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Who Are the Sami of Northern Europe?

Updated on February 14, 2018
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Asp52 has a keen interest in all things British and has a particular affinity for Great White Sharks. Asp52 is well read in this subject.

If you were to mention indigenous or aboriginal peoples. The first peoples that you would think of are either Inuits, Australian Aborigines or those of Native Americans of the United States and Canada. One of the indigenous peoples who are often overlooked are the Sami of the Arctic regions of Europe.

The Sami are a people of Europe, who have kept their culture for over a thousand years despite great political upheaval.The Sami peoples are not known as a war like tribe and have existed in the same fashion as hunter gatherers for much of our recorded history. They were known to the Romans as a tribe that resided to the far north of the continent of Europe, their ancestral lands encompass parts of Arctic Russia, Sweden, Finland and Norway.

The current area of Sami habitation
The current area of Sami habitation | Source

The Sami population in Europe

Estimated Population

Sami Identity.

Like other minority tribal groups in various countries across the world, the Sami have fought to cling on to their tradition and heritage within Europe. In some cases they have been forced to settle into the dominant culture, but on the whole, they have managed to maintain their cultural identity. It is possible that this is down to their own determination and highly tuned survival instincts, that the Sami did not disappear off the historical record. Due to the harsh environment they usually inhabit and the fact the Sami where nomadic, other European peoples may have preferred to leave the Sami to their own existence for much of Europe's history.

The Sami speak a language which can be broken down into three main divisions and they are served by numerous regional dialects. The three types of Sami language are Southern, Eastern and Central. Its closest European tongue is the Finnish language and it is possible these differences evolved separately due to the Sami's mobility around the northern parts of the continent.

A male reindeer.
A male reindeer. | Source

The Inuits and Sami.

Although their style of living is similar, the Sami and Inuit peoples are very genetically different. The Sami share much of their genetic identity with the Northern Europeans such as Norwegians, Swedes, Finns and Russians. There is also a hint of Asian influence, which would have been due to the Russian influence. The Inuit peoples have the same genetic roots as the Native American tribes. They would have crossed the Bearing Straits land bridge or walked over the thick sea ice over 40,000 years ago to reach their homelands.

Having walked into modern day Alaska they would have headed east across the Americas and settled in Northern Canada and parts of Greenland. The Sami as a people would have followed their prey such as the reindeer and occupied the land made new by retreating glaciers.

The reindeer have provided the Sami people with much of their survival tools and the materials to build shelter from the elements. The reindeer provide food, drink and clothing for all of the tribe. These creatures are respected and are not killed only to be wasted. The uses the Sami have for the animal are vast, from the sinew used as string, to the animal's fat and waste which is used as fuel to heat their mobile homes.

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Cultural Oppression

Like all indigenous tribes they have had to suffer under the rules and policies of other more dominant European peoples. For example, as recent as the last century the government of Norway wanted the Sami people to conform to the Norwegian culture. Official sanctioned efforts were made to suppress the Sami language and culture in these lands.

In the 1850's the Sami were the focus of a lot of discrimination, when the Norwegians were in the grip of nationalistic sentiments. These powerful feelings mixed with a form of racism, believed the Sami were an inferior species as judged by the prevailing social Darwinism of the time.

Norway was not alone in trying to administer such policies on the Sami tribe, similar measures had been used across Europe where any wandering tribe was present. The taxation of the Sami tribe was a great source of revenue for the Northern Scandinavian nations as they migrated with their reindeer herds over national boundaries.

Since the end of the Second World War the United Nations has been able to assert the fundamental rights of all indigenous tribes throughout the world. The Sami have been able to register their voice in all democratic countries that they move through. The Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish government have now created Sami Parliaments to help give the Sami people a level of self-determination. In accordance with UN directives all children born of Sami parentage have the fundamental right to learn their native language, this will both preserve and protect the Sami's rich cultural heritage.

The Sami like other native tribes, have lessons that they can teach the rest of the world. The Sami are able to live in harmony with their environment and are aware of the impact that their actions have on the environment and food chain. If a civilization ending event happened, the skills that the Sami possess would allow them to survive the turmoil in their remote locations.

The Sami can adapt to changing climate conditions like their ancestors did at the end of the last Ice Age. It can only be a positive thing, that their proud traditions and knowledge can continue to be shared throughout the modern age in tandem with all our societies technological advances. If any aboriginal knowledge was to die out, then our world will be a poorer place for the further severing of own connections to our natural world.

© 2013 Andrew Stewart


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    • seraphic profile image

      Seraph 3 years ago from Canada

      Hello! I enjoyed your article very much. As a matter of fact, I enjoyed it so much you inspired me to write about my people, the Sami. I recently discovered that my DNA and a recent ancestor was Sami. I tagged your article in my article, I hope you do not mind; it would be kind if you would do the same. Thank-you for writing.

    • Asp52 profile image

      Andrew Stewart 5 years ago from England

      Thank you for the comment, it is far too easy to lump the people of different groups as "One Identity". Before researching the article I wrongly assumed that the Inuit people and the Sami were the same. I was very wrong on that. I would love to know more on the struggles these people's have had to over come in the last century, I would guess their lifestyle would have once been similar to the nomadic people's through Mongolia and parts of Russia to your North.

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 5 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      I had heard about Sami people through their association with herding reindeer, but nothing more. This hub turned out to be very informative. I thank you for not only providing knowledge about Sami people, but also doing it in the context of Inuit people.

      There are tribes in the region I hail from whose lives were drastically altered by creating of boundaries. Among those are Kuchi people of Afghanistan and Gujjars of Pakistan. Soviet-Afghan war of 1980s and recent upheaval in Afghanistan altered their way of living that depended on transhumance, that is, nomadic herding across many regions.

    • Asp52 profile image

      Andrew Stewart 5 years ago from England

      Totally agree, it is thought provoking that they have existed in a similar fashion to all our ancestors and at times could have disappeared due to invisible borders. Thanks for reading

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      I knew a little about the Sami, but I really enjoyed reading your article. It must be difficult to live as a people inside the confines of (artificial) national boundaries. Voted up, etc.