Art: Poster Boy Photo Credit: Matti Aikio

A minority native population, discriminated against and forced to abandon their religion and lifestyle in a modern world that threatens to leave them behind. The same is true for the Sami, the Finno-Ugric people inhabiting the large and sparsely populated area of northern Sweden, Finland, Norway as well as the Kola Peninsula of Russia.

The Samis are mostly known for their traditional reindeer herding, a practice that is even exclusive to the group in Norway by law. But today only about 10% of the Samis are involved in it.

 

Instead, most of the Samis have been assimilated into the modern societies they live in, with most being Christian and even having Swedish or Norwegian names. But to say that this process has been voluntary would be a stretch. The discrimination of the Samis has been going on for hundreds of years, a result of xenophobia and religious differences. Some of the animosity comes from the contrast between the Sami’s semi-nomadic lifestyle and the agrarian lifestyle of the other peoples in the region.

“When I was young, back in the 40’s, Samis were treated very poorly and thought of as less human”, says Börje Lundquist in an interview for the Circular, who grew up in northern Sweden.  He has experienced first hand how Samis were looked down on and how they, even though they all spoke Swedish, were marginalised.

“My son, who is from southern Sweden, once jokingly called his grandmother a “lapp” (an old derogatory term for Samis) and she got so upset that she gave the young boy a spanking”, Börje remembers. ” Such was the animosity back then.”

The idea of Samis being less human goes back a long time and reached its peak during the era of eugenics, with forced sterilisation and phrenology research on Sami remains.

Sami Lapp family in Norway around 1900. Photo Credit: Tonynetone

For most Swedes, Finns, Norwegians and Russians, the Samis remain invisible. They are struggling to maintain their culture and shamanic beliefs, and continue to see most of their sons and daughters leave for urban areas.

But these days, efforts are being made to bring the Sami culture back. With the Samis now having their own parliaments in Sweden, Norway and Finland, their language is finally being protected and promoted, and many have taken back their traditional Sami names. Their modern history might be dark, and the Northern states where they live still has much to apologise for, but things seem to get better, and maybe the Samis can finally return to their old ways.