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Sámi Culture in the Nordic Countries –

Administration, Support, Evaluation

By Harald Gaski

Tr. John Weinstock

The Sámi are a group of people in Northern Europe living in large areas of Scandinavia, Northern Finland and Northwestern Russia, from the Kola Peninsula in the northeast to Dalarna and Femund in the south. It is difficult to state exactly how many Sámi there are in that the ethnic definition can vary and, besides, it is up to each individual as to whether they want to consider themselves to be Sámi. But most figure that there are somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 Sámi in all. The largest group lives in Norway.

The name comes from what the Sámi call themselves, sámit or sápmelaččat. In Norway they were previously called “lapper” or “finner,” similarly “lappar” in Sweden and “lappalaiset” in Finland. Now the designation Sámi is being incorporated internationally, e.g. in trend-setting reference works and, of course, in the global aboriginal peoples’ efforts in which the Sámi actively participate.

Earlier on it was usual to divide the Sámi people into four main groups according to mode of living and dwelling (sea Sámi, river and lake Sámi, forest Sámi and mountain Sámi), but this has been more and more abandoned.

Sámi society today is similarly composed and differentiated as just about any other modern society. Still Sámi cultural policy today is focused on not breaking the connection back to traditional values in the building up of the new. For example, people are trying to stress taking care of the close connection to the natural surroundings.

Lately, with increasing environmental disturbances and ecological catastrophes, the indigenous peoples’ form of life has been embraced with increasing interest. The perspective is on the verge of changing from considering these cultures as primitive to seeking valuable information from them so as to be able to attain a greater degree of ecological adaptation for the technologically based societies. Also, indigenous peoples’ traditional knowledge about folk medicine and healing plants is being utilized and in some cases exploited in the development of new medicines.

Older History

There are several theories about the origin of the Sámi people, where they came from and which groups of people they are possibly related to. There have also been physical anthropological investigations to demonstrate characteristic features of the Sámi if possible. Ancient Sámi myths speak about long migrations before the Sámi finally arrived in the land that they call Sápmi or Sámiid eanan today. The oldest of these myths end at the time when the Sámi began to believe in the shamanistic form of religion, the same Sámi religion Christian missionaries later fought against. The myths speak of a two-part immigration into Sámiland, one from the north and one from the south.

The old Sámi were a hunter-gatherer people. This is affirmed for one thing by archaeological excavations and by the oldest literary source we have on Sámi history, viz. Tacitus’ description of the fenni in his Germania from 98 AD. The oldest cultural layer goes back to the time around the birth of Christ.

There is a discussion today as to when the ethnic separation occurred, that is, at what point in time and in what way it might be possible to say, on the basis of discoveries and excavations, that such and such indicates a Sámi settlement in the area. In recent times there have been the rudiments of genetic research in the area. Closer cooperation between geneticists, archaeologists and historical linguists can contribute to producing new knowledge about the very oldest Sámi history, but the way the political climate in the international debate on aboriginal people currently is, one should be aware that many milieus are ready to exploit research results in one direction or another in a political context of current significance.

The old Sámi social order was based on a siida system, where different hunting parties together formed the basis of larger common units, a “sameby” or village unit. These siidas had a consistently democratic system of governance, where the settlement was based on ecological adaptation and change of residence according to the resources. Most of the siidas functioned in such a manner with several seasonal dwelling places, where at a given time they utilized the natural abundance there was most of at the place.

Presumably the siida system is part of the reason there were not too many confrontations between Sámi and Norwegians when colonization fully got underway. The Sámi withdrew to one of their other dwelling places to avoid strife, but at the same time had their sphere of action reduced as well as access to the prey animals that precisely that dwelling place was richest in.

The colonization began first along the coast, but gradually moved inward along the fjords and up along the rivers. As a consequence of the colonization the Sámi gradually lost their autonomy. The different groups lived so spread out and were so little united that they never managed to mobilize any larger opposition to the loss of land and water. The strong exploitation of the natural resources along with increased taxation and colonization that followed led to the old hunting society having to give up and be replaced by a subsistence-based economy that for one thing aimed at a more restricted utilization of fewer niches. With this background, reindeer herding, stock farming, sea and river fishing and wilderness livelihoods arose. So they put more emphasis on utilizing one niche as a main form of subsistence rather than focusing on a rotation where they combined all the possibilities.

Sámiland is and has been of central strategic and political significance because of its location, its natural resources and its ice-free harbors. With this background it is surprising that the borders in this corner of Europe have remained so stable. The border with Sweden through the Sámi areas was drawn up in 1751, and the border with Russia was fixed in 1826.

According to the border treaty of 1751 reindeer-herding Sámi were assured certain special rights in an addendum to the treaty that got the name the Lapp Codicil. For a long time this document has been interpreted as an important legal acceptance of Sámi rights, recognizing the Sámi as a separate people.

The Lapp Codicil is still relevant in the on-going investigations into the Sámi’s rights to land and water in Sámi areas. The border revision between Finland and Russia after the Second World War had dramatic consequences for the East Sámi groups in that they were split by a frontier that was nearly hermetically sealed all the way to the end of the 1980s.

Norwegianization and Missionary Activity

Early on the Sámi were subjected to missionary activity from the surrounding states, but the missionary work in Norway did not pick up real speed until the 18th century when Thomas von Westen formalized the missionary and educational work. The background for this activity was pietism as a school of thought, though state and security motives played a role as well.

This missionary work, along with the development of Læstadianism in the Sámi congregations from around the middle of the 19th century, among other things led to the old Sámi religion gradually disappearing entirely.

From the middle of the 19th century on the cultural policy towards the Sámi and the Kvens began to take on a clearer profile of Norwegianization. From the end of the 19th century the school laws specified that all instruction was to be in Norwegian, and a system of rewards was worked out for those teachers who managed to Norwegianize the most.

This policy of Norwegianization remained in effect until after the Second World War. In addition to the motto “One nation, one people!” there were several other motivations for the effort.

The crisis in the Sámi subsistence economy in several areas, for one thing after operations in farming and fishing became more intensive and thereby required more capital – something that in turn led to the Sámi falling outside the system because of administrative reasons – provided fertile soil for a devaluation of Sámi culture.

The mass immigration of Kvens to the northern districts certainly provided good grounds for security aspects of the Norwegianization policy, while Social Darwinist assessments on the ideological level provided legitimacy for a hierarchical placement of Norwegian culture on a higher level than Sámi.

The same attitudes and trends in thinking were also predominant in Finland and Sweden, even if the “Lapp shall be Lapp” ideology in Sweden primarily aimed only at defining the Sámi who were connected to reindeer herding as Sámi; the others were supposed to be assimilated. Even today one can see the results of this policy in the split between the different Sámi groups on the Swedish side, for one thing the struggle for political rights that the Sámi who do not live in the samebys “Sámi villages” carry on.

There was a certain Sámi opposition to this policy at the beginning of the 20th century, for one thing an incipient Sámi organizing of literary activities that tried to bring up Sámi rights as a separate people within the borders of the national state of Norway.

In the South Sámi area Elsa Laula (later Laula Renberg) worked energetically on both sides of the Norwegian-Swedish border to organize the Sámi and was the head of one of the first Sámi societies in Norden (Scandinavia and Finland) in 1904. She was also one of the central figures at the first Sámi national meeting in Trondheim in 1917.

The dawning workers’ movement however swallowed up the whole ethnically based mobilization into the huge joint effort and in a way reduced the entire Sámi cause to a question of social justice and equality. After this the organizing of the Sámi did not gain any speed until after the Second World War.

Conventions and Political Institutions

In the years after the Second World War a more reflective view of the Sámi’s rights both as an ethnic and a linguistic minority was attained. General ideas about human dignity and the equality of cultures, for one thing were agreed upon in the UN’s human rights declaration from 1948, and this was even further strengthened by article 27 of the UN treaty of 1966 on civil and political rights that protects minorities from negative differential treatment and forms the basis for active support of the minority culture through positive initiatives. This is also the case with the ILO treaty no. 169 from 1989 Concerning Aboriginal Peoples and Tribes In Independent States, that Norway is one of the few countries in the world to have ratified. Together with Agenda 21 from the world conference on environment and development in Brazil in 1992, chapter 26 on the recognition and strengthening of aboriginal peoples and their society, these international rules of law and norms constituted a foundation that has strengthened legitimacy for a separate Sámi cultural activity. The work in progress to create a Nordic Sámi convention also ought to be mentioned in this connection. In the fall of 2002 the UN established a separate Permanent Forum for aboriginal peoples that will have its secretariat in New York and will be led by Ole Henrik Magga, the first president of the Norwegian Sámi Parliament.

The Sámi gradually established their own organizations in all three Nordic countries, and in 1953 they jointly formed Nordisk Sameråd (Nordic Sámi Council) that has now been expanded with representation from the Russian Sámi. Hence the name has been changed to Samerådet (Sámi Council), and after the introduction of separate popularly elected bodies for the Sámi in Norway, Sweden and Finland Samerådet has defined itself as a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) within the international aboriginal people’s effort.

Samerådet is an umbrella organization for Sámi organizations in Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia. It is independent of the government and operates freely as a cultural policy and political cooperative body that is supposed to work to further the Sámi people’s economic, social and cultural standing.

Illustration from Gaski/Kappfjell p. 22

Since 1989 Samerådet has had advisory status within the United Nations (UN). this means that Samerådet can participate in meetings and processes within the UN that relate to aboriginal people. Samerådet has the status as a permanent participant in the Arktisk Råd (Arctic Council). Samerådet also participates in the work on the aboriginal people’s declaration and the establishment of a permanent forum for aboriginal people in the UN. Besides, Samerådet has a coordinating function in several EU financed aboriginal people’s projects, and is even considering setting up a separate coordinator position for aboriginal people to aboriginal people work in aid. NGO is a status the Sámi parliaments cannot achieve because these bodies are engaged in national Sámi politics and have an advisory function to their countries’ authorities.

After the Nordisk Råd’s (Nordic Council) women’s conference in 1988 the Sámi women’s organization Sáráhkká was founded. It was central in the formation of the World Council for Aboriginal Women in 1989. It is important for these organizations to emphasize that women within the aboriginal cultures have other conditions than men, and that the modernization of the aboriginal cultures and the changes in society that follow often affect special practices and traditional rights that the women have had. Since 1996 the Sámi women’s forum has existed as a specially developed network for concrete Sámi women’s projects with a view toward local social development.

Sámi Parliaments in Norway, Sweden and Finland

All three Nordic countries have their own representative Sámi popularly elected bodies, Sameting (Sámi Parliament). The respective countries have also enacted decisions in their legislation that concern the Sámi’s rights as a people, aboriginal people and minority. In the Norwegian constitution § 110a it states that the authorities shall put the situation in order so the Sámi in Norway will be able to protect and develop Sámi language, culture and social life.

The constitution’s § 110a from 1988 has the following wording:

It is the responsibility of the State’s Authorities to arrange it so that the Sámi People can protect and develop their Language, their Culture and their Social Life.”

