Sami in Sweden
Archeological finds suggest that the Sami people have lived in
Published by the Swedish Institute
the Arctic region for thousands of years. Modern Sami build on September 2006 FS 59 q
their rich culture and long-established traditions but are happy
More fact sheets can be found on
to use snow scooters rather than skis in their reindeer husbandry. www.sweden.se/fact_sheets
Sami country – Sápmi – stretches over tunity to develop and preserve their crafts,
the northern part of the Arctic area of the language, education, reindeer keeping, tra-
Scandinavian countries and the Kola Pen- ditions and identity.
insula. The Sami have been recognized by There is no census for Sami, but it is
the United Nations as indigenous people. estimated that there are around 70,000
This means that they are given the oppor- people spread over four countries. There
Reindeer husbandry is often a family business for Sami. Photo: Samiskt informationscentrum
are approximately 20,000 in Sweden,
40,000 in Norway, 6,000 in Finland and
2,000 in Russia (Kola Peninsula). 1 World-
wide, there are 370 million native people
spread throughout 70 different countries.
The Sami were originally nomadic,
living in tents during the summer and
more sturdy huts built with peat during
the colder seasons. Sami tents do still
exist, but today Sami often live in modern
Urbanization and industrialization of
southern Sweden has contributed to large
movements of people towards the south
to work in ‘‘regular’’ professions. Today 10
percent of Sami in Sweden live from rein-
deer husbandry, which is often a family
business, in many cases in combination
with tourism or fishing.
Reindeer Husbandry Most of Sami country lies north of the Arctic circle, which means the sun never sets there in the summer.
The Sami are referred to as the ‘‘eight sea- Photo: Patrick Trädgårdh/www.imagebank.sweden.se
sons’ people’’ because the work involved in
reindeer husbandry is divided into differ- companies. Each village has a sectioned whose task is to safeguard, develop and
ent time intervals throughout the year and off area for collective use of pastures. coordinate all questions concerning Sami
includes calving, marking, counting up, areas of interest.
castration and slaughter. The Sami Language Elections to the Sami parliament are
The traditional movement of reindeer, The Sami have their own languages, di- held every four years. The parliament has
when families moved by foot or on skis vided into three main areas. The areas’ 31 members who gather three times per
with whole reindeer herds to new areas, borders stretch in a horizontal line straight year in different locations in Sweden. The
has with time been substituted by faster across Sweden, Finland, Norway and Rus- democratically elected assembly is divided
transport like snow scooters, lorries or sia. This means that the Sami of northern between six different parties. Economic-
helicopters. Some Sami prioritize environ- Norway, Sweden and Finland speak the ally the parliament is run on grants from
mentally friendly methods by using tradi- same language, North Sami. In Russia, the Swedish government and there is only
tional knowledge in combination with new Kola Sami is spoken, but North Sami is one full-time politician, the chairman of
working practices; for instance by using a partly also understood and spoken. the assembly. A parliament building is to
horse instead of a helicopter to round up a In the next language area, which covers be completed in 2009 in Kiruna.
herd. Jokkmokk and Gällivare as well as parts of The main political question is increased
A Sami village is an economical and Tysfjord in Norway, Lule Sami is spoken. influence, which has partly been accom-
administrative union, created with the in- South Sami is spoken in Västerbotten plished by the Swedish government trans-
tention to keep reindeer, which is regulat- and Jämtland, as well as near the Sami ferring fishing and hunting permits from
ed by reindeer husbandry laws. Sami vil- geographical border in Härjedalen and the county administrative boards to the
lages consist of several reindeer husbandry Dalarna. 2 Sami parliament. Other prioritized areas
Generally, the younger generations are increasing youth participation in elec-
neither speak nor write Sami. As a result, tions, equality, the keeping of predatory
Did you know? several actions to maintain and develop animals and reindeer, Sami research and
language skills are prioritized, such as the survival of Sami languages.
• Reindeer milk tastes sweet and looks like melted study groups, teaching aids and other The Sami governments in Finland,
ice cream. projects. In 2006 it was suggested that the Norway and Sweden have together drawn
• Reindeer meat is rich in minerals and very lean.
• 2,000 tons of reindeer meat is the annual slaughter
administrative district for Sami languages up a Nordic Sami convention, which will
yield. be expanded. This would mean that the strengthen their position as a minority,
• Reindeer eat mushrooms, different types of lichen, native language Sami would be an alter- and also influence decision-making in
grass and herbs. native to the Swedish language within the Sami-related questions.
• There are 51 Swedish Sami villages.
