The Sámi ("sapmelas" in Sámi) are one of the indigenous peoples of Europe, just as the Inuit in Greenland. There are approximately 90,000 Sámi living in the northernmost regions of North Calotte and Kola Peninsula. Of these, the Norwegian Sámi constitute the largest group, numbering approximately 50-65,000 people, followed by Sweden (20,000), Finland (8,000) and Russia (2,000). The Sámi have their own history, language , culture, livelihoods, way of life and identity. The Sámi homeland reaches from Central Norway and Sweden through the northernmost part of Finland and into the Kola Peninsula.
A people is considered an indigenous people, if its ancestors have inhabited the area before it was conquered or settled or before the present borders were drawn. In addition, such a people is to have their distinct social, economic, cultural and political institutions and to consider themselves an indigenous people.
Currently (2007), the Sámi are recognized as an indigenous people—not only a minority group—in the constitutions of Finland and Norway. In Sweden, there is no constitutional recognition of the Sámi and they are treated as an ethnic minority and/or indigenous people. In the Constitution of the Russian Federation, the Sámi constitute one of the many indigenous ‘small in number’ peoples of the north. Only Norway has become a party to the ILO Convention No. 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, the only modern international convention specifically dealing with the rights of indigenous peoples.
In Finland, Norway and Sweden a person is considered a Sámi if she or he regards herself or himself a Sámi and has at least one parent or grandparent that learned Sámi as her or his mother tongue. More than half of the Sámi speak Sámi. There are several Sámi languages and the Sámi speaking the different languages generally can not understand each other. In Finland, Norway and Sweden North Sámi, or Mountain Sámi, is the main Sámi language.
In Finland, Sweden and Norway the Sámi elect from among themselves a representative body which has advisory status. In Norway and Sweden reindeer husbandry and its affiliated occupations are an exclusive right of the Sámi. Finnish law no longer grants the Sámi exclusive right to their traditional livelihoods. In Finland and Norway Sámi may use their own language with authorities.
Read more from Definition of indigenous peoples.
In the declaration of the 18th Sámi Conference is stated for example:
- We Sámi are one people and that national borders shall not infringe on our community;
- Emphasize that the nation states Finland, Norway, Russia and Sweden partly have been established on land and sea territories belonging to the Sámi people; areas that Sámi have possessed and managed from time immemorial before the formation of the states;
- Repeat that the Sámi of these four states are one people with common history, culture, language, traditions, civic life, trade and visions for the future and that state borders shall not violate our community;
Sámi in N-W Russia
Most Sámi in Russia live in the Murmansk Oblast. There are also some Sámi living elsewhere in Russia but most of them live in the Nordic countries. The Sámi are in minority in the Murmansk Oblast, making up only 0.15 % of the whole population according to the all-union census of 1989. They live mostly in the eastern parts of the Oblast, in Lovozero rayon, but there are also some small groups of Sámi everywhere in the Murmansk Oblast. The Sámi are in minority also in Lovozero rayon, and most of them (66.3°/о) live in rural areas.
Today the Sámi have the status of indigenous people at the Russian Federation level as well as at the regional level. The Sámi belong to the so-called small-numbered indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East at the federal level. Also in the legislation of the Murmansk Oblast, the Sámi are recognised as indigenous peoples.
The ethnic identity of the Sámi is very much connected with their language and reindeer herding. Among the Sámi people living in the Murmansk Oblast, there are several Sámi languages (or dialects): Skolt (Notozero), Akkala (Babino), Kildin Sámi and Ter (Iokanga) Sámi. Most of the Sámi speak in Kildin Sámi (800 speakers). Only a few persons nowadays speak Akkala and Ter Sámi languages. According the all-union census of 1989, only 42.2% of the Sámi considered Sámi language as their native language. There is a great danger of language loss among the Sámi in the Murmansk Oblast. During the Soviet era no education in the Sámi language was provided in schools. Today in the village of Lovozero there are Sámi lessons in the school (Kildin Sámi), but the language of education is Russian. Many Sámi parents do not speak their native language at all at home. There aye also a great number of inter-ethnic marriages among Sámi, which also makes it difficult to use Sámi language daily at home. There are obligatory Sámi lessons in the boarding school in Lovozero, but in the other schools the lessons are voluntary. Also in the vocational school of Lovozero, the students have a possibility to attend Sámi lessons. In Lovozero it is possible to listen to Sámi language radio broadcasting, but it is not an official language and it cannot be heard everyday. Today there are some books for children in Sámi and also a few writers, who write in Sámi language. But there are not many books in Sámi language and not enough books about local culture and history even in Russian. In other villages, where the Sámi live, there are no Sámi lessons at schools at all.