Finland has four fundamental laws. In one of them, the government form, there are decisions about Sámi rights. Government Form 14 § 2 from 1995 reads:

The Sámi as an aboriginal people along with the Gypsies and other groups have the right to preserve and develop their language and their culture. Concerning the Sámi’s right to use their language with authorities, it has been enacted in law…”

In 1995 there was a new decision in Government Form 51 a § that went into effect in 1996 and that reads:

The Sámi as an aboriginal people shall, according to what is enacted in the law, be assured cultural autonomy within their native district in matters concerning their language and culture.”

Sweden has a general goals paragraph that handles minorities in Government Form 1 Chapter 2 § fourth part from 1976 that reads:

Ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities’ possibilities to preserve and develop their own cultural and social life should be furthered.

The Norwegian Sameting was established in 1989 after longtime pressure from Sámi organizations to have a body elected that could represent all Sámi in Norway regardless of political affiliation and membership in voluntary organizations.

In Finland there had already been a Sameparlament for a long time, but after Norway and Sweden established their respective Sametings Finland followed along and renamed their Sámi popularly elected body as Sametinget. As a basis for the elections each country has its Sámi census into which it is voluntary to enter ones name. The criteria for being able to define oneself as Sámi are that one feels Sámi, that one of the great grandparents of the person entering the census had Sámi as his first language, and finally that the party concerned has a Sámi affiliation to the nearby surroundings.

In other words the definition can be said to be linguistically based, and is different from e.g. the “blood quantum” definition that quite a few American Indian tribes use, and that is the basis for whether one can be officially registered as an Indian with the rights that entails. Within the Sámi parliaments’ practices in the Scandinavian countries one has not limited the right to being able to accept for example cultural support only to census-registered Sámi, but has been very liberal in accepting a person’s self perception as a Sámi. Up to now the definition of who is Sámi has not created problems at all, since there are still far more Sámi than the official numbers show. The background for this is of course the stigmatization that all the Sámi were subjected to for such a long time.

The Sámi parliaments receive annually a type of block grant from the respective national states that the parliaments then administer for various purposes that will serve the preservation and development of Sámi language, culture and social life. One can say that in this manner the Sámi are well on their way to having gained cultural autonomy, even if the national popularly elected bodies are still the ones that determine the size of the grant, and they have also guarded against giving the Sámi local autonomy in the sense that the Sámi parliaments do not have decision-making power over resource use and administration in the Sámi settlement areas.

The Sámi parliaments have jointly established a separate Sámi Parliamentary Council that is a cooperative body between the Sámi parliaments in Norway, Sweden and Finland. The Parliamentary Council will in many ways be a natural extension of the Sámi cooperation that was established through Nordisk Sameråd. The difference is represented only by the fact that the one body will now be an official cooperative initiative between popularly elected bodies, so-called GOs (Governmental Organizations) in contrast to the voluntary cooperation between the freer organizations that are not connected to the national states in the same formal way, the so-called NGOs (Non Governmental Organizations). One of the goals for the Sámi Parliamentary Council is to:

establish a common, popularly elected cooperative body where one can work together and coordinate common positions in matters that affect the relationship between the Sámi, in addition to current Nordic and international questions. (The Sameting annual report 1999:

In the Norwegian Sámi Parliament’s annual report from 1999 it says under point 2.1.3. “Future Challenges” that:

The Sámi are an aboriginal people and constitute a minority in relation to the country’s remaining population. Therefore it is important to be attentive to the fact that the relationship between Norwegian central state authorities and the Sámi as a separate people is a matter of the relationship between state and aboriginal people. In this there is a challenge to prepare an aboriginal people’s policy where elements from various areas enter in. The initiatives towards the Sámi must of course be assessed from the Sámi’s own needs and historical background.

The Right to Separate Activity

It is further stressed under the same point that there ought to be an obligation between Norwegian and Sámi authorities to negotiate questions of specially great significance for the Sámi on the basis of the principles of collective bargaining between the Sámi Parliament and the state. The whole point reads as follows:

The principles of international law concerning an aboriginal people’s rights are clear, and state indisputably that the states must recognize and affirm aboriginal peoples’ rights with a basis in the justice systems and legal opinions of the people concerned. The rights of the Sámi to their own land areas, water and natural resources must be respected and recognized, and fundamental questions pertaining to the Sámi’s rights and living conditions in the future must be decided through discussions and negotiations between the Sameting and the state. A central task will be to introduce the obligation to negotiate between the Sámi and Norwegian authorities in matters where this is necessary according to the Sámi’s judgment, especially in the areas of culture, business and rights. This duty ought to encompass more than a simple consultation, and must entail mutual obligations. The obligation to negotiate must be spelled out in the Norwegian legal system. Future administrative arrangements must give the Sameting authority to determine and administer the use of natural resources in the Sámi settlement areas.

It appears to be taking time for the state authorities to treat the Sámi parliaments as equally worthy partners, even in questions that concern the Sámi. In a very critical newspaper article in Northern Norway’s largest newspaper, Nordlys, the former president of the Norwegian Sameting and professor of Sámi language, Ole Henrik Magga writes that he was more optimistic at the establishment of the Sameting in Norway twelve years ago than he is today as far as working Sámi interests into administrative and other bodies, because he plainly doubts “whether the power structure in place is willing to prepare a permanent spot in the country’s [Norway’s] political and administrative system for Sámi culture.” (Magga 2001:3).

Magga compares the Norwegian Sameting’s relationship to the Norwegian government as to the negotiating position in several central cultural questions with what has been done in Canada between the government and the aboriginal people there, and says: “It is a development that would have been a great step forward in the work of assuring Sámi culture more equal conditions relative to Norwegian culture. The Sameting has no established relationship to the Storting. In practice contact with Storting committees happens quite fortuitously along with other lobbyists.”

This is quite a powerful criticism of the Norwegian state’s insufficient following up of its commitments to the country’s aboriginal people, even after the establishment of the Sameting. The former Sameting president says in the article that no systematic cultural policy is carried on with a view to strengthening Sámi culture [in Norway], and he even maintains that after the establishment of the Sameting it has been the experience that responsibility for Sámi culture is no longer taken: “Applications to municipalities and counties for cultural funds are generally sent to the Sameting if the applications are identified as Sámi in content. The cultural funds of the municipalities and counties are therefore presumably not used to a great extent for Sámi culture. Resolutions that aim at strengthening Sámi culture for example within education, have had a “back clash” effect in areas that are not mentioned in the legal system. “The Sámi language law is not valid for us!” Thereby all Sámi initiatives are refused.”

In addition Magga brings up another general problem with the municipalities where Sámi culture is strongest, namely that those municipalities uniformly have weak economies, something that of course puts a damper on the Sameting’s vision of building up strong Sámi centers.

Magga here points to a very important dimension of the Sámi political everyday; namely the obvious fact that many of the conditions for the practice of Sámi culture are set by the national authorities: whether they are willing to provide support for the promotion and development of Sámi language, culture and social life. The respective Sámi parliaments only have an administrative right over state transfers for Sámi initiatives – they have no separate right or possibility of procuring money, for example, through tax collection or fees that would go to the Sametings for extraction permits for mine operations, hydroelectric development, petroleum extraction or other industrial utilization of the resources in the Sámi area. As such it is still the national states that control Sámi funds, especially in Sweden, where as a matter of fact Riksdagen (the Swedish parliament) in transferring funds to the Swedish Sameting at the same time provides guidance for the distribution of the funds.

The right to land and water is an on going discussion in Sámi policy in all three of the countries. This is a debate that among other things has led to a counteraction from those who do not want the Sámi to be granted use of the resources in their own areas, and there have been actions against Sámi demands as well as against plans for the introduction of Sámi subjects as mandatory for schools that are in the Sámi settlement areas.

The Sametings also administer the Sámi language law in the three Nordic countries, a law that for one thing is supposed to assure Sámi citizens the right to use their own language in official contexts. Part of the problem with the language law, which Magga also touches on in his contribution, is the geographical limitation of the law’s area of influence – it preferably holds only in a few selected municipalities in the northern areas of Sápmi.

Sámi National Day, National Anthem and Flag

The Nordic Sámi Conference decided that February 6th should be the Sámi people’s day – a sort of national day. On this day the first Sámi national meeting took place in Trondheim in 1917. The Sámi Conference also decided that Sámi soga lávlla – the Sámi people’s song – written by Isak Saba and published for the first time in the Sámi newspaper Sagai Muittalægje in 1906, should be the Sámi national anthem. It can be sung to a traditional yoik melody from Varanger in East Finnmark or to the melody that Odd Sørli composed.

The Sámi flag was also adopted by the Sámi Conference at Åre in Sweden in 1986, and is used now in all official connections together with the national state’s flag. There have also been worked out separate Sámi flag days in Norway, Sweden and Finland. The colors in the flag reflect the most common Sámi colors blue and red, and the ring in the middle expresses solidarity, continuity and a cyclical view of existence.

Sámi Language

Sámi language belongs to the Finno-Ugric branch of the Uralic languages. In other words Sámi is related to the Baltic Finnish languages Finnish and Estonian, as well as Hungarian. The Sámi language area stretches over the northern portions of Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola Peninsula of Russia. It is divided into several distinct dialects.

Over time there have been several orthography norms. Today’s North Sámi orthography that is valid in Norway, Sweden and Finland dates from 1979. Sámi orthography is close to the spoken language and in addition to the ordinary letters there are also á, č, š, ž, ŋ, and đ in North Sámi; in Lule and South Sámi they decided to use the same letters as Norwegian and Swedish. Precisely those special Sámi diacritical marks have caused a number of problems for the use of Sámi language on the internet, and as such delayed the utilization of the web’s possibilities to promote Sámi on the internet. Since the introduction of the Sámi language law Sámi is now recognized as an official language in Norway with a separate Sámi language council as an administrative organ under the Sameting.

Sámi is rich in derivative endings, which has made it simpler to construct easily recognizable words for new concepts and objects that modern life has brought. Sámi language policy is quite puristic, and through active use of the media and school system many new Sámi expressions have been incorporated into the daily language rather than just borrowing Norwegian and foreign words.

However, historically a number of the old loanwords from Old Norse are of great interest. Sámi is immensely rich in words that describe nature, animal life, terrain formations, snow and other things that have been important in a hunting and fishing context. Some of these concepts are on the verge of being lost because the way of life has changed.

Sámi is a verbal language in the sense that as a means of communication it emphasizes the verb, motion. Because one can derive new words from the stem of a word by adding endings that change or amplify the meaning, the language has the possibilities for almost unlimited variation, for example in the description of movements.

The situation for the dissimilar Sámi languages from east on Kola to south in Trøndelag, Jämtland and Härjedalen is very different. Weakest today is probably South Sámi since very few children are acquiring the language within the family. Playschools and self-chosen boarding school stays where South Sámi is used as the daily language have had positive results, but anyway the language is threatened.

In the Lule Sámi area there are several children who are learning the language at home and in the school. In Tysfjord in Nordland (Norway) a revitalization project carried out at the Arran Cultural Center has been successful.

