Preface: The Sámi of Northern Scandinavia and Russia
The Sámi people's traditional areas of settlement are northern Norway, Finland, Sweden, and the Kola Peninsula of Russia. I would like to call these areas Sápmi, and this is the right word in the Sámi language. The Sámi people are the indigenous inhabitants of this area.
The Sámi population is approximately 70,000–100,000 in these countries. The number differs according to which source you are reading. Nowadays it is very difficult to define who Sámi is and who is not. The number of Sámi people that are registered in the Swedish Sámi electoral register is approximately a little bit more than 7,000.
The traditional source of livelihood is reindeer herding, but there are also other sources that come from nature like fishing and hunting, to name a few.
Today the Sámi people have adjusted to a modern way of living, but are still consciously trying to preserve and develop their traditions by keeping the links to their traditional culture.
The Sámi Flag was adopted by the Nordic Sámi Conference in 1986. The colours red, green, yellow, and blue are known as the "Sámi colours." The flag's circle describes the sun (red) and the moon (blue).
There are Sámi parliaments ("Sámediggi" in North Sámi) in Norway, Finland and Sweden, where the people among themselves elect a representative body. The parliaments have advisory power only.
Sámediggi—Sámi Parliament in Norway
Sámediggi was founded in 1989. The Parliament mainly works for the culture and reindeer breeding, fishing and other sources of income which are very important for the Sámi people. The Norwegian Sámi parliament has elections every four years at the same time as the central parliament election (Storting); the next election will be in the autumn of 2005.
Sámediggi—Sámi Parliament in Finland
The former "Sámi párlameanta" was founded in 1973 as an advisory agency, and its task was to monitor the rights of the Sámi and to encourage their economic, social, and cultural conditions.
On the first of January 1996, the parliament was reorganised to correspond to the Sámi parliaments in Norway and Sweden. Election to the parliament is held every four years. The latest one is September 2003.
Sámediggi—Sámi parliament in Sweden
The Sámi parliament in Sweden was founded in 1993 and is a democratic body for increasing self–determination, but is also a state administrative body. Election to the parliament is held every four years.
The Sámi language, along with Finnish, Hungarian, Mordivian, Estonian, and some other languages, belong to the Finno–Ugric linguistic group. The Sámi language is divided into several different sub–languages from South–Sámi in Norway and Sweden to Kildin–Sámi on the Kola Peninsula.
The Sámi languages were for a long time suppressed by the colonising majority in each of the countries, but lately they have slowly begun to recover due to legislation and the fact that the schools have been more active in teaching the Sámi languages.
However, there are still many Sámi people who don't speak their own language, and worse, they cannot read nor write it. Finland, Sweden and Norway have laws that give the Sámi people the right to use the Sámi language when talking to the officials in their home district.
Already in the nineteenth century, the first initiatives in order to organise the Sámi began, and on the 6th of February 1917, the first meeting that gathered people from many parts of Sápmi was held in Trondheim.
Nowadays there are many Sámi organisations and political parties working in different areas.
The oldest manuscript in the Sámi language is a list of 95 words and expressions which were recorded in 1557 on the Kola Peninsula by an English sea captain.
The first book printed in the Sámi language was published in Sweden in 1619 (ABC book in the Sámi language by Nicolaus Andreae).
There are still very few books in the Sámi language, because it is not considered profitable to publish them. There are, however, Sámi publishing houses in Norway, Sweden, and Finland who keep on publishing literature in the Sámi language. Most of the books are published in Norway where the strongest governmental support is today.
1. In Norway, the Sámi electoral register was 9,923 at the last election in 2001, according to the Norwegian Sámi Parliament at
http://www.samediggi.no/default.asp?selNodeID=110&lang=no&docID=496#P25_1731. The Swedish Sámi Parliament's website states that 5,121 Finnish Sámi had "reported to the Sámi electoral register' at the election in 1999. (See
http://www.sametinget.se/sametinget/view.cfm?oid=1439.) Torunn Pettersen of Sámi Instituhtta, the Nordic Sámi Institute in Kautokeino/Guovdageainnu writes of the difficulties inherent in compiling statistics about the Sámi people in a paper presented to the International Union for Scientific Studies of Populations' General Population Conference in Brazil in 2001 entitled "Compiling a Saami Social Science Database: Can It Be Done Without Knowing Who and How Many The Saami Are?" (Online at
2. There is an English summary about the Norwegian Sámi Parliament online at
3. There is an English–language digital magazine on Sámi
culture called Web-Oktavuohta published by the Finnish Sámidiggi at
4. The Swedish English–language Sámi Parliament information site is at
5. A useful introduction to the Sámi and the Sámi languages can be found at the home pages for the Usenet newsgroup soc.culture.nordic at
6. Only the North Sámi language and its related dialects can be considered to have any strength in numbers. The Usenet newsgroup soc.culture.nordic's webpage at
http://www.lysator.liu.se/nordic/scn/faq23.html includes an estimate of approximate number of speakers of the language according to the Geographical distribution of the Uralic languages made by the Finno–Ugric Society in 1993. The North group is put at 30,000, with Kildin Sámi at 1,000 and Lule–Sámi 2,000 and the remainder at 500 or less, and Ume–Sámi and Pite–Sámi are estimated at "very few." Another estimate, based on the UNESCO Red Book on Endangered Languages (1993) considers the latter two extinct in Norway and "nearly extinct" in Sweden (http://www.helsinki.fi/~tasalmin/europe_report.html). Cultural centers have been established for a number of the smaller groups in Norway and Sweden. See this map for details:
Click to enlarge
7. This first meeting was organized, among others, by Elsa
Laula. See the Finnish Web–Oktavuohta on the National Day of the Sámi at
8. See http://www.lysator.liu.se/nordic/scn/faq23.html#2.3.5
The Editor's Notes were provided by Johan Koren, Editor of World Libraries, as additional sources of information.
About the Author
Peter Sarri is Library Consultant to the Sámi Parliament, attached to the Ájtte Swedish Sámi and Mountain Museum in Jokkmokk in Sweden.
Email: peter [dot] sarri [at] sametinget [dot] se
© 2002 Peter Sarri
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