The Sámi National Day is celebrated on 6th of February as an ethnic national day for the Sami people. That day in 1917 the first Sámi congress was held in Trondheim, Norway.This congress was the first time that Norwegian and Swedish Sámi came together across their national borders to work together on common issues.
The Inari-Saariselkä area offers visitors the opportunity to explore Sámi culture
The Inari-Saariselkä region is located at the heart of the homelands of the Sámi, Finland’s indigenous people. The Sámi are Europe’s only recognised indigenous people, whose homelands in Finland cover the northernmost parts of Lapland, the municipalities of Utsjoki, Inari and Enontekiö, and the northern part of Sodankylä. In the Inari-Saariselkä region, you are invited to explore this vibrant culture with local companies.
The area, Sápmi, stretches across the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola Peninsula in Russia. The Sámi people with homelands in different countries engage in collaboration, which has gained new forms that are up-to-date and modern, such as celebrations and other events.
The Sámi in Finland: three languages and three cultures
The Sámi have their own languages and culture which differ from those of ethnic Finns. In Finland, the Sámi speak three languages, which are different enough for the speakers to struggle to understand each other. The largest of these languages is Northern Sámi, spoken in areas of Finland, Sweden and Norway. The other Sámi languages spoken in Finland are Inari Sámi, which has its origins in the Inarijärvi region, and Skolt Sámi, also spoken in Norway and Russia.
There are also differences in the traditional livelihoods and cultural symbols, such as the design of the national costume and handicrafts. The traditional Sámi livelihoods help to maintain the language in a living culture. The Sámi cultures are steeped in nature, which is attested to by the languages’ rich vocabulary related to nature. For example, Northern Sámi having almost 200 words to describe snow.
Traditional livelihoods in the modern world
Even though not all Sámi people engage in reindeer husbandry, this trade holds the most prominent position among the traditional livelihoods and is therefore particularly important for the culture. Annual reindeer herding events bring together entire families. People come together for the marking of reindeer calves at midsummer, while reindeer roundups take place in the early winter. You can experience reindeer herding first hand with Arctic Siida and reindeer farm Petri Mattus, which offer guided tours to visitors who want to see what the day-to-day work of a reindeer herder is like.
A source of inspiration to modern designers and artists, traditional Sámi handicrafts duodji, are still made using old techniques. Artistic traditions emphasize interaction with nature. An authentic handicraft is recognizable from the Sámi Duodji marking, granted by the Sámi Duodji organisation. You can buy authentic handicrafts as a souvenir or for everyday use at the Sámi Duodji shop located on the premises of the Cultural Centre Sajos in Inari. The centre also showcases contemporary Sámi art on the walls of Solju, the Parliament Hall where the Sámi Parliament convenes. Siida Shop is another business selling authentic handicrafts, which carry the same marking.
All the traditional livelihoods – reindeer herding, fishing, hunting and arts and crafts – play an important role in passing on the culture. Younger generations learn customs and practices related to a livelihood from their parents. These days, many Sámi families have diversified into tourism to supplement the income from traditional livelihoods, which are usually carried out as a family venture, a practice that is also being transferred to their travel industry operations. Consequently, many Sámi-owned companies in the Inari-Saariselkä region are family businesses involving several generations. One example of such a family business is Valle Holiday Village, which is run by the entire family.
Yoik as an inspiration
Yoik, the Sámi musical tradition, is an integral and unique part of the culture, which visitors can experience for example at the Sámi dinner hosted by Joiku-Kotsamo or as part of a river boat trip on Lemmenjoki organised by Paltto Adventures. Each of the three cultures in Finland has its own yoik traditions: luohti in Northern Sámi, livđe in Inari Sámi and leu’dd in Skolt Sámi. Yoik is still part of everyday life and social situations. Its topics arise from the community: a yoik may be dedicated to a human being, a natural phenomenon or an event, but the yoiker themselves is never the topic as this would be considered inappropriate or arrogant. Yoik does not consist of actual lyrics and it depicts or evokes its topic through a melody and variations in the use of voice. This traditional form of song is still a source of inspiration and influence for modern Sámi music: these days yoik is fused with rock or rap music. The raps by Ailu Valle in Northern Sámi or by Amoc in Inari Sámi touch on the same topics as the traditional yoik. Inari hosts an annual indigenous music festival Ijahis Idja, which presents the biggest stars and latest trends in Sámi music from yoik to contemporary music.
Sámi culture in Siida
The Inari-Saariselkä region is the best place to explore Sámi culture. Siida Sámi Museum and Nature Centre, which is open all year round, invites visitors to learn about the fascinating Sámi culture and unique Lappish nature. The permanent exhibitions of the centre, which is the national museum for Finland’s Sámi people, offer an overview of the history of the local culture. In summer, the centre’s open-air museum, which also features a pre-historic dwelling site, showcases traditional Sámi building techniques. The permanent exhibition and the open-air museum also have information in German.
Article by Ida Pirttijärvi, photo by Terhi Tuovinen