In the South Sámi areas in Troms and Finnmark there is a need for linguistic revitalization programs, something for one thing the Sámi language centers in Porsanger and Kåfjord have felt the consequences of.

Illustration from Gaski/Kappfjell p. 33

The Individual Art Types

Art is used as an active cultural factor in the formulation of a vigorous minority society that is trying to resist the enormous outside influence from the entertainment industry and mass media. Art is starting to renew its important function as an internal identity marker for many aboriginal groups the world over. And just because art in itself is borderless and border crossing – in an ethnic sense too – it provides the best point of departure for establishing and continuing the communication between peoples and nations.

In the internal Sámi cultural effort the establishment of Sámi cultural centers has had positive influence on the attention paid to Sámi language and culture but on local cultural work as well. Perhaps this has been especially noticeable in the south Sámi districts, where the cultural centers in Tysfjord in Nordland and in Hattfjelldal and Snåsa as well as in Östersund has contributed to an increased interest in the circumstances around Lule and South Sámi.


Sámi literature as written literature stems from the 17th century. The oldest texts are for the most part ABC books and religious literature. As oral narrative art Sámi literature has long traditions in legends and folktales, as well as advanced lyric poetry in the form of yoik poetry. The yoik texts were either short, witty descriptions of the person yoiked to or longer epic-poetic narratives of mythological as well as historic origin.

Modern Sámi literature dates from the 20th century. The first literary book in the Sámi language is from 1910, namely the Swedish Sámi author and reindeer herder Johan Turi’s narrative about the life of the Sámi, Muitalus sámiid birra, that came out in a parallel edition in Sámi and Danish. The Danish translator was the ethnographer Emilie Demant (later Demant-Hatt) who had become acquainted with Turi during her fieldwork in northern Sweden, and who also became the main incentive behind Turi’s beginning to write.

In 1912 the first novel came from the Norwegian coastal Sámi Anders Larsen. Beaivi-álgu (Dawn) is the title and it has yet to be translated into another language. Three years later came the first collection of poems and short stories, written by the Finnish Sámi Pedar Jalvi, Muohtačalmmit (Snowflakes). However, already four years before Turi’s book Matti Aikio had published his debut work, I dyreskind (In Animal Fur). Aikio who was from Karasjok in Norway knew Sámi, but for various reasons chose to write in Norwegian.

Even today there are several Sámi authors who do not have the possibility to express themselves in Sámi because they did not learn it at home or in school.

Literature in the Sámi language is divided according to genre over the whole sphere. Relatively few Sámi books were published up to 1970. There was no significant increase in publication until separate Sámi publishing houses were established, and until the Nordic Cultural Council began to actively support literature in the Sámi language.

Now there are several Sámi publishers in Norway and Sweden that take care of both schoolbook production and literary publications. Until 2001 there was a Sámi publisher in Jokkmokk, Sweden, but it has been discontinued. The largest publisher is Davvi Girji located in Karasjok; it employs around ten people in all. The other two are I∂ut from Porsanger and DAT with its main office in Kautokeino. Sámi writers have organized their own authors’ association, Sámi girječállid searvi (Sámi Book Authors’ Association), formed in 1979. It is a member of the European Writers’ Congress. The number of works of literature published is about ten per year. A few Sámi books have been translated into Norwegian in recent years, and anthologies of Sámi literature have come out in English and Hungarian.

With the book Beaivi, Áhčážan (The Sun, My Father) Nils-Aslak Valkeapää won the Nordic Council’s literary prize in 1991. The Sámi acquired the right to nominate books for this prize at the same time as the Faeroes and Greenland in 1984. The title plays on the myth about the Sámi as the Sun’s children. The book is put together from old photographs and newly written poetry that tie together past and present, documentation and fiction in a form untried and creative and with a content that unites picture, word and music. The book at the same time gives expression to Sámi cultural history and shows the readers the riches of the Sámi language. The double and multiple meanings of the words inspire the reader to reflection. The photographs show different sides of the Sámi people’s life and history and form an enormous documentation material that the author used six years to collect in Scandinavia, Europe and the USA.

In 2001 the sequel to this book came out, viz. Eanni Eannážan (The Earth, My Mother). It is intended as the feminine reply to Solen, min far and also consists of photographs, paintings and newly written poetry. Here however the photographs have been taken from all corners of the world and show aboriginal peoples working and celebrating in the rain forest, dessert, tundra and ice. Poems and pictures live their own life, but also communicate in an encomium to life and those cultures that the earth’s original people represent.

Sámi authors try to remain faithful to traditional Sámi word art, as it is represented in the yoik poetry and the legend tradition, and in this way it seems both creative and culturally conservative at the same time. Their poetry has roots back to the advanced language usage of the yoiks, and their prose has narration as its main concern.

The tendency today is clearly moving in the direction of putting more stress on the artistic content and the aesthetic formulation of the material than was the case just a short while back. Some central names in today’s Sámi language literature are Nils Aslak Valkeapää, Kirsti Paltto, Rauni Magga Lukkari, Synnøve Persen, Jovnna-Ánde Vest and Inger-Mari Aikio.

There is also some literature that has come out in the smaller Sámi dialects. With various linguistic revitalization programs under way over the entire Sámi settlement area it is hoped that these can contribute to speeding up the production of literature in Lule and South Sámi as well as in the East Sámi dialects.

Theater and Film

Organized Sámi theater activity is of a relatively new date. In the middle of the 1960s the National Theater toured Sámi areas with a puppet show where Sámi language was used. This happened in cooperation with Sámi cultural workers.

In 1971 the theater group Dalvadis was formed in the Swedish part of Sámiland. It failed because of lack of public support from the Swedish authorities, but now a new Sámi theater has been established in Sweden, Samiska Teatern, with its main residence in Kiruna.

In the year 2000 a separate South Sámi Theater with origin in Hattfjelldal was established. The theater aims at touring in the South Sámi villages with locally arranged plays as well as shows based on traditional South Sámi material in order to spread knowledge about their own cultural history.

At the turn of the year 1979-80 the theater group Beaivváš was established in Kautokeino. It constitutes the backbone of Sámi Teahter O/S, which is a corporation with the state, Kautokeino municipality and the Sámi organizations as shareholders. Sámi Teahter is a professionally run theater with state support and a permanent residence in Kautokeino. The group has mounted several successful productions and has visited all the Nordic capitals. The actors from Sámi Teahter also filled most of the rolls in the Sámi feature film Ofelaš (Pathfinder) that among other things was nominated for an Oscar in 1988. The director of the film was Nils Gaup. Another well-known Sámi film director is Paul Anders Simma. He has made both documentary and feature films about and with Sámi.

Just before Easter, 2001 the Nordic film festival was arranged for the first time in a Sámi area, viz. Kautokeino on the Finnmark plateau. This led to great attention to the production conditions for Sámi films. A separate body was established consisting of Sámi film workers to exert pressure on Nordic authorities to grant money to a separate Sámi film fund that would be able to give aid and economic support for the creation of Sámi films. At the festival several Sámi short films were shown – that seems to be a genre where Sámi film workers earlier on made a name for themselves by winning prestigious Nordic and international prizes.

Press and Broadcasting

One of the most important institutions for maintaining the Sámi language’s respect and usage has long been the broadcasting of Sámi programs on radio. They began right after the Second World War and constitute the main source of news in Sámi and for Sámi listeners. Sámi Radio in Norway is housed in its own offices in Karasjok and produces radio and TV programs. The same holds for Samiradioene in Sweden with main office in Kiruna and for the Finnish Sámi radio in Inari.

The history of the Sámi press is actually rather long, but all the same a history of scanty resources. The first Sámi-language newspaper, SagaiMuittalægje, started as early as 1873. It published 33 issues in all and had as its main concern popular education. In 1898 the religious newspaper Nuorttanaste began to come out. It was above all supposed to be a Christian, edifying newspaper, but also had some news and other reports. Nuorttanaste still exists.

Sagai Muittalægje (1904-11) had a two-part task. It was supposed to bring enlightenment to the Sámi and at the same time it was supposed to work toward Sámi political goals. The newspaper was central to the Sámi political mobilization at the beginning of the 20th century.

 In Sweden the newspaper Samefolket has published one issue a month since the early 1920s. Samefolket is mostly in Swedish, but also publishes occasional Sámi language versions.

In Finland though, the monthly magazine Sápmelaƒ that has been published since 1934 has always been in Sámi, mainly North Sámi, but sometimes also with East Sámi texts.

In the middle of the 1950s the newspaper Ságat began as a Norwegian-Sámi newspaper. The idea was that the newspaper should have material in both Norwegian and Sámi, but today Ságat prints almost nothing in Sámi.

For one thing, in order to support the use of Sámi language in written media the newspaper Sámi Áigi was established in 1979. The main Sámi organizations were behind Sámi Áigi. The newspaper went bankrupt, but was resurrected as Min Áigi with the same owners and Karasjok as the place of publication. Min Áigi comes out twice a week and tries to be a Sámi “national newspaper” with the entire North Sámi area as field of coverage.

The newspaper Áššu is published in Kautokeino.

In addition to these newspapers several attempts have been made to get stable publications of Sámi language reading material for children and young people. In the milieu around the Sámi women’s forum the periodical Gába came out with its first issue March 8, 1996. Gába is a socially conscious periodical magazine written from a woman’s perspective and with broad coverage of cultural and social questions. The magazine is almost bilingual North Sámi-Norwegian, but the editors give the Sámi articles better placement and more striking layouts.

In the other Sámi dialects there are no regular newspapers or journals published with an honorable exception of the South Sámi area where the South Sámi clergyman Bierna Bientie on his own initiative has begun to publish a newspaper that is a combination of a parish magazine, a purveyor of news and an organ of discussion for South Sámi cultural questions. The newspaper is called Daerpies Dierie and comes out four times a year. It can perhaps be said to have some of the same function that Nuorttanaste has had in the north. The name plays on the necessary cloth strip that ties together two pieces of material in the Sámi jacket. The symbolism in the name thus ought to be quite apparent. The newspaper contains material both in Norwegian and South Sámi.

Sámi Pictorial Art and Duodji

Traditional Sámi arts and crafts, Sámi duodji, show clearly how thoroughly aestheticized Sámi society has always been. Normal articles of consumption and articles for everyday use were decorated and richly ornamented. Even though the utility value has always been most important, there was also a demand that the product be beautiful to the eye.

Earlier on duodji training was a natural part of the upbringing, and in older written sources handicrafts are constantly mentioned as a Sámi specialty. Duodji production still makes up a significant part of many Sámi’s income. The state provides direct support for duodji, for one thing through handicraft organizations and through the Sámi Development Fund and the Norwegian Cultural Council. Duodji is also involved in creating many “hidden” women’s jobs in that it is a part of the daily work for many Sámi women. This has an obvious local political effect and helps to preserve settlement in districts where there otherwise is a lack of jobs.

