dwelling called a kota.

A History of Persecution

Sámi people have endured centuries of discrimination at the hands of their Nordic neighbors. In Norway, the “Native Land Act” of 1913 gave the best northern lands to Norwegian settlers and they began a robust campaign to eradicate the Sámi culture.

Sweden and Finland also had state-sponsored discrimination policies. In the 1920s, Sweden’s race-segregation laws called for collecting research from living Sámi people (as well as graves), and had a policy of forcibly sterilizing Sámi women. In both Sweden and Finland, the Sámi language was forbidden in schools as early as the 19th century.

Today, the Sámi are most threatened by the urbanization of their culture and environmental threats to their land, including oil exploration, mining, dam building, and logging. Climate change is also eroding the Sámi’s traditional way of life and sacred Sámi sites are being used by the Norwegian and Swedish military as bomb practice ranges.

Protecting Sámi Culture & People

The Sámi are now protected under the 1966 U.N. Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and they have won several cases brought before the U.N. Human Rights Committee. Each of the Nordic countries, plus Russia, now have laws that explicitly protect Sámi rights. Furthermore, the ability of Sámi to use their language in schools was re-established in 1992.

Sámi Village Visit

While visiting Lapland I was psyched to be able to visit Siida – The National Museum of the Finnish Sámi. The museum’s purpose is to support the identity and the cultural self-esteem of the Sámi and to serve as a place for education for those interested in the Sámi culture.

Located in the town of Inari, about 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle, Siida has an outside exhibit that features traditional Sámi dwellings. Here’s a bit of what I learned during my visit:

Can’t see the video? Click on this link: Sámi Village

Interested in learning more about the Sámi culture? Check out the Siida website!

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 5th, 2012 and is filed under Social Issues.

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