The Sami vs. Outsiders
- Early History
- Viking Age - Trade
- Viking Age - Good Cultural Relations
- Middle Age - Cultural Change
- Middle Age - Taxation
- Middle Age - Increased Immigration
- Middle Age - Increased Competition
- Middle Age - Different Notions of Territory
- Middle Age - Early Rights to Land
- Middle Age - Conflicts
- The 19th & 20th Centuries - More Immigration
- The 19th & 20th Centuries - Border Disputes
- The 19th & 20th Centuries - War/Revolution
- Assimilation Policy - Religious Conversion
- Assimilation Policy - Boarding Schools
- Ecological Damage
- Some Last Thoughts
According to historians, the proto-Sami were said to have inhabited most of Scandinavia and Northwest Russia. We first hear of them in the year 98 AD from the Roman historian Tacitus in his book Germania. At that time, they were called “Fenni.” Tacitus described them as a primitive hunting tribe who roamed the forests near Germany. In the second century A.D, Ptolemy of Alexandria spoke of a tribe in Scandinavia called the “Phinnoi.” And then in 555 AD the Greek historian Procopius in describing a war between the Romans and the Goths referred to a people called the “Skridfinns” who inhabited Scandinavia. And then once again in 750 AD Paulus Diaconus mentions a people called the “Skridfinns” who kept animals resembling deer. In the 9th and 10th centuries the Swedish Vikings are thought to have introduced the name “Lapp.” This name then spread throughout Scandinavia, to the Finns, the Russians and later to the Germans, Hungarians, Estonians and other groups. Today, the Sami prefer the name Sami, and their land is called Sapmi.
In the Viking Age there was a tremendous amount of trade (called the Finn Trade) along the coast of the Gulf of Finland and Bothnia. This area brought seasonal visits from Finns, Russians, and Scandinavian merchants, which eventually attracted the attention of the emerging nation states. It was during this early period that the Finns colonized the southwest corner of Finland. And in the 12th, 13th, and 14th centuries, there was also emigration into Sweden. As the Swedes, Finns and Norwegians pushed northward, Sapmi steadily decreased in size. In this early period we learn that the Sami merchants first traded with the Vikings, and later they traded with the travelers from northern Europe. According to the article “Important Years in Same History,” because of this early cultural contact, the Sami people advanced from a Stone Age society to a society that eventually developed its own monetary system; their currency was named tjoervie. The cultural contact not only benefited the Sami but other groups as well. The contact was often mutually beneficial. For example, it was quite common during this early period for different cultures to borrow words from one another. The Sami language, for instance, has hundreds of loanwords of Scandinavian or Germanic origin, as well as many from Finnish. Similarly, the Scandinavians and Finns have many words from each other.
Another benefit of the cultural contact was the flourishing enterprise in trade. The fur trade, for instance, attracted a large number of foreign travelers. As the following example will illustrate, the Sami people were highly respected as merchants and craftsmen.
Good Cultural Relations:
In the 8th and 9th centuries, the Norwegians began to settle along the coast of Finnmark, and this continued through the Viking age and into the Middle Ages. In the beginning, the Norwegians were mostly traders who settled with their families. But as time progressed more and more of them moved into Sapmi. During this early time relations were cordial between the Sami and the early Norwegians; the contact was often mutually beneficial. They intermarried and engaged in commerce. According to Gutorm Gjessing (in his book Changing Lapps), “North-Norwegian culture has always been subjected to Sami influences. And whilst Ottar…learned how to keep reindeer from the Sames, the sea-Sames of Nordland at least learned how to keep animals from the Norwegians…” According to Gjessing, the Sami were superior boat makers. In fact, Gjessing conjectures that they built the majority of the whaling boats that frequented the North-Norwegian coast. Unlike other periods in their history, the Sami and the Norwegians had amicable relations. There is evidence that they looked upon each other as equals. In this early period the Sami frequently exported boats to Norwegian provinces. A burial mound, dated from the 10th century, for example, contained a Norwegian man who, according to Scandinavian custom, was buried in a boat. The twenty-four to thirty foot long boat was sewn together with reindeer sinew, a Sami custom that dates from the Viking Age to the 18th century. There is also the example of the Norwegian King who hired Sami craftsmen to build a fleet of boats. While the boats were being built, the King lived with them at their winter settlements. The King said the following:
It was pleasant in the earth-dwelling when happily we were drinking, and the son of a King merrily could walk between the benches. There was no lack of fun at the merry drink. Men rejoiced with each other as anywhere else.
For Gutorm Gjessing, this example illustrates that the Norwegians looked upon the Sami as their equals. He writes: “The episode of King Sigurd Slembe…illustrates excellently how natural the association between the Sami and the Norwegians was.” Gjessing thinks that the natural contact between the two groups may be because of the high esteem that each had for the other, for, unlike the later periods, the Sami and Norwegians were roughly on the same “technical” level. Gjessing’s explanation is reasonable, for people tend to associate more freely with their perceived equals. Actually, though, the Sami were superior craftsmen, hunters, and all around fishermen. The Norwegians bought many of their necessities from the Sami, such as, clothing, shoes, skin costumes, and blankets. So economically, the Sami were better off. The disparities were not as great as today’s differences.