In contrast to arts and crafts and handicrafts that are called duodji, modern art is called dáidda in Sámi. Dáidda is in this connection a newly created Sámi concept for what is usually understood as art, in other words “art” as opposed to “craft.” However, today’s duodji products are works of art both in form and execution – and not the least in price – but according to tradition duodji is always tied to practical use of the product: it can be exhibited for contemplation but should be used on a daily basis. The reality though is often that the handicraft products more and more become objects to be displayed rather than functioning as practical articles for everyday use, even among today’s Sámi.

Duodji includes spiritual as well as material creative activity. Artists such as Iver Jåks, Aage Gaup and Ingunn Utsi get much of their inspiration from the duodji tradition for their sculptures. The ideology behind this aesthetic is to use perishable materials, so that wood sculptures that are exposed to the elements are supposed to wear out and perish without leaving behind any traces once they disappear. In a way this becomes modern art’s parallel to the Sámi’s traditional way of relating to their surroundings: nature’s own hand is supposed to wipe out all traces of Sámi migration and settlement, the stone ring around the fireplace or the folklore about a place name is perhaps all that is left.

Sámi pictorial art has roots back to the duodji tradition as well as to pre-Christian religion. It is interesting to compare old rock carving pictures from the Alta area in Finnmark with for example the figures on some Sámi magic drums from several centuries ago. One can also compare these two types of figures with Johan Turi’s so-called naive drawings in the book Muitalus sámiid birra from 1910. There are obvious parallels in the lines and figures.

Other early Sámi artists are Nils Nilsson Skum who before and after the Second World War produced pictures that depict the life and work of the reindeer herding Sámi. John Savio also described the Sámi’s life in woodcuts, drawings and linoleum cuts. A mediator between the old and the new is Iver Jåks from Karasjok. He displayed a lushness in his early art but has gradually gone over more and more to creating sculptures of wood, and then preferably recycling materials that have already been in use.

In the 1970s Sámi pictorial art developed more breadth. Several young people took technical instruction and became more daring in experimenting with form and content. They included actual political matters in their art, but also tried new areas of use for traditional Sámi art practices, for example in leather and textile work. Some central names in addition to Jåks, Gaup and Utsi among today’s Sámi pictorial artists are Rose-Marie Huuva, Brita Marakatt, Synnøve Persen, Hans Ragnar Mathisen and Berit Marit Hætta.

In 1979 Sámiid dáidačehpiid searvi (Sámi Artists’ League) was established. Now Sámi authors, musicians, theater workers and artists each have their own Sámi professional groups. Sámiid dáidačehpiid searvi participates as an independent section in Nordisk kunstnerforbund (Nordic Artists’ League) and since 1966 has also been a member of the International Association of Art. They have arranged a series of exhibitions at home and abroad and in that way have helped to make Sámi pictorial art known far beyond the borders of Sámiland.


One of the most exciting things that has happened in Sámi cultural life in recent decades is the multiartistic approach that many Sámi artists have chosen as their form. At variance with recommendations to specialize in just one type of art in order to cultivate it until perfected, several of the most prominent Sámi artists have on the contrary spread out over several forms of expression.

Of course it is possible to consider this as an opposition to an overly rectangular division of human aesthetic practice that one can find in western art vs. a more holistic perspective in aboriginal art; nevertheless that is hardly the whole explanation. The tradition goes way back to Sámi handicrafts, to arts and crafts, duodji and to Sámi folk music, yoik.

The yoik has always had a special place in the Sámi consciousness because of its traditional roll as identity marker and as the shaman’s music in the old faith. The yoik also served as a way of remembering friends and acquaintances, and in recent years has experienced a renaissance as a source of inspiration for modern musicians in world music and experimental techno- or jazz yoik, of which Mari Boine and Wimme Saari are exponents.

Yoik is also one of the main incentives behind Nils-Aslak Valkeapää’s multiart. He renewed yoik at a time when it was in danger of losing its traditional function and was no longer interesting as a form of music for the younger generation. Valkeapää combined yoik with modern music forms such as jazz and popular music. He even tried to combine the Sámi’s “classical” music, the yoik, with European classical music. In this way Valkeapää created a new interest in yoik, and he also allowed its cyclical form to influence much of his other artistic production.

At the same time, all of this engagement in new ways of making traditional and modern art more communicative for new groups of consumers resulted in a bursting of the borders of the traditional genres for what can primarily be defined as literature, pictorial art and music. In the traditional society namely yoik was both literature and music to the extent that one can use such definitions at all; from the music of the words the images grew forth, images that can be found in rock carvings and magic drum figures.


The yoik melody itself is called luohti, while the words of a yoik are called dajahusat. It is complex both in expression and content, and varies significantly from place to place in spacious Sámiland. Traditionally though the yoik had the same function all places. The personal yoik, that today is the best known genre, has always had a clear socializing function. By being ascribed a yoik, the person also acquired his own individuality, and became an independent member of the community.

The musical formulation is central in the yoik. An experienced yoik ear can hear in the rhythm and melody how a person is, what the person’s potential, aptitude and prospects are. The textual portion of a yoik traditionally consisted of short, pertinent descriptions of the one yoiked. A yoik can be revised, in case the description turns out to be wrong. The yoik functioned in a way as a baptismal gift and as a confirmation gift. The yoik was a factor of identification, a person’s “tune” name. Since the yoik in a way makes the object into a subject it also takes care of the individual’s need to have a separate individuality at the same time as yoik practice ascertained that the individual identity has no meaning without a collective around one.

The oldest written Sámi literary texts are two yoiks from around the middle of the 17th century. They were published in a book that came out in Latin in Frankfurt in 1673. King Harald and Queen Sonja have their own yoiks, created for them by the yoiker and storyteller Ante Mikkel Gaup from Kautokeino. Gaup also created a yoik for King Olav when he came to Karasjok to open the first Sameting in 1989. In 1980 Sverre Kjelsberg and Mattis Hætta won the Norwegian finals in the Melodi grand Prix with the yoik song Sámiid Eadnan, which for several years afterwards was one of the most popular playschool songs in all of Norway.

There has been significant collecting of Sámi yoiks, and there are quite a few hours of recordings of old yoiks in the folklore collections in Helsinki and Uppsala. There is a separate Sámi folklore collection with yoik at the Tromsø Museum. And in the 1950s Sveriges Radio recorded a series of 7 LPs of yoiks from the entire Sámi cultural area in Sweden. They are now available on CD. The Sámi publisher DAT has in recent years issued several CDs of traditional yoiks.

Popular Culture and the Role of Art

Popular culture has not been described much nor researched at all. As a rule film and popular music are usually placed together under mass culture, but in the Sámi case even the most serious reviewers classify the film “Pathfinder” and the music of Mari Boine and Nils-Aslak Valkeapää as Sámi high culture, to the extent there is anything like that. Valkeapää’s poetry naturally belongs there, as does in all likelihood his pictorial art. But does a CD like Sámiid eatnan duoddariid also belong there? And in such a case does it because of the lyrics on the CD or mainly as a total music product?

The question is interesting to ask because there quite evidently exists a partition between Sámi popular music and more advanced music compositions. The question also reflects some of the views reviewers from the outside have of Sámi art and culture. Maybe one doesn’t distinguish equally sharply in the case of a minority’s cultural forms of expression as one does with the larger society’s? (Political correctness, or?) Or are the lines of separation perhaps not as clear within Sámi culture as they are for the majority?

This is an interesting question to discuss when one is supposed to assess Sámi popular culture and Sámi art. In this round we shall not delve into this but just let the questions hover as a challenge to the reader’s own assessments.

In the traditional culture the myths were meant to entertain and educate, be amusing and seem uplifting, while today’s Sámi artistic and cultural expression is being individualized mainly to concern itself (which for that matter is the case with a lot of the other art). In a sense there is nothing deserving censure in this development; it just affirms that the collective aspect of art for the people is vanishing and that Sámi art is going the same way as art in the larger society.

The question then is whether this trend also represents a dawning distance between practitioner and spectator, in contrast to the binding together in the presentation and performance of a myth in the old society. Will this aesthetisizing or refinement of Sámi art in the next round contribute to elucidating the gap between high culture and popular culture in the Sámi case too?

Another aspect in this picture is the international dimension that the Sámi cultural pattern is part of and enters into. As modern cultural analysts have shown there are a multitude of similarities between popular cultural forms of expression and the myths’ age-old performances. That we can see the same cultural developmental features and phenomena among Sámi youth as in the rest of the world is an affirmation that the Sámi no longer live isolated and without contact with what is happening elsewhere. At the same time it ought to be a shot over the bow for the extreme purists among us. Modern mythologies take part in shaping us in the same way that our local values take part in setting the terms for how our mode of living has an effect back on the society around us.

Popular Culture’s Importance In the Sámi Revitalization Project

There is no doubt that Sámi popular culture has played a role in creating interest for the Sámi revitalization project: that LPs, CDs, concerts, festivals like Davvi ∫uvva and Riddu Ri∂∂u have contributed to creating a new occupation with the question of being Sámi and the value in that. This has been a prominent feature in the development right from the first Easter production with Sámi yoik and pop that Nils-Aslak Valkeapää put on in Kautokeino in 1971 as a forerunner to what would later become the Easter Festival and of which the Sami Grand Prix (a Sámi music competition in yoik and popular music – a sort of parallel to the European Song Contest) has become an important part.

Tanabreddens Ungdom (Young People From the Breadth of Tana) and the other groups that followed in their wake actually became quite popular even among non-Sámi radio listeners in spite of the fact that the song texts – which most of the listeners didn’t understand – as a matter of fact were in part quite political about pollution, the encroachment of people from outside and the struggle for natural resources. But there was something about the form that this political message was presented in that made the songs harmless. Tanabreddens ungdom’s country and western style probably left the listeners with entirely different associations than political agitation. Nevertheless, one should absolutely not underestimate this group’s enormous significance as an inspiration for creative Sámi popular music, but maybe most of all as a legitimator for the very justification of this type of entertainment offer in Sámi.

The Norwegian contribution to the European Song Contest in 1980 ‘Sámiid eadnan’s postulate that yoik has greater power than gunpowder perhaps didn’t entirely succeed in Europe, but in Norway the yoik portion of the song became a real hit among playschool children throughout the country. In Greenland they actually wrote an entirely new text to the melody that is now in new song books in Inuit. Apropos yoik, everyone will no doubt remember its symbolic strength and value during the demonstrations against the development of the Alta-Kautokeino watercourse, both in Stilla, where the police action against the demonstrators took place, and during the two Sámi hunger strikes outside the Norwegian Storting in Oslo.

In 1993 yoik experienced a small breakthrough with regard to young people’s culture in Norway when a Sámi “rock-yoik” for the first time went to the top on a young people’s program on Norwegian national radio. In these cases it was a question of modern and instrumental versions of traditional melodies, sort of a new usage of what could be characterized as Sámi roots music. The fact that Sámi language, art, literature, film and music is interesting for others than just the Sámi themselves, contributes to stimulating Sámi youth’s occupation with their own culture and history and gives them a positive self image. This is an important counterweight to Norwegianization’s negative shadows far into our own days.