• Sweden’s largest Sami village is called Sirkas and
education system. Approximately 6,000
is in Jokkmokk. Sami speak their mother tongue; for 5,000 Traditional Sami Costumes
• Sami shoes are made from reindeer hide. this is North Sami. Sami is a rich lan- The traditional Sami costumes, kolts, are
• Sami singing is called yoik and is meant to reflect guage and so there are, for instance, over very different in both color and style de-
a person or an event.
• The Sami have eleven official flag days and
100 different ways of saying snow. 3 pending on their geographical origin. The
a Sami national day on 6 February. costumes, which traditionally are blue,
• The Sami national song was written by Isak Saba. Sami Parliament have at least 12 different styles and are
• Typical Sami first names are Ante, Risstin and The Sami political struggle for increased different for men and women. Some Sami
Sunna, and double names such as Nils-Anund,
Per-Anders or Nils-Gustav are common.
influence and self determination started in have redesigned their costumes and given
the 1950s. Today there is an authoritative them characteristic patterns specific to
body elected by the people, sametinget, each family. Contemporary fashion also
influences the costumes. Younger Sami applicants for 2007. There are six Sami guarantees authenticity for the buyer.
often prefer wearing costumes made of schools in Sweden, which are compulsory The marking is equally important for the
shiny silk in a diverse range of colors at schools with Sami subjects. The schools craftsman as an indication of establish-
Sami meetings. Hats are increasingly pop- are located in Karesuando, Lannavara, ment in the industry.
ular, possibly because of training in both Kiruna, Gällivare, Jokkmokk and, in the
hard and soft handicrafts. Educational southern area, Tärnaby. Sami Religion
programs have had positive effects, not The Sami religion, schamanism, disap-
just for the wearing of Sami costumes, but Sami Handicrafts – Duodji peared with the establishment of the Swe-
also for passing down knowledge of how The reindeer plays a big part in the Sami dish church and attempts to convert the
to make them and other things, such as culture; it is the basis for many materials, Sami people to Christianity. The Sami
traditional knives. everyday objects and food produce. It is faith constituted worship of various spiri-
important to the Sami to learn everything tual beings, where the dead had great
Education about reindeer and this knowledge is influence over the living. The Sami had
The Sami education center was formed passed on not only through formal educa- many different gods, for example the God
as a high school in 1942 and is today situ- tion but also by word of mouth from gen- of Thunder Tiermes and his wife Akka.
ated in Jokkmokk in northern Sweden. eration to generation. Everything from the The sun always had a central place in their
The center offers training in reindeer hus- reindeer is kept and used: skin and horns worship and so it was often drawn in the
bandry, traditional cooking and handi- are the basis for shoes and knives, meat is middle of drums.
crafts. The center also offers the possibil- used in cooking and in further processing. Sami places of sacrifice and holy ob-
ity to study Sami subjects in combination Sami handicrafts, duodji, are made jects, seitar, became a threat to Christian-
with a Swedish high school program. with nature’s materials and often have soft ity, so threats of worldly punishment were
Short courses in the Sami languages are rounded shapes that are pleasing to the made if the Sami did not abandon their
also on offer, as is commissioned training touch but are mainly functional. Tradi- faith. The Sami drums were burnt on bon-
for companies and government institutions tional objects have kept the same designs, fires and their religion disappeared com-
in areas concerning culture, reindeer or and knives and bowls make statements pletely in the 1700s.
other Sami industries. The two-year pro- through their intensive ornamentation.
grams are open to applicants of 18 years Decorating was, and is, an important part
and over. Applicants of all ages apply to of the handicraft, in part to display the References
1 Samer – ett ursprungsfolk i Sverige,
the popular hard and soft handicraft pro- maker’s technical skills, but also to pre-
grams to develop and relearn the Sami serve family and cultural patterns. Regeringskansliet (2004).
2 Nickel, Klaus Peter, Samisk Gram-
handicrafts. Many Sami make handicrafts to boost
For the school year starting in the their income, often as a side line to their matik, Universitetsforlaget (1990).
3 Roung, Israel, Samerna i historien och
autumn of 2006, 136 people applied, but ordinary work, but a select few earn their
the limited intake meant only 88 students living from it. nutiden, Bonnier Fakta (1982).
were given places. This increased interest An important development for Sami
is still apparent, as there are already 107 handicrafts is a quality marking that Related links
The official Sami website (limited content
Sami Information Center (in Swedish)
Sami Museum, Jokkmokk (in Swedish)
Sami market, Jokkmokk (in English)
Jokkmokk tourist office (in English)
World Heritage Sweden (in English)
Samefolket, Sami magazine
Sami educational center (in Swedish)
The Sami handicraft foundation (in Eng-
Many of today’s Sami use motorized vehicles like scooters, motorcycles and helicopters to round up their The National Union of the Swedish Sami
reindeer herds. Photo: Samiskt informationscentrum People (limited content in English)
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