Today is the Sami National holiday so I wanted to share a little information about this group of indigenous people that come from the region of Sápmi, which stretches across the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Kola peninsula in Russia.
This holiday commemorates the meeting in 1917 when the Sami people and Norwegians came together to solve joint conflicts. The Sami National Holiday was created in 1992 at the 15th Sami Conference in Helsinki.
The holiday has been celebrated every year since. The level of recognition this holiday receives at the national level across the region varies. In Norway it receives the greatest attention: Norway has legally designated it as a national flag day, requiring that government offices display the Norwegian flag on this day.
Up until the 1960s, the Sami people were discriminated against and many laws were implemented trying to force the Sami to integrate more with the general population of Norway. Today the Sami National Day is celebrated all over the country. The Sami flag is raised, their national anthem is sung, and food such as “reindeer meat” and “fish” is served to celebrate.
The circle in the Sami flag symbolizes the sun and the moon, and the four colors used, which are also used in their clothing represent the four countries that they inhabit.
A few years ago I had the privilege to visit Alta, in the northern part of Norway, where I spent a day with a Sami man named Mikkel Per Bongo.
It was very interesting to learn a little about the Sami culture, which in some ways is similar to that of Native Americans. The Sami people's livelihoods include coastal fishing, fur trapping, and sheep herding, but their most common means of livelihood is definitely reindeer herding.
Currently, about 10% of the Sami are connected to reindeer herding, providing them with meat, fur, and transportation.
Approx. 2800 Sami people are actively involved in herding on a full-time basis. The Sami have practiced traditional reindeer herding since the 17th century. Reindeer herding is more than just a profession but a way of life.
The Sámi are ‘semi-nomadic’, meaning they don’t stay in the same place all year. Sámi herders migrate with their reindeer during the seasons, heading to the mountains for winter and coming back together with the community in the summer. On the journey, Sámi herders will camp in a traditional tent, called a lavvo. A lavvo is similar in style to the teepees and wigwams used by American Indians.
The reindeer is a valuable resource for the Sami. In traditional herding, reindeer were used for food, clothing, trade (reindeer as a form of money), and for labor.
For traditional, environmental, cultural, and political reasons, reindeer herding is legally reserved for only Sami people in some regions of the Nordic countries. According to the New Norwegian Reindeer Herding Act from 2007 which regulates reindeer herding in Norway, only those who have the right to a reindeer earmark can conduct reindeer husbandry in the Sámi reindeer herding area.
The right to a reindeer earmark requires that the person is a Sámi and themselves, their parents or their grandparents have or had reindeer herding as their primary occupation.
A reindeer earmark is a combination of one to many cuts in a reindeer’s ears which tells who the reindeer owner is. Reindeer husbandry is often referred to as the cornerstone of Sámi culture.
The conditions in reindeer herding can be extreme and cold. To be able to manage and survive these conditions the Sami people have an intimate knowledge of the landscape, weather, and wildlife - knowledge that most of us no longer possess.
Today there is approx. 2000 Sami people in Russia, 8000 in Finland, 20000 in Sweden, and 50000 in Norway.
If you are interested in visiting Sápmi (also known as Lapland), which today encompasses large northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland, or another exciting destination please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 703-927-0588
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Lene H. Minyard