The Sámi people in the structures of history

The Sámi are a people who themselves have never been able to influence their future. Now, the Nordic countries Norway, Sweden and Finland have tried to correct this deficiency by offering to ratify the ILO agreement, as if to make up for the wrongs of the past.

Basic facts

There are currently about 10,000 Sámi people in Finland, correspondingly 5,500,000 Finns. The area of the Sámi home region is 35,000 square kilometers, or 10% of Finland's area. The number of Sámi living in the Sámi home region is about 3,000 and the rest of the population about 7,000, that is, in percentages, about 30% are Sámi.

According to these aforementioned figures, the history of Finland can be written in such a way that the Sámi people can be treated in the framework of general history. The history of the Sámi cannot be written without the history of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia. There would be no Sámi without so-called external factors; population movement, outside of present-day Finland and Lapland, the Kingdom of Sweden, the French Revolution, European ideas and science, the Russian Empire, two world wars, the global economy and so on.

The most important element in the structural history of the Nordic countries is that the Sámi have always been part of a larger whole. The Sámi have been part of organized society since 1695. External factors have influenced the development of different Sámi communities more than internal factors. This is kind of self-evident and no one disputes it, but still this aspect is forgotten when the history of the Sámi is explained from the point of view of the formation of the indigenous people. When attention is focused only on domestic factors, the history of the Sámi begins to look manipulated, self-made and even suspicious.

The Lapps

The case of the Sami in Finland is special in that the country was part of the Russian empire until 1918. Finland was conceived as a separate entity belonging to the Grand Duchy of Finland, where the Sámi were integrated into the structures of the ruling community. They were not officially Sámi, only as Lapps paying the tax of Lapland, who appear in the land tax lists of Lapland and later.

The history of the Sámi can also be written from the period before state independence. But more precisely, then it is a question of a certain region and its history, which can be called in this sense the history of Swedish and Finnish societies. The question is on the history of a certain region and its people, which can be called the history of Finnish society. The Sámi inhabitants did not necessarily have Sámi identity at that time. The Sámi society here does not mean language, ethnicity, culture, origin of the population or other Sámi signs, but all the social life that existed in the country. The difficulty in defining the Sámi country and Sámi society in the 20th century is an important fact and also a structural factor.

The starting point of my assessment is that the history of the Sámi people should be examined especially before state independence, which means that we are talking about the Lapps, the ancestors of the current day Sámi people. More precisely, the inhabitants of Sweden and the Grand Duchy of Russia did not have a Sámi identity because they were Lapps.

Borderland people

Originally, the Sámi country did not even have borders, but the area varied, the rulers saw it in different ways, and there were many kinds of Sámi people; those without reindeer, those with reindeer, fishermen and hunters. Some groups had and still have different languages. Under different conditions we would call them entirely different nations of people. The difficulty of defining Sámi before 1900 is an important fact. Very deep conclusions cannot be drawn, for example, on the basis of archive materials.

When talking about the residential areas of the Sámi people, it wasn't about state borders at first, or even something that had to be crossed, but more about connections in one direction or the other. Tenojoki did not separate the Sámi people of Norway and Finland, but the water, on the contrary, united the Sámi people of the two sides. The same was true of Tornionjoki's relationship with Sweden.

In fact, historical development created a structure from which the Sámi identity grew. It took on both anti-Swedish and anti-Russian features, but in fact Samiism - Sámi nationalism - was born in close interaction with Sweden, Norway and Russia and more widely in Europe.

Independent Finland had state borders, but society was more transboundary when contacts with the rest of the world became more frequent. The Sámi people have always lived in borderland, during the famine years some of the Inari, Sámi moved to Norway on the shores of the Arctic Ocean. Skolt-Sámi have their historical areas in Petsamo. The Reindeer Sámi people, on the other hand, have moved with their reindeer herds according to their annual cycle between the Arctic Ocean and the inland. Depending on the circumstances, the life of the Sámi people has always been based on interaction with merchants, tax collectors and church men.

About the vagueness of statistics

For the Sámi, the official population statistics are based on church records, whose occupational titles are unstable. Rural population data are based on parish lists. They are reasonably accurate, but when emigration intensified in the 1880s, the information has not been kept up to date.

There were still plenty of people who moved away from the countryside, especially in the parish registers. In addition, new occupations or imprecise titles appeared in the entries, from which it is difficult to determine what the person's occupation was. Reindeer Lapps who moved from Norway and Sweden for better grazing lands were also marked in Finnish registers in such a way that it becomes clear that it was not a question of the original population of the area.

The 1890 census was the first for the entire country, where it was possible to classify livelihoods and occupations quite reliably. The Sámi title was not used at that time, but a large part of those who paid the tax in Lapland and those who established their farms on the tax model were ancestors of today’s Sámi. Using these records, estimates of the number of Sámi and Lapps can be presented. However, population statistics can be supplemented with vital records. This method was used by Aslak Outakoski when compiling the Sámi family register. Thanks to this information, it is possible to get a reasonably accurate livelihood and occupational classification of people in Lapland from 1890, and especially from 1910.

Although the early statistics describe the distribution of the population into the main occupations, it is not possible to draw very far-reaching conclusions from them, because the reindeer herding Sámi who moved to Finland do not appear in official statistics before the border closures, except when they have had to face each other in court for the damages they caused to the Inari Sámi.