International Aboriginal Peoples’ Trends

You could find the same tendency among other aboriginal peoples since the 1970s, where names like Yothu Yindi in Australia and Kashtin in Canada are very well known exponents of ethnically based modern popular music. The group that performed the Swedish contribution to the European Song Contest in 2000 at Globen in Stockholm represented in a way both Sámi, Inuits and Indians as well as being a national contribution to the European song competition. As such Roger Pontare also represents something new in defining the representativeness that perhaps is forward looking and characteristic of the period we are living in.

The strongly national aspect – those who are on the stage are absolutely supposed to be citizens of the country they are singing for – is toned down to the benefit of a multinational element where nevertheless the message in the song is both old-fashioned and in some people’s eyes, strongly nationalistic. In that way the song becomes an example of the era it arose in, namely a conglomeration of opposites, but with a clear message that is meant to praise beautiful Sámiland and to be an homage to the aboriginal people’s long cultural struggle for their own rights and self respect.

However the contribution was also interpreted by some extreme groups as a nationalistic song about heroic pride on behalf of ones own nation – thus a song that in their interpretation contained reactionary, cultural-political motives that claim that “we are better than the others,” rather than what the artist wanted to do with the song: namely to show a proud dimension of the aboriginal peoples’ struggle for their own worth and independence.

Myths, Pop and Sámi Future

That old mythological texts can be read through today’s glasses as nationalistically uplifting and almost propagandistic lampoons probably has to do mostly with our way of interpreting the myths today, even though one really cannot ignore the fact that the myths originally could have been intended to unite ethnic groups – the way some pop culture was used among aboriginal peoples the world over especially in the 1970s and the early 1980s. This is a dimension of mythological research that has not been at the forefront because one didn’t use modern terms such as ethnic groups or the like within this branch of research, but especially with regard to myths that have developed in relations between people like the Sámi and other northern dwellers, thus between the Sámi and non-Sámi, (dača in Sámi); this idea might be interesting to try out. Even the myths have undergone an evolution over time and thereby adapted to the reality that surrounded the creators of the myths.

Sámi Music Festivals

The Sámi music festival Riddu Riđđu in Kåfjord in Northern Norway has had an enormous ability to assert itself as one of the most exciting and creative music festivals in Scandinavia the last ten years. The festival was started and is still run by enthusiastic Sámi young people from Kåfjord who have demonstrated large creative abilities when it comes to obtaining financing so that this sort of event can take place every year in a little fjord Sámi village in Northern Norway.

The festival is mainly a meeting place for different forms of musical expression from the entire circumpolar area. Over the years they have presented those attending with Mongolian and East Siberian throat and multitone song, the newest in Inuit pop music, mask dance and other aboriginal people’s traditional musical expression, alongside Sámi yoik and more traditional pop and rock music. The festival arena is a little field with a natural amphitheater where hayracks (racks to dry hay on) constitute a simple but tasteful and moving scenography. The festival takes place in the middle of July in everlasting daylight and often with the midnight sun as a gilded partner.

Another festival that has helped put Sámiland on the international aboriginal people’s festival map is Davvi Šuvva. It was arranged for the first time in 1979 and again early in the 1990s. Davvi Šuvva is entirely an aboriginal peoples’ festival with participation from many of the same countries that Riddu Riđđu gets its artists from, so therefore the organizers of the next Davvi Šuvva are contemplating finding another concept for the festival.


According to Sámi myths it was the Sámi who invented skis, and with the long winters one has in the north it is probably not surprising that skiing activities have been central to the organizing of separate sporting events for the Sámi. Ski races with lasso throwing have become a popular competition at the Sámi championships every winter. These competitions are arranged at various places in Sápmi under the direction of Valastallansearvi, the Sámi Sports Federation. In the summer it is the Sámi Cup in soccer at the top of the program, and again large parts of the Sámi area are involved with separate teams. In addition a separate Sámi national team in soccer was established that beat Greenland at Idrettsparken in Copenhagen in July of 2001. Earlier this team played against Åland, Estonia and East Germany. Several well-known international sports names from Norway, Sweden and Finland have a Sámi background, and there is little doubt that sporting activities have brought many people into Sámi club work who otherwise probably wouldn’t have wanted to be engaged in Sámi activities. The Sámi sports federation receives annual operating funds from the Sameting’s budget, but there is now a discussion as to whether these funds should be included under cultural budget or be entered as a separate item, sport.

Support For Sámi Cultural Objectives:

Nordic Financing

The Nordic funds are channeled through Nordisk ministerråd (Nordic Ministerial Council), and the annual support for Sámi institutions is around ten million Danish crowns. In addition the Sámi participate as a target group in Arctic cooperation and in the Nordic Arctic research program.

The appropriations for cultural cooperation are administered by a cultural committee appointed by the Sámi arts organizations for professional artists. Samisk Kunstnerråd (Sámi Artists’ Council) is an umbrella organization for professional artists. It has national status in Nordisk Kunstnerråd (Nordic Artists’ Council) and Europeisk kunstnerråd (European Artists’ Council).

The largest item in the Nordic funds goes to financing the operation of Nordisk Samisk Institutt/Sámi Instituhtta (Nordic Sámi Institute) that was established by Nordisk Ministerråd in 1973 and placed in Kautokeino. The institute has recently undergone a restructuring, a task that was completed during 1998. This has led to a reduction in the administrative staff, while the number of research personnel has increased, which was one of the objectives of the restructuring. The management is nominated by and is responsible to Nordisk Ministerråd, consisting of five ordinary members who to the greatest possible degree are connected to Sámi or aboriginal peoples’ research.

The institute’s research activity is supposed to cover Sámi language research, legal research and social science research. Lately negotiations have been conducted between Nordisk Samisk Institutt and Sámi College about being housed together in order to better exploit the potential of both institutions. The Sámi College was established in 1989 in Kautokeino, primarily for teacher training, but now wishes to be upgraded to a scientific institution. There is already a significant research effort at the school, and the Sámi parliaments in all three Nordic countries have expressed the wish that the school should be for all Sámi, not just for Sámi students from Norway.

Norwegian Financing

The previous Samisk kulturråd (Sámi Cultural Council) functioned until Jan. 1, 2001 as the manager of the Sámi cultural fund and was in charge of the distribution of funds on the basis of adopted guidelines for the providing of various subsidies. The cultural council has now been abolished; distributions from the Norwegian Sameting go through the newly established Subsidy Board. The administration of the cultural council has now been included in the Sametingets Kultur- og næringsavdeling, kulturseksjonen (Sameting’s Cultural and Economic Division, Cultural Section).

The following appropriations were made in Samisk kulturråd’s budget for the year 2000:

Activity Areas

Appropriated (in Norwegian crowns)



Pictorial art/duodje

595,500 – of this amount 250,00 crowns were set aside for the purchase of art



Sámi free theater objectives


Other initiatives


Publishing operations


Sámi cultural organizations


Operation support for Sámi cultural centers/cultural institutions


Conditions for the development of Sámi children




Sámi cultural fund.

The idea behind the establishment of Samisk kulturfond (Sámi Cultural Fund) was to protect and strengthen the possibilities for development in Sámi art and culture on their own terms. One wanted to defend and maintain the traditional forms of expression and stimulate creative and experimental activities in Sámi cultural life.

The publication of literature in Sámi for all age groups stands at the center. With various purchase and support arrangements the Samisk kulturråd aims at supporting creative culture, and it is considered important to pass on the multitude of traditions that are expressed in the various Sámi areas.

The Cultural Centers and Conditions For the Development of Sámi Children

In addition to Samisk kulturråd having as a political goal the support of initiatives for the conditions for the development of Sámi children over the entire Sámi settlement area, operation support for Sámi cultural centers is also an important priority. The framework for these two items is stipulated by the Sameting during the budget distribution every year, and the latter has laid claim to a large portion of the funds that Kulturrådet has administered.

The Sámi cultural centers are regarded as an important cultural priority for the Sameting, since these play a central role in Sámi cultural development. This is especially the case in areas where Sámi language and culture are weak. For the Sameting it is important that arenas for cultural and language practice are established as a link in the strengthening of the language and the culture. Projects that build their activity around the goal of preserving and developing Sámi language and culture are believed to fall in under the state’s obligations and thus are financed with state funds (cf. the principles of peoples’ rights and aboriginal peoples’ rights).

Swedish Financing

The Swedish Sameting cultural council’s activity goal sounds as follows:

The goal for the state’s contribution is to preserve, strengthen and spread knowledge about Sámi handicrafts, pictorial art and sculpture, music, dramatic art, literature as well as other Sámi cultural manifestations and parts of the Sámi cultural heritage. (ch. 8.1.-00)

The cultural council has administrative responsibility for funds in the Sameting’s budget in addition to grants to Sámi culture in the Samefond (Sámi Fund, previously Lapp Fund). The cultural council distributed in the year 2000 15,169,000 over the following administrative areas:

Administrative areas:

Grants (in Swedish crowns):

Organizations/the newspaper Samefolket




Research and education








Other (Sámi centers)




Samefond’s grants for Sámi culture in the year 2000 were 4,570,000 and were distributed over the following items:


Grants (in Swedish crowns)

Organizations/the newspaper Samefolket


Sámi centers


Other (projects, study grants)




Here it is the organizations and Sámi theater activity that count most since together these received 75% of the entire pot of contributions in 2000, with the remaining 25% going to the others. Of the funds from Samefond for distribution to Organizations/the newspaper Samefolket, Sámi centers and Other (projects, study grants) Organizations/the newspaper Samefolket received 89%.

From this distribution we see that in Sweden a large portion of the cultural support is used to build up new organizations and to maintain the different Sámi organizations that already exist, and justification for this support is the evidence that the Sameting’s grants have kept them going and made it possible to run organizational work throughout the year.

However it is important to stress here that the statistics from the Norwegian and Swedish Sametings are not directly comparable, since the Swedish summary includes support for organizations and research as well as the newspaper Samefolket under cultural grants. In the items from the Norwegian Sametimg support for organizations is completely outside the cultural grants in the same way as support for the press is categorized as a separate item. Therefore, it would have been an advantage when the Sámi parliamentary council got started for one to arrive at a more homogeneous statistical draft on cultural support, support of organizations and support of the press – in any case that it should be clearly evident from the individual items how large the total cultural support is.

Of course there are good reasons for categorizing support for organizations as well as support for the press, and subsidies for research and sports as cultural initiatives, but in order to simplify the reading and comparison of the statistical material it would have been advantageous to have a more uniform practice for all three of the Sametings’ ways of recording cultural support.

The focus on Sámi theater comes from 1997 when the government gave the Swedish Sameting the task of working toward the establishment of a permanent Sámi theater in Sweden that would be assured annual support in the state budget. Some critical voices have arisen in the case of the more favorable distribution to Sámi theater activity in Sweden in comparison to the other art types. One is not demanding fewer grants for theater but rather more for literature and art.

