The Sami People
The Sami make up one of the world’s least numerous native peoples, with around 70,000 individuals living in Sápmi, in what is now parts of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia. About 20,000 Sami live in Sweden — with their own cultural heritage, language, flag and parliament.
Once nomadic hunters and gatherers who followed the movements of wild reindeer, the Sami increasingly began to drive domesticated reindeer between grazing lands in the 17th century. Besides reindeer herding and meat production, arts and handicrafts is another traditional trade that has survived into modern days. Most Sami, however, have jobs with no connection to the traditional way of life.
Although Sápmi remains the cultural heartland, the Sami people have spread out over the Nordic region and there are now as many Sami living in Stockholm as there are in the north of Sweden. Established in 1993, the Sami Parliament in Sweden is both a publicly elected body and a state authority, tasked with promoting a living Sami culture. It is not a body for self-government and the Sami have no political representation in the Swedish Parliament.
Ancient Sami mythology focuses on the natural elements like the sun (Biejvve), mother of the Sami, and the wind god (Bieggaålmaj), who made it possible to catch the reindeer. In their shamanistic beliefs, nature has a soul. The Sami still call themselves “The people of the sun and the wind.”
In Sweden there are about 20,000 Sami, recognized by the UN as an indigenous people. Many Swedes’ understanding of the Sami lifestyle is limited to nomadic reindeer herding, which has been a strong symbol of their culture for centuries. The lack of a deeper cultural understanding feeds a generational divide between modern day Swedes and Sami.
Archeological finds suggest that the Sami people have lived in the Arctic region for thousands of years. Modern Sami build on their rich culture and long-established traditions but are happy to use snow scooters rather than skis when caring for their reindeer.