Sámi People – The Problematic Situation of Finland’s Indigenous People

May 02, 2022
Minorities Social Issues Challenges

“I wish the Truth and Reconciliation Commission the best of success in its important work. Our common goal is for the commission’s work to increase dialogue and trust between the Sámi and the state. Only by understanding what the Sámi have experienced can we truly find solutions for the future”

Finland’s Prime Minster Sanna Marin 28.11.2021

The Sámi people of Finland were in the news lately (28.11.21) as the government appointed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Concerning Finland’s indigenous people. But why there is a need to establish this kind of commission in the land known as a protector of human rights? The reality appeared to be different historically and in the current situation.

I found an interesting article in the United Nations website about The Fight of Indigenous People in the Nordic countries, where an advocate for minorities named Suvi West explained the problematic situation.

People are often unaware of Sámi people’s history and their situation today, which is why problems in the Sápmi continue year after another:

“When we are talking about Northern Finland, we are talking about hard racism against Sámi people. In the Southern Finland the attitude is more casual or kind laughter. However, many people still do not know that Sami people are an indigenous community. They are just like there are Native Americans, aboriginals and Maori people. We are not Finland’s property or a playground where people just come to, take a vacation, and build mining.”

She added,

“The representatives of the Finnish government have completely ignored the Sámi and walked over their rights. Agreements including Tana fishing agreement or the New Act on Metsähallitus will directly impact the future of the Sámi. Finland has already been noted by the UN about the fact that the government is violating Sami people’s human rights”.

According to the Prime Minister’s Office, the purpose of the truth and reconciliation process is:

An example where discrimination and assimilation processes occur is in the education system. It is one of the best in the world, right? Depend to whom, I guess. One important part of the problem is that students in Finland are being taught very little, if at all, about the Sámi people. For many years Sámi have fought to get more recognition in the national curriculum but for some reason, the school system has not wanted to do so.

“When there is no information available at the schools, old perceptions and prejudice are more easily transmitted from one generation to another. This will prevent from changing attitudes towards the Sami”.

An incident occurred in the University of Oulu, after Sami students had questioned the institution practice to advertise a music school by using a fake Sami drum, these same students were targets of a hate campaign on campus, and even received death threats.


Picture’s credit to Nikola Jonny Mirkovic UNSPLASH

So, who are the Sámi people?

Here is a short reliable information that I gathered from the Sámediggi | Saamelaiskäräjät website.

Since 1996, the Sámi Parliament is the supreme political body of the Sámi in Finland representing the Sámi in national and international connections. It is an independent legal entity of public law which, due to its self-governmental nature, is not a state authority or part of the public administration.

The Sámi Area called Sápmi, is the nuclear region the Sámi inhabit within four countries, consists of northern parts of Finland, almost half of Sweden and Norway as well as parts of the Kola Peninsula in Russia.

More than 60 per cent of them now live outside the Sámi Homeland, which brings new challenges for the provision of education, services and communications in the Sámi language. The total Sámi population is estimated to be over 75,000, with the majority living in Norway.

The traditional Sámi livelihoods are fishing, gathering, handicrafts, hunting and reindeer herding and the modern ways of practising them.

Out of the traditional Sámi livelihoods, reindeer herding still functions as one of the important cornerstones of the Sámi culture by offering both language arena as well as material for, among others, clothing, other Sámi handicrafts and food culture. Ever since the development of reindeer herding, reindeer has been an important form of transportation.

The Sámi languages belong to the indigenous languages of Europe and are most closely related, within the Uralic language family, to the BalticFinnic languages (such as Finnish and Estonian). Sámi is spoken in Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia. In Finland, there are speakers of three Sámi languages: North Sámi, Inari Sámi and Skolt Sámi.

Under the pressure of the dominant languages, many Sámi have lost their mother tongue. Since the ethnic awakening in the 1960s, a variety of measures have been taken to preserve the Sámi languages and bring them back to life. The Sámi Language Act of 1992, revised in 2004, made Sámi an official language.


Picture’s credit to Thom Reijnders UNSPLASH

The circles represent the sun (red) and the moon (blue). The flag’s colors – red, blue, green and yellow – are the same as in the traditional Sámi dress.

The Sámi dress is the most visible of the national symbols of the Sámi. It carries the history of the Sámi people and is an important part of the national identity. The decorations of the costume, as well as the way it is worn, indicate which part of the bearer comes from and even reveal his or her family and marital status.

In Finland, there are five main versions of the Sámi dress: Enontekiö, Inari, the Skolt Sámi, Utsjoki and Vuotso. The dress has previously been used as day-to-day clothing, but it is now worn mainly on special occasions.

For further reading




Written by: Dana


Ng 08.11.2021 16:50
Beautiful article, which open eyes and getting to know the Sámi people :)
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