Finnish Financing

Funds for Sámi culture distributed by the Finnish Sameting for 2001:

Cultural objectives

Grants (in Finnish marks)

Literature, art and duodji


Cultural arrangements


Other cultural objectives, travel support


Support for organizations, societies


Publishing support


Support for Nordic art societies




As we see the grants from the Finnish Sameting are significantly less than Norwegian and Swedish support for Sámi cultural objectives. This has also been a recurrent problem for cultural activity in Finland, viz. that the subsidies are actually so small that by themselves they cannot keep projects going. Therefore one has sought cooperation across national borders, and after Finland became a member of the EU they have focused on EU financing for some projects. However, it ought absolutely to be in Finland’s interest to increase the grants for Sámi cultural objectives, especially since the establishment of a common Sámi cultural fund is becoming a reality.

EU Funds

In the EU’s program period 1995-99 there were separate Sámi programs within what is called Goal 6: support for Sweden’s most sparsely populated areas, and within Interreg II: support for cooperation across national borders.

Within Goal 6 the following thematic areas were given priority:

  • Information technology in Sámi and information distribution in Sámi culture
  • Development of Sámi skills and ventures
  • Advanced studies for Sámi young people
  • Modern technology, increased stress on improvements and ecological thinking in reindeer herding

Interreg II A Nordkalotten consisted of four areas of focus where the Sámi have been one of these, more explicitly named Interreg Sápmi. Geographically Interreg Sápmi covers the Sámi settlement areas in Norrbotten and Västerbotten counties in Sweden, Lappland county in Finland as well as Finnmark, Troms and Nordland counties in Norway. The total budget for the period was ca. 40 million, of which the EU contributed ca. 11.8 million. The remainder was financed with official funds from Sweden and Finland (ca. 11.8 million), from Norway (ca. 11.8 million) and private funds (ca. 4.2 million).

Also projects within duodji, Sámi handicrafts, received significant subsidies from the EU, and translation of the Bible to South Sámi received 50,000 crowns of support. Translation of the Bible to North Sámi takes place under the direction of Det norske bibelselskap (The Norwegian Bible Society), and in recent years has been taken care of by a separate item in the Norwegian state budget.

Support For Promoting the Use of Sámi Language

In all three Nordic countries rather large resources are used today on various initiatives to promote Sámi language within most social activities. This happens both to make visible the existence of Sámi language and in an attempt to allow the language to recapture niches it has lost or is losing, but it is also a deliberate language policy that presumes giving Sámi a basis for growth and developmental possibilities like a modern language. In this connection it is important to stress that the Sámi actually have the right to use their own language in official contexts, as well as to see their own language used for example on maps, road signs and in information material.

The situation of course also has a dimension of power since it is not Sámi bodies that have the last word in the decision of how and when Sámi is used. This is matter of the minority-majority situation, but also within the minority group language can be used as a power factor – between those who have a command of it and those who have no possibility of learning Sámi.

In all three countries stress has been put on being pluralistic in approaches to the question in the sense that different strategies have been worked out based on the degree of use of and command of Sámi within various forums and societies.

It is clear for example that North and South Sámi are on very different levels in the language situation both as to from the number of speakers of the language and the production of teaching aids and other language-based material.

Also in the case of the use of Sámi as a daily language in the home the situation is very different between inner Finnmark, where Sámi is still the majority language, and Snåsa, where Sámi in reality is only a little island in an otherwise predominantly Norwegian population. Nor is the North Sámi situation ideal: there are several local societies along the coast and in the fjords that are just as weak linguistically as South Sámi, though with the difference that within North Sámi there exist more possibilities for learning the language through various resources. Therefore the stress is also quite definitely on working out better training choices based on the net, an activity that would much better suit both geography and demography in spacious Sámiland.

Innovative Cultural Expression, Support Arrangements and Criticism

It must be a challenge for Sámi cultural life to produce such good results on the basis of the extant national and Nordic support arrangements that it plays a role in increasing interest in the Nordic countries, which in turn can contribute to increasing demand internationally for artistic productions by Sámi and other aboriginal peoples. There is no doubt about the Nordic Sámi operating under an entirely different system than for example American Indians and Australian Aborigines with regard to possibilities of obtaining support for innovative cultural expression.

Of course individual sponsors can become interested in special projects and productions within American Indian culture, but very little direct support is extended to Indian cultural organizations in the way it happens in Norway and through Nordic support arrangements. This is an important moment to remember when one evaluates the degree of “boldness” and new creation in Sámi and other aboriginal art. Where the market rules, art is more inclined to produce what sells, and when the artist is entirely dependent on sales to get by, it can put limits on the freedom to experiment and do something new. The market is most often conservative in its perception of art and culture, something that is very well known in the question of the vision of what Sámi art and culture are.

This vision could have a conservative effect in the next round on what is actually produced by Sámi cultural expression because one knows what the buyers define as Sámi. In other words, in order to sell one makes what the market wants, and as such contributes to affirming and strengthening the tradition and its continuation.

It is much easier to be experimental and innovative when one has the economic backing at hand. Therefore some voices have been raised in recent times that advertise a greater degree of new thinking and new creation within Sámi art because it attains a certain degree of economic independence through national and Nordic support arrangements.

It is not the intention to insist that Sámi or other artists in the Nordic countries do not struggle economically, just to make a point about the situation for Sámi art in the matter of respect for the market and its laws. Perhaps one can say that this is even more the case for Sámi arts and crafts, duodji, than for modern art. Arts and crafts in themselves have a tendency, and perhaps a duty, to be more traditional and mimetic than creative. We have seen a preliminary effort from Rose-Marie Huuva and Maj-Doris Rimpi among others where traditional material has been used in entirely new contexts so that the result without a doubt has been completely modern in expression. This is for example the case with the use of reindeer skin in various processed forms in pictures and sculptures where one can say that the material and the use of the material leads the thoughts toward Sámi tradition, but where the final result stands quite apart as an autonomous work of art of great value, not the least in the case of its symbolic value.

Perhaps one can consider this as a parallel to what some musicians do with yoik sound, where it hovers in the background in some new compositions as an association to Sámi traditional music, but where the expression is not dependent on yoik and an understanding of yoik at all for it to be interpreted as exciting music. The Sámi reference in these cases becomes a type of supplemental value, something that can provide a deeper understanding of the works of art, but is in no way the only key to being able to enjoy and evaluate the expressions. This is interesting and can serve as an illustration of art’s ability to overstep ethnic and cultural boundaries, and be able to communicate on its own premises to the public.

This can also stand in relief to the flowering of Sámi cultural expression at the end of the 1970s and into the 1980s when pictorial art, literature and music – and also film – came into the orbit and were noticed far beyond the Sámi cultural area, because in the 1990s the whole thing died down again. The renewing power, the new voice, the new expression that Sámi cultural manifestations were well on their way to representing, began to repeat themselves. In music, especially popular music, Mari Boine’s and later Wimme Saari’s experimentation with yoik in combination with world music and techno music represent an extension of what Nils-Aslak Valkeapää started at the end of the 1970s, wherreas in the other branch of Sámi music on the contrary one began to move back to the roots by issuing pure classical yoik recordings. Of course, this is important for the preservation of traditional Sámi yoik in a more folkloristic sense, but again the problem of yoik as art is that the tradition has a tendency to be regressive where the role of art is to be progressive and preferably provocative.

Within visual art new creation has perhaps been greatest and also most long lasting, though without being able to recruit as many new names over and above those who made a mark for themselves during the 1980s. Sculpture in any case has managed to bring about a new use of material which probably for most people does not immediately make one think of art: for one thing the use of driftwood and other wood material that is no longer good for anything– one might say – other than art. This is the case for example with some of that which Aage Gaup, Ingunn Utsi, Iver Jåks and Nils-Aslak Valkeapää have made.

Sámi literature made a name for itself too with an alternative voice throughout the 1980s, but in recent years it has either died down or become more repetitive in choice of theme and also form of expression. However, Sámi publishers do a good job of making attractive and beautiful books in Sámi. They do this in an attempt to get the Sámi public interested in books as products that can be compared to duodji. The books are pretty to look at, nice to hold onto, and they are most often richly illustrated with beautiful photographs and other pictures. It is as if the publishers are trying to prevail upon the Sámi to be a book-loving people even if there is little in the Sámi tradition that can be directly connected to literature in the normal sense.

Art and Politics Or the Politicizing of Art

Can the explanation for what the well-known North Norwegian critic Nøste Kendzior among others refers to as the stagnation of Sámi literature in the 1990s (Krit. sirkelen 20 / 2001) be so simple that little in Sámi art really was “new” when it suddenly was made into art in the 1970s? Perhaps it was only a continuation of the traditional, but because no one previously had seen a yoik text written, the transition itself from oral expression to writing – even the change in media – represented the new, the creative?

On the other hand it is precisely that which is art – new use of the tradition, playing with it and challenging what exists. So then maybe it is art after all, more than just an expression at a time that marked something new? But are we in hibernation now?

Did it have something to do with the battle situation, with the suggestion to dam up the alta-Kautokeino watercourse in Norway and with the resistance to all watercourse development in North Sweden and Finland in the decades after? Or is it simply too comfortable to be a Sámi in Norden today for the artists to be spurred to new creations that cause people to think? This in spite of a relatively sharp debate in all three Nordic countries about the rights to land and water and local resources?

In any case, there is no artistic voice participating in this debate, and the role of culture is clearly under communicated in what has become the arena for politicians and lawyers. Perhaps part of the explanation for the debate not properly catching on, not engaging one in the same way as the critical situation of the 1970s, lies in the simple fact that art is not something that inspires as a life-giving voice and supplier of premises on the personal level? Maybe Sámi politicians are doing themselves a great disservice by channeling the debate only to their own forums?

The Missing Public

There has been a search for more creativity and innovation in Sámi culture in recent years. The new that Sámi culture brought to the public twenty to thirty years ago has not been strongly enough renewed artistically. Literature is searching for a new form, perhaps, since yoik poetry’s aesthetic has begun to recur in modern poetry, whereas prose is a bit dated, Sámi theater Sámifies Shakesspeare rather than focusing on its own dramatic literature any more, and even in music – which has perhaps been most innovative and has also gone farthest out into the world – one can see tendencies toward stagnation today.

One can search for a public debate about tendencies, choice of path, values, challenges etc. in Sámi art today. This is not least a matter of openness, in all quarters, to understand and accept constructive criticism, which it is not meant to tear down, but build up through reflection and inspiration – that Sámi society too needs a well-founded inner criticism.

Maybe one finds part of the cause for the stagnation in Sámi artistic activity in the simple fact that Sámi criticism never had free enough circumstances to practice an instructive critical activity towards the developing Sámi art, which thereby missed out on the dimension criticism wanted to give it – namely a challenge to think anew, evaluate critically, take new paths rather than repeating what has already been said and done. This has for a long time been an unspoken dimension in Sámi cultural life because the public debate about Sámi art and culture is almost nonexistent.

Here lies perhaps one of the largest pitfalls in the cultural activity of small peoples – the internal criticism is non existent, and to the degree that anyone tries critical activity, it is not accepted with gratitude, rather with a disproving and depreciative posture that doesn’t at all encourage the critic to continue his efforts. There are several examples of this within newer Sámi cultural history, especially within literature. It might also be part of the explanation for Sámi literature having gotten into a rut today because it has not demanded, or accepted, criticism so that it could develop interesting exchanges of opinion from the meeting between the producer and the recipient, at the same time as it could have related something about what Sámi readers expect from Sámi literature.

