The #Indigenous Peoples of #Finland

“The Sámi Form Finland’s First Nation”

Where does the story of the Sámi, Finland’s indigenous people, begin? Let’s start about 12,000 years ago, when the thick ice sheets covering Finland began to melt and the earth was once again exposed.
With the ice gone, the sun warmed the ground and plants began to grow. With the plants came animals. And with the animals came humans. Thus begins the human story of Finland and the ancient people who later became the Sámi.

Sámi men pause from their work to pose for a photograph that has since become part of history.

Photo: Maantieteen Retkikunta/Encyclopaedia of Sámi Culture

The first evidence of human presence in Finland comes from the southeast and dates to around 10,500 years ago. As the glaciers melted – starting on the coast and progressing inland – the human path followed, coming in from current day Russia and Norway.

Existence was tough in the arctic climate, but these early humans adapted well to their environment. They dressed in animal hides and maintained a mobile lifestyle, living in tepee-like shelters or in dwellings dug into the ground covered with turf, hides or birch bark.

Inland, they hunted reindeer, moose, bear, rabbit, beaver and fowl. Along the coast, they hunted seal, whale and walrus. They fished the seas and rivers for salmon, pike, whitefish and perch. And in the warm seasons, they gathered wild blueberries, crowberries and cloudberries.
Reindeer flow

Locals in northern Finland gather as a herd of reindeer is corralled. The Sámi have engaged in reindeer husbandry for hundreds of years.

Photo: Kaisa Siren/Lehtikuva

The indigenous people of Finland, now called the Sámi, descended from those early inhabitants. Different theories suggest that the origin of the Sámi goes back 4,000 years or more.

The arrival of agriculture represented a new sedentary way of life for some of the early peoples of Finland. Those that took up an existence based on cultivating the land gravitated toward the southern areas. Others, who became what we know today as the Sámi, maintained the traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle and made their lives in the north.

Reindeer formed perhaps the most important resource for the Sámi, who hunted them in the wild for thousands of years using weapons and traps. Eventually they began to take more control of the herds, protecting them from predators and killing animals as necessary for food.

At the same time they would tame some individuals for milking or transportation. By the 15th century, large-scale, full-fledged reindeer husbandry had developed.

Encountering challenges

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö (lower left) and his wife Jenni Haukio (middle right) visit the new Sajos Sámi Cultural Centre.

Photo: Jouni Kela/Lehtikuva

Not only did the Sámi carve a living from the environment, but they also had a spiritual relationship with the natural elements. All entities of nature were conscious, living beings with which they coexisted in an earthly family.

The Sámi lived in this way until the 17th century when the states of Sweden, Denmark and Novgorod began to colonise the northern landscapes. Land grants without taxation were given to non-Sámi people who moved from the southern, more urbanised areas to the remote north country.

One significant aspect of the early colonisation was the taxation of the Sami – in some regions by three different governments. Another one was Christianisation.

Slowly borders were formed, land was divided and the Sámi began to have a more difficult time maintaining their cultural heritage and languages. Assimilation proceeded, and the Sámi became integrated into schools, the economy and the legal system. Many of them lost parts of their own culture in the process.

Language and land

During the latter half of the 1900s, Sámi ways experienced a revitalisation. The people took the initiative to re-create their own nation within the established Scandinavian nations.

Two women show off traditional Sámi outfits from Enontekiö (left) and Karigasniemi outside the Sajos Sámi Cultural Centre in Inari.

Photo: Martti Kainulainen/Lehtikuva

Major efforts have gone into gaining official language status and claiming land rights, the latter with the support of the UN. The language efforts have been reasonably successful, with Sámi languages now recognised as official languages in three northern municipalities of Finland.

However, land rights have proven more difficult because of counter-pressure by non-Sámi inhabitants of Lapland who fear losing their own land rights. The issue is currently unresolved in the Finnish Parliament.

Today, the Sámi remain a permanent fixture in Scandinavian society. They mainly inhabit northern regions across Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, and number upwards of 100,000 people. Approximately 7,500 of them live within Finland’s borders.

Perhaps most importantly, they now have their own parliament, founded in 1996. The Sámi were the first to arrive in Finland – perhaps when the climate cools and great sheets of ice take over the land again, they will be the last to leave.”

By Andy Kruse, October 2012


  1. Nice! … The Indigenous Australian history is a very sad, harsh one re colonisation / genocide. Their ‘Indigenous’ way of living though, is a very beautiful thing!

    Aotearoa is the Indigenous name for ‘New Zealand’ … the colonisers named it New Zealand. Aotearoa means : The Land of The Long White Cloud :)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on k p m © and commented:
    Indigenous cultures all have a common thread and that is our tie / relationship with the land / nature / spirituality. The Sami now have their own Parliament! An inspiration for us, the Indigenous of Aotearoa (New Zealand).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting – thank you for sharing! I like learning about other Indigenous groups and the way they lived pre and post colonisation. We all have a common thread and that is our tie / relationship with the land / nature / spirituality. I didn’t know the Sami had their own Parliament! Thats awesome and an inspiration for us, the Indigenous of Aotearoa (New Zealand).

    Liked by 1 person

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