The Sami: The Reindeer Herders of the North

Michael Wandel, Staff Writer

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In the cold north of Scandinavia, and the Karelian peninsula of Russia, lives an ancient people whose traditions can be traced back to the ice age. These people are the Sami. Nature is a large part of their culture, and like the native americans, they have many words for natural occurrences like winter or spring. The land in which Sami inhabit today is called Sapmi or Sameland.

Scientists have been debating where the Sami originated from for decades. Whether they originated in Europe or migrated to Scandinavia from Asia, scientists cannot be one-hundred percent sure where they came from. Their language is even distinct from the other Finno-Ugric peoples’ and the Indo Europeans’. Their culture is very similar to that of the natives of North America, emphasizing an importance in nature and the disregard for the “ownership of land”. However, the Sami are also updating to modern technology, in order to be a part of the modern world. Some Sami have forgotten the reindeer herding ways of their ancestors, yet some are sticking to their old traditions.

To this day herds of reindeer are being hunted by groups of Sami. The Sami also breed the reindeer. they follow the reindeer across the icy tundra of northern Scandinavia. Reindeer hunting and herding began in the 17th century, when the the Russians, Swedes, and Danes were fighting for control of Finland and Northern Scandinavia. These Govts taxed the Sami, but the Sami had no money to pay these taxes. So in order to pay the taxes, the Sami had to give reindeer herds and meats to pay. To meet up with the large taxes the Sami had to take up reindeer hunting and herding.

In order for the hunt to done properly two or more families join together in order to follow the reindeer and gain the most hides and meat from them. Hunters must know how reindeer act, the geography of the land and how the seasons change. During the spring and summer the reindeer move inland and during the winter and fall the reindeer move inland. The hunters must move according to the reindeer’s movements. The whole family contributes to the hunt, with fathers and sons going on the hunt, and mothers and daughters make clothing and food out of what the hunters bring back. the Sami live in tepees, similar to native Americans, which consist of animal hides, sticks, leaves and stone. They pack up these tepees as they travel. Yet, as times have gone on the Sami have been forced by the governments that rule them to get rid of their culture and assimilate into their cultures.

The Norwegian, Swedish,Russian and Finnish governments have suppressed the Sami people for hundreds of years. Before they came, the Sami lived in peace. They worshiped nature itself, and had animal spirits involved with their religious beliefs. But, when the Norwegians, Swedes,Russians, and Finnish came they forbid the Sami’s shamin worship and forbade the speaking of the Sami language. They put the Sami on reservations, like what the U.S would do to the native Americans. They put the Sami on reservations and forced them to assimilate into their customs. Only recently have the Sami gained power in their homelands. There are Sami parliaments in Sweden and Norway which represent the Sami people in their governments. Yet, the Sami are still confined to reservations where they can hunt reindeer.

The Sami have survived for thousands of years and their traditions will continue. A long as there are reindeer in Sapmi and there are the Sami, the traditions will continue. I believe that the Sami are one of the most interesting peoples in the world. Their traditions should be preserved for generations to come.


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