Similarly it would have been interesting to note whether Sámi criticism is different from the criticism of translated Sámi literature; in other words whether non-Sámi read Sámi literature differently than Sámi do, and whether “the others” expectations for domestic aboriginal literature have parallels with the situation elsewhere in the world.

The Sámi manner of practicing criticism of course brings up a number of questions: How can one best develop a Sámi cultural criticism? Should it be based only on purely aesthetic evaluations or should it take into account the tradition and as such try to find its way forward to a Sámi way of expressing matters of taste that perhaps are creative otherwise?  It might be an exciting project to try to find out how one offered criticism in the traditional society, so as to evaluate it against today’s aesthetic goals. This process could produce very interesting approaches to questions about postcolonial manners of rapprochement, but perhaps to an even greater degree contribute to challenging esoteric and indigenous rights to judgment within aboriginal societies. Such a process would undoubtedly create debates which in turn could actually lead to indigenous studies joining the international academic debate in an entirely different dimension than today. This ought to be a challenge for Sámi and other aboriginal peoples’ art and culture.


Kendzior, Nøste. “Med lavvo i transit.” Krit. sirkelen. Oslo, 2001.

Magga, Ole Henrik. “Hvorfor går det så tungt med de samiske sakene?” Nordlys no. 129, 8.6. Tromsø, 2001

Sámediggi, Sametinget: Årsredovisning 2000 Sametinget, Umeå.

Sametingets årsmelding 2000 – Samisk kulturråd, Drag.

Ottar, nr. 4, 2000 – En nasjon blir til. populærvitenskapelig tidsskrift, Tromsø Museum, Univrsity of Tromsø.

O. M. Hætta. Samene – historie, kultur, samfunn, 1994.

Ø. Vorren and E. Manker. Samekulturen, 2nd ed. 1976.

NOU (Norway’s Official Reports) 1984:18: Om sameness rettsstilling.

NOU 1997:4: Naturgrunnlaget for samisk kultur.

NOU 1985:14: Samisk kultur og utdanning.

NOU 1987:34: Samisk kultur og utdanning.

H. Gaski. Skriftbilder. Samisk litteraturhistorie, 1998.

H. Gaski (ed.). Sami Culture in a New Era. The Norwegian Sami Experience, 1997.

Unedited Material:

One of the oldest archaeological finds that one can conclude is Sámi was made at Kjelmøya in Sør-Varanger. It clearly involves a seasonal dwelling place for sea fishing, and a rich selection of fishing tools was found, almost all of them made of bone.

From early on the Sámi were subjected to bandit attacks and taxation from the people living around them. At times a few Sámi groups were actually taxed by three different countries, Denmark-Norway, Sweden-Finland and Russia. We know that the Vikings traveled northward to plunder and pillage, but in other cases also to get boats and to consult with Sámi shamans. That is, the Sámi along the coast were known as capable boat builders as far back as the saga age, and Norwegians have always had respect for Sámi shamans, noaiddit. There are countless stories about the noaidis’ feats, both their being able to provide information about what was happening other places than where they themselves were located at the moment, and their abilities to use sorcery. The shaman was an important institution in the old Sámi society; he was the one who took care of and passed on myths and rites, and he could probably also create new rituals.

In the old form of Sámi religion the shaman was also the one who with the help of his magic drum – a drum with drawings painted on – could prophesy and predict future hunting success, the welfare of the people, and in a way function as spiritual leader. The old Sámi religion was shamanistic, i.e. the noaidi had a central position as the link between the people and the gods or the spiritual world. To a certain degree one can also say that the religion was animistic in the sense that they regarded nature as being animate, as is the case with many other indigenous groups in the world.

Otherwise the people had their own gods to relate to of course, with Beaivi, the Sun, as the central force. The god and the heavenly body have the same name. Along the rays of the sun, Beaivvi lážžit – literally the reins of the Sun – the reindeer came wandering to the earth, and on the magic drum several of the central gods are placed on the rays of the sun. Dearpmis, also called Horagállis, was one of the Sámi’s heavenly gods. Dearpmis not only reigned over lightning and thunder, but also over the rainbow, wind and weather, over the ocean and the lakes as well as over the people’s welfare, life and health. The Sámi could therefore thank Dearpmis for prosperity and reindeer success. Dearpmis also protected the noaidi when his body remained lifeless while his soul traveled to Sáivu or Jábmiid áibmu (the Kingdom of the Dead) to seek knowledge. Bieggolmmái was the god of the wind and the storm. He was often depicted with a shovel in hand with which he forced the wind out of the cave when he wanted to make it come up. When he wanted the wind to stop blowing he used a club to force it back into the cave. Leaibolmmái, the Alder Tree Man, was the god of hunting. The alder tree was considered to be a holy tree by the Sámi. Using chewed off bark figures were painted on the magic drum. The bark was used to prepare leather, and in some cases also used as medicine. Leaibolmmái ruled over all the wild animals of the forest. It was especially important during bear hunting that, through sacrifices to Leaibolmmái, they succeeded in withholding the protection of the god from the bear; otherwise the hunting party would be torn to death by the bear. Furthermore, the bear was considered to be a holy animal by the Sámi, and there were many rituals connected to bear hunting. They remembered Leaibolmmái morning and evening with prayers and sacrifices.

Among the female goddesses Máttaráhkká was the ancestress and one of the central earthly gods. It was Máttaráhkká who created a body for the baby soul when a person came into existence, and brought it to Sáráhkká who put it into the womb and was responsible for the birth of the child. (Before the baby’s soul came to Máttaráhkká it had visited several “nice” gods, something that has been interpreted as a mythological parallel to the Sámi’s social circumstances. In order to succeed against the stallo, the Chudes and bandits on earth the Sámi had to use cunning and follow hidden paths. In the spiritual world as well evil gods lay in wait for the Sámi. Therefore it was important to lead them astray by following many roundabout ways when the newly created soul finally was going to be placed in the mother’s stomach.) Sáráhkká was the mother of the person created (from sárrat “to create”) and the goddess of women. She helped women as well as reindeer does give birth, and it is said that she even felt the pain along with those giving birth. Sáráhkká was highly honored and prayed to. Her dwelling place was by the hearth, by the fireplace in the turf hut, and Sáráhkká got her share of everything partaken of. After the Sámi had been Christianized it often happened that when a child had been to church and gotten a Christian name, upon returning home it was bathed and baptized anew in honor of Sáráhkká. (Sáráhkká’s name lived on in the oral tradition long after the introduction of Christianity in expressions like “Nu lea Sáráhkká mu saran (sivdnidan),” (So has Sáráhkká created me.)” Juksáhkká was the bow mother (from juoksa “a bow”) and could influence the sex of the embryo. According to old Sámi belief all children were originally created as girls, but Juksáhkká could intervene in the mother’s body and change the sex of the embryo. Therefore she has been regarded as the goddess of boys, and people thought that by sacrificing to Juksáhkká, as well as yoiking and drumming on the magic drum in her honor, she would be extra helpful during the “sex change operation.” Uksáhkká gets her name from uksa “door” where she had her dwelling place. Uksáhkká guarded the entrance and exit and took care of the mother and child after the birth. She kept the child from accidents and the mother from illnesses, and allowed the child to grow and thrive.

Sáivu was the Sámi’s paradise after death. It was a better place to be than Jábmiid áibmu (the kingdom of the dead) that was the place the evil people came to and where the gods of sickness reigned. In Sáivu the dead lived the same way as on earth, just much more happily, with their reindeer, their wild game and their fish. The Sáivu people lived in certain holy mountains or lakes. A Sáivu lake had a double bottom, it was said, because there were often springs that spouted up from holes at the bottom of these lakes. Sáivu-loddi, Sáivu-guolli and Sáivu-sarvvát were assistants, birds, fish and reindeer bulls, that the noaidi used on his journeys to the realm of the dead or to whatever place on earth to seek counsel and guidance from the gods or the dead. The Sámi also sacrificed to stone gods, sieiddit. These could have a special form or appearance or simply be defined centers of power where the gods’ powers stayed in the local area.

A contributory factor to the Sámi turning their backs on their old gods was the feeling of having been betrayed by these gods. When the Sámi under the pressure of colonization prayed to their gods for help to eliminate the encroachers there was no improvement. On the contrary they even experienced the colonists stealing Sámi sacrificial offerings without the gods reacting.

There was even a Sámi, Isak Saba, elected as a representative to the Storting (Parliament) in 1906, as a background to Sámi mobilization, especially through the newspaper Sagai Muittalægje, which the educator and author Anders Larsen stood behind.

This led to concrete assessments of the Sámi situation in Norway, when the Coordinating Committee for the School System in 1948 suggested that greater respect for the Sámi’s distinctive qualities should replace the one-sided nationalization process. Later the Committee investigated the Sámi question in 1959, where the foundation for a broad debate of principles on the Sámi’s future in Norway was laid. The Committee in its basic viewpoint was in favor of the Sámi being integrated into the state’s social and economic structure with a view to attaining equality in common interests. Furthermore, they decided to consolidate Sámi settlement areas, and certain administrative special arrangements and efforts at cultural preservation were suggested to counteract assimilation and to make it possible for the Sámi to live on as the bearers of a minority culture within Norwegian society.

In principle the Government followed the points of view of the expert committee it had appointed, and got support for this in the Storting (May, 1963). The directives that the Storting outlined resulted in a series of initiatives. They applied within the school system as well as the health and social sectors, higher education, research and free cultural work. The period after 1963 can moreover be characterized by a stronger Sámi engagement in voluntary organizations and as active contributors to public deliberative bodies. The Sámi organizations were also supplied with new resources through young people who went on to higher education and in that way could become active in political and professional pursuits on a level with public bureaucrats and other authorities.

Sámi Organizations and Institutions

In 1948 the reindeer-herding Sámi established Norske Reindriftsamers Landsforbund (Norwegian Reindeer Herding Sámi’s National Federation) as a professional organization for reindeer herding. It has meant a great deal in the relationship between the state’s administration of reindeer herding and the Sámi’s own possibilities of influencing the control of the traditional livelihood. The organization negotiates a reindeer-herding agreement with the state every year on a par with what the agricultural organizations do, and on the whole it is a central participant in the development of a modern reindeer herding based on technology and economy. About 40% of Norway’s total area is utilized today as pasture for reindeer. Even after the introduction of Sametinget (the Sámi Parliament) in 1989 the NRL has held onto the Reindeer Herding Agreement as its primary right. For a long time there has been a discussion about sharing the responsibility for the administration of modern reindeer herding in Norway between NRL, Sametinget and the state Reindeer Herding Administration office in Alta.

