During large parts of the past century, Sami people were forbidden to speak their own language and had to learn Norwegian under strict assimilation policies. Fortunately, this has changed, and today, Sami people are very proud of their culture and heritage.
The formal name for the region where Sami people live is Sápmi. It stretches across four countries: Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. It’s an area with no formal borders, but commonly refers to Northern-Norway, parts of Trøndelag in Norway, the Kola peninsula in Russia, Lappland in Finland and Norrland in Sweden. There’s no official registry of Sami people, but the total Sami population in these four countries is estimated at approx. 80 000, of which 40 000 live in Norway. Around half of them speak a Sami language.
The Sami tongue is part of the Finno-Ugric language group, member of the Uralic linguistic group, along with Finnish, Estonian and Hungarian. It is not similar nor related to the Norwegian language, or other Indo-European languages. There are traditionally about ten different Sami languages, but only three are in active use in Norway. They include Northern Sami, Lule Sami and Southern Sami.
Traditionally, most Sami people have supported themselves through fishing, livestock farming and hunting. But the Sami people are most known for their reindeer. Many Sami people in Norway make their living from herding reindeer, and the majority of the region of Northern Norway is used for raising reindeer. There’s almost no part of the reindeer that is not of use to the Sami people; the meat is dried and preserved, the fur and leather sown into warm clothes and shoes, and other parts of the reindeer is transformed into instruments, beautiful art and useful tools. Sami people value their heritage and keep their traditions alive by passing them on to younger generations. However, no Sami people today live a completely traditional life, and everyday life of many indigenous Sami people is intertwined with modern life.
In 1989, the Norwegian Sami Parliament was opened, after numerous protests in the 1970’s and 1980’s over the construction of a hydroelectric power plant in the Alta river in Northern Norway, known as the Alta controversy. To vote or become a representative of the Sami Parliament, you have to be in the electoral roll. The criterias are that you consider yourself Sami and that either you or one of your or grandparents have spoken a Sami language at home, or that your parents are registered or have been registered in the electoral roll. In 2017, there were almost 17 000 people registered in the Sami Parliament’s electoral roll in Norway.
On February 6 we celebrate Sami National Day in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. This day came about at the 15th Nordic Sami Conference in Helsinki in 1992. There, February 6 was chosen as the Sami National Day, to mark the first gathering of Sami people from Norway and Sweden in Trondheim February 6-9, 1917.
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All information from snl.no.