The self-confidence of the Sámi is increasing today: they have their own organisations, the first of which was organised in 1989 and the second one in 1998. There are also separate organisations for the Sámi youth, women and craftsmen. In 1994, an ethno-cultural centre was established in Lovozero village, where Sámi and Komi craftsmen work and give courses of handicraft in order to revive old skills and knowledge. The centre also organises Sámi language courses. There are also a few Sámi folkdance groups, which use the centre as their home base. In the 1990x, the Sámi re-established contacts with other Sámi living in the Nordic countries, which has had an impact on their awareness of self-identity. During the Soviet times these contacts were not possible at all.
The Sámi culture has very much been connected with reindeer herding. At the beginning of this century the Sámi people on the Kola Peninsula lived from reindeer herding, fishing and hunting. Soviet collectivisation and industrialisation changed the situation. Reindeer herding is no longer the only livelihood of the Sámi, and many of them work in other fields nowadays. However, reindeer herding is still an important livelihood for the survival of the ethnic identity of the Sámi, and all of them are concerned about the problems of reindeer herding. The herders still work in co-operatives and have difficulties in organising their work and production under today’s circumstances. The industrialisation of the Murmansk Oblast has decreased available pastureland during the past decades, and this tendency is still continuing. The reindeer herding areas in the Murmansk Oblast aye shown in Figure 17 on page 76.
The Sámi have had problems with other kinds of nature exploitation as well, namely tourist fishing, which has meant that the Sámi have lost their right to fish in their native territory. Although, according to the regional legislation, the Oblast administration should defend the rights of the Sámi, people feel that they have been forgotten.
The unemployment rate is high and the education level low among the Sámi. Their number has not changed very much during this century, but the number of Sámi speakers has decreased. According to the 1989 census, for example, the death rate among the Sámi was 2.4 times higher than among other people in the Murmansk Oblast.
National minorities of Finland - in 1995 the Finnish Constitution was amended in order to provide stronger guarantees for the rights of the Sámi, guaranteeing them cultural autonomy in respect to their language and culture within the Sámi Homeland.
Southern Sámi (eteläsaame, sydSámiska)
Ume Sámi (uumajansaame, umeSámiska)
Pite Sámi (piitimensaame, piteSámiska)
Lule Sámi (luujalansaame, luleSámiska)
Northern Sámi (pohjoissaame, nordSámiska)
- sub dialects: Torne Sámi (tornionsaame)
Sea Sámi (merisaame)
Inari Sámi (inarinsaame, enareSámiska)
(Kemi Sámi (keminsaame /extinct)
(Filman Sámi "filmanit) (language extinct 1930s, speakers lived by the costs of Kola Peninsula)
Skolt Sámi (koltansaame, skoltSámiska)
Akkala Sámi (akkalansaame, , akkalaSámiska, last speaker died 2003)
Kildin Sámi (kildininsaame, kildinSámiska)
Ter Sámi (turjansaame, terSámiska) (about 10 people left speaking the language)
- Leif Rantala, lector on Sámi language, University of Lapland.
- Geographical distribution of the Uralic Languages. Suomalais-ugrilainen seura 1993.
- Sámi languages and dialects - from ethnologue.com
- Akkala, Inari, Kemi, Kildin, Lule, Northern, Pite, Skolt, Southern, Ter, Ume