 Norske Samers Riksforbund (Norwegian Sámi National Federation) since 1968 has been the organization that on a broad, ideal basis was supposed to unite the Sámi and work for better cultural, social and economic conditions for the population. The organization had a majority in Sametinget the first two periods (1989-93 and 1993-97); today it occupies the presidency and is the largest group in the parliament. NSR has worked actively for the political rights of the Sámi, and was a driving force in the effort to start investigations that took place in the Sámi cultural committee and the Sámi rights committee during the 1980s and 1990s. Nevertheless the government would not appoint any of the committees before the actions that were part of the Alta conflict more of less forced Norwegian authorities to take Sámi rights questions seriously. In connection with the Alta conflict there were large demonstrations where environmental interests and Sámi interests joined hands against the development. A group of Sámi united across the Sámi organizations and functioned as a group of reporters face to face with the authorities; among other things they were behind a hunger strike that a group of Sámi carried out in Oslo.

Samenes folkeforbund (The Sámi People’s Alliance) is today the largest Sámi organization, but nevertheless is barely represented in Sametinget. Like Samenes landsforbund (The Sámi National Alliance), which they at one time broke off from, they organize mainly Sámi in the coastal and fjord districts. These two organizations have thus become mouthpieces for Sámi groups that have not been at the forefront in the public debate on Sámi questions in Norway. Samenes landsforbund was started as a protest movement against what they understood as far too radical Sámi demands and that they thought would lead to Sámi special rights and as such could provide fertile soil for friction between the different population groups in the north. The organization opposed the establishment of a separate, directly elected Sameting.

Of important institutions that were established in the 1970s Nordisk Samisk Institutt (Nordic Sámi Institute) in Kautokeino must be mentioned. This is a research and reporting center that the Nordic countries finance together. Its management, where the Sámi organizations are represented, has a Sámi majority. Kautokeino also got the Sámi College in the fall of 1989. This school was established on unrestricted resources from the Sámi section at the Alta Teachers’ College. It provides teacher training, but is also engaged in research and development work. The University of Tromsø has several sections that do research and teaching in different Sámi subjects and over the years has educated several of the researchers who are now entering the Sámi institutions. The colleges in Nordland and Nord Tøndelag are assigned a special responsibility for Lule and South Sámi higher education, while the culture centers in Tysfjord, Hattfjelldal and Snåsa contribute courses and follow-up efforts on the cultural side.

There are Sámi secondary schools in Karasjok and Kautokeino, but Sámi students come from other schools to universities and colleges too. In recent years there has been a new recruiting of students from the coastal Sámi areas. The Sámi Educational Council (SUR) in Kautokeino in principle has the responsibility for all Sámi education in Norway, but prioritizes the primary and secondary school levels. SUR ensures that the Sámi school system is supplied with the necessary teaching materials in Sámi. In connection with the reforms in the Norwegian school system a separate Sámi curriculum was prepared. This is mainly for students in the administrative areas where the linguistic rules of the Sámi law are in force. Material about Sámi conditions has been inserted in the newest national curricular plans.

Public Reporting

The Sámi rights commission delivered its proposals in 1984 and 1987. The first one dealt with the general legal basis of national rights and international legal arrangements in connection with the discussion about the Sámi’s legal situation in Norway. Norway signed several international conventions that have consequences for the Sámi’s status as a separate people within the country’s borders. This is particularly the case for the ILO convention no. 169 from 1989 concerning aboriginal peoples and tribes in independent states, and article 27 in the UN’s convention from 1966 on civil and political rights that protects minorities from negative differential treatment and forms the basis for active support of the minority culture through positive initiatives. The Sámi rights committee’s first recommendation ended in a proposal for a separate Sámi law, and also recommended that a separate Sámi institution elected by popular vote be established, a Sameting (Sámi parliament) instead of the Norsk Sameråd (Norwegian Sámi Council) that had functioned as an advisory organ for state, county and municipal authorities since it was established in 1964. The committee wanted to have a separate Sámi paragraph included in the constitution, where it is ascertained that the Sámi shall have the right to develop their language, their culture and their social life within the borders of the Norwegian state. The constitutional decision – paragraph 110a – was adopted by the Storting in the spring of 1988, and the first election to Sametinget took place at the same time as the Storting election in 1989. The proposals in the Sámi rights committee’s second recommendation aim primarily at assuring the natural basis for Sámi culture in Norway in accordance with Norway’s internal judicial and international legal obligations, and the committee tried to develop a legal system for local administration of property and natural resources in Finnmark, where Sámi interests are represented mainly through Sametinget.

Sametinget is primarily a representative body that is qualified to speak for the Sámi in Norway. It consists of 39 elected representatives from 13 election districts. Sametinget’s main administration is in Karasjok, and the daily political work is conducted by the Sameting council. Sametinget has several subordinate professional organs, such as the Sámi economic council, the Sámi cultural council, the Sámi cultural artifacts council and the Sámi language council. Sweden and Finland too have separate Sámi parliaments, and in order to coordinate Nordic Sámi policy better the three Sámi parliaments established a common organ that functions across the national borders. The Nordic Sámi organizations have had a common body from early on in the Samerådet (Sámi Council) – previously the Nordisk Sameråd (Nordic Sámi Council), but after the Russian Sámi got representation on the council, they chose to change the name to Samerådet. The Sámi Council has its secretariat in Utsjoki, Finland, and its highest organ is the Sámi conference that is held every third year. The Sámi Council has NGO (non-governmental organization) status within the UN system, and has participated very actively in the preparation of an aboriginal people’s declaration in the UN’s work group for aboriginal peoples in Geneva. Likewise the Sámi conference in 1992 asked the Nordic countries to work out a separate Sámi convention, and in 1996 a Nordic work group was appointed to elucidate the requirements and foundations for such a convention.

The Sámi cultural committee delivered its report in two recommendations from 1985 and 1987. It gave a broad treatment of Sámi educational and cultural questions, and suggested that a separate Sámi language law be introduced to give Sámi language better legal protection and higher status. With the language law Sámi is recognized as an official language in Norway, but for that matter it is valid primarily for six municipalities in Finnmark and Nord-Troms. Moreover the language law has resolutions about the use of Sámi language in public contexts, and to make the language more visible most of the government buildings in Finnmark today have signs in Sámi. The Sámi language is threatened from several directions, not only through massive influence from the outside, but also by the fact that so many Sámi villages have been Norwegianized over time. This has led to the geographical spread of Sámi language in active use starting to contract, something that in turn could limit the possibilities for the use of the language.

In Norway the three most important dialects are North Sámi, Lule Sámi (Tysfjord-Hamarøy) and South Sámi (south of Saltfjellet, Trøndelagfylkene, as well as portions of Hedmark). The differences between these dialects is so great that a South Sámi and a North Sámi and cannot directly understand each other. By far the largest number of Sámi speakers use the North Sámi dialect, which is also the most used in literature and education.

As an example the verb “njuikut” means to jump, without any additional specification of why one jumps. “Njuiket” however means to jump just once, while “njuikkodit” means to jump continually. “Njuikestit” is a further minimalizing of “njuiket” meaning one does a little jump just once, while the corresponding designation for continual jumping with several subsequent jumps, but over a limited period is “njuikkodit.” Here too one can contract both the jumps and the period of time they are done in by saying “njuikulit,” which on the one hand means to make some quick jumps but also to jump away. “Njuikkodastit” is to jump with small jumps for a very short time. “Njuikehit” means both to cause to jump and to jump up after something, but it can also have an entirely different meaning, namely to couple.

Some central names in this connection are Ailo Gaup, Aagot Vinterbo-Hohr and John Gustavsen.

Sámi literature is occupied with showing strength.

Literature for children and young people is also a prioritized area for Sámi authors, and some names here are Rauna Paadar-Leivo, Kerttu Vuolab, Ellen Marie Vars and Marry A. Somby. As for children’s literature the illustrations are often just as important as the narrative and now and then provide room for separate stories along side the text. The most used Sámi book illustrators are Berit Marit Hætta and Merja Aletta-Anttila.

in Karesuando there is now a new theater group that puts on very professional and experimental plays with small economic resources. In the Finnish part there are several dedicated souls behind the amateur group Rávgoƒ. The theater is more or less tied to a little village on the Tana River and has mainly performed texts of local authors. Up to now the theater has been based on the form of popular comedy, but through this also attends to some of the lushness of popular language.

NRK (Norwegian Broadcasting)’s Sámi programs.

The main programs can be heard in the northernmost parts of the country and on the FM band in the Oslo area. The Sámi demand is that these programs become nationwide, and that more money be granted to programs in Lule and South Sámi. Plans are now afoot to establish a separate Nordic Sámi radio channel where the Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish Sámi radios go together to produce round-the-clock programs in Sámi. The channel will most likely be for digital receivers. By the turn of the century the intention is that Sámi radios be underway with daily news broadcasts on Sámi TV.

and publishes two issues a month. It receives support from Norsk kulturråd (Norwegian Cultural Council), for one thing as an honor for the significance the newspaper has had for written use of the Sámi language over the years.

and actively contributed to getting Isak Saba elected to the Parliament.

Still a significant thread goes from duodji to dáidda, from handicraft to art in a modern sense.

so an author can just as well be called sátneduojár, word craftsman, as girječálli, book writer.

that can be both erotic and otherwise provocative for the fantasy.

An assignment to decorate a Sámi children’s school was a contributing reason for several Sámi artists going together to establish the Sámi Artists’ Workshop in Masi in 1978. The workshop no longer exists but participated in forming the basis for

However, they merged into a common secretariat, Čálli, that was established in 1986. the organization receives economic support from the Nordic countries.

In 1993 a Sámi “rock-yoik” reached the top of the chart Ti i skuddet (The Top Ten Hits) on NRK, viz. “Orbina” from the Kautokeino group of the same name. As is most often the case there are modernized and instrumentalized versions of traditional melodies, a sort of new usage of what could be characterized as Sámi roots music.

Sámi Attire

The traditional Sámi attire was made of the material one had access to, that is primarily leather and later also wool. The clothing had to be functional and warm. The winter outfit consisted of an inner fur of reindeer with the hairs turned inward and an outer fur with the hairs outward. For the summer outfit the hairs were removed. The footwear was also of leather, tanned sealskin or cowhide for summer use – a type of moccasin – while the winter footwear was sewn either from a leg hide or a head hide. The moccasin band kept the footwear in place and the snow out, and there are different patterns for women and men.

There are large geographical variations in Sámi attire. The differences often follow linguistic dialect boundaries, and the influence of neighboring people’s clothing can also be easily noted, when for example the East Sámi clothing is influenced by Russian and Karelian cuts. The jacket – gákti – is no doubt the garment most people connect with Sámi clothing. It is colorful and very conspicuous among dark business suits in Oslo, Stockholm as well as Brussels. The traditional Sámi man’s cap had marten or otter skin at the bottom and a rectangular hat bag that was filled with down so that the tips stood up in the air and made the cap look like a star. “The one who wears a Sámi star cap on his head, will never get lost” an old Sámi saw has it. Among the women’s caps probably the so-called horn cap was the most special. It had a horn, an extra top at the back of the head. The horn was made of wood and covered with red cloth like the rest of the cap. This cap was condemned by pietistic Læstadian doctrine because it had too much “unnecessary” decoration, and it has more or less gone out of use among the Nordic Sámi. The East Sámi still use it to some extent.