In addition to trade, the Nordic people and the Sami also intermarried, for the skeletons of Sami burials show a strong mixture of Nordic and East Baltic ethnic groups. It was not until the 13th century that things changed drastically between the two groups, for it was at that time that Norwegian colonization began on a large scale.
The Middle Ages brought more cultural contact between the Sami and other groups. This contact sometimes brought about changes in the Sami culture. One example of this was their change from an economy based on hunting and gathering to a pastoral economy. There were several reasons for this.
According to Soviet scholar V. A. Snireljman (in Lennart Lundmark’s article “The Rise of Reindeer Pastoralism”), “The transition to a pastoral economy was made only under the influence of extreme conditions.” The extreme conditions to which he refers were the combination of the following: the increase in the Sami population; the increase in taxation; and the decrease in game, especially the reindeer.
First, let’s examine the reason for the increase in the Sami population. At the time when taxes were low (latter half of the 16th century), the Swedish government gave the Sami a large food supply—i.e., butter, flour––in payment for their furs. Lundmark thinks that there is a direct relationship between the increase in food supply and the increase in the Sami population. He writes, “[T] he result of the increased supplies of food was a steep rise in the Saami population…[T] heir population expanded from 100 families…to more than 200 families…” Further, he states that there was a similar development in other parts of Sweden.
Next, there is the issue of taxation. In the 17th century the Swedish government needed more food for the army, so it demanded that the Sami pay taxes in the form of 55 kilograms of dried pike (or 200 kilograms of fresh pike) and one reindeer calf. This was a sharp increase from the 7-10 kilograms of dried pike (or 30-50 kilograms of fresh pike) that was required in the latter half of the 16th century. The increase caused many Swedish Sami to cross into Norway because they were unable to pay the new taxes.
And then finally there is the issue of the decrease in game. Lundmark mentions several reasons for this. They are: 1) the increase in trade; 2) the state’s use of Samiland; 3) and the increased use firearms. Gutorm Gjessing (in his book Changing Lapps) believes that the increased use of firearms was a major reason for the decline in the reindeer, which, he thinks, ultimately led the Sami to change their economy from hunting and gathering to reindeer herding.
According to Gjessing, in Finnmark the Sami and Norwegian hunters increasingly competed for the wild reindeer. When the use of firearms became widespread – even among the Sami – the wild reindeer became scarce, and this caused an economic crisis for the mountain Sami. Because of this, their culture changed from one of keeping small herds of tamed reindeer to that of nomadic reindeer herding. Gjessing writes, “Granted that all this is correct, we are confronted by…the phenomenon that nomadic reindeer activities …is in reality a product of culture contact. The process possibly could be termed ‘indirect acculturation’.” Gjessing supports his argument by pointing to the fact that the forest Sami of Sweden and southern Norway, who did not have the same problem, continued to keep a small herd of reindeer. This traditional method continued until the Norwegian-Finnish border closed in 1852. This then forced the Kautokeino Sami to immigrate to Karesuando, Sweden in order to get pasture for their herd. According to Gjessing, this brought about a cultural change for the Sami in Sweden – that is, they became nomadic reindeer herders as well.
As plausible as Gjessing’s conjecture may seem, it is not entirely accurate, for the cultural change to which he refers affected a small number of Sami – the forest Sami. On the other hand, Lennart Lundmark’s explanation seems to be more credible, since he takes into account a number of factors, all of which affected a large number of people. So the combination of the increase in taxation, the increase in the Sami population, and the decline in game forced the Sami to resort to the more strenuous practice of reindeer herding. This new practice then spread into other areas. Cultural contact also brought about a change in Sami society’s ideas of justice. As Swedish-Finnish social forms became more widespread, individual Sami began to appeal more and more to Swedish-Finnish courts to resolve disputes; this was done even when the conflicts were within the Sami community. The result was that traditional Sami justice, which was often taken into account by the 17th century Swedish-Finnish courts, was soon forgotten.
It was also during the Middle Ages that the emerging nation states began to vie for dominion over Samiland. One of the primary ways that they showed dominion was through taxation. They taxed the inhabitants. This proved to be quite lucrative for the emerging states, for the Sami were excellent hunters.
In the 13th century the King of Sweden decreed that birkarls (traders) were to tax the Sami with whom they traded. In the Kola Peninsula, the Karelians and the Novgorods did the same. Later, the Norwegians and Muscovites followed suit. At times the Sami were forced to pay taxes to as many as three states simultaneously, which often totaled more than their combined resources. The reason for the double and triple taxation was that the nation states had not yet agreed upon their respective national boundaries.
In addition to the tax, a tax collector could also impose a fine if he thought that taxes had been paid to his competitors. According to author Eeva Minn (in her book The Lapps), some Sami tried to flee to other countries. She writes: “Plagued by this excessive taxation they tried to flee from their persecution but they were pursued even into foreign countries and punished.” But when the Treaty of Strömstad (which was an agreement between Norway and Sweden on new boundaries) was signed in 1751 the Sami were obligated to pay taxes to only one country, either Norway or Sweden. In addition, it assured neutrality on the part of the Sami in case of war.
Along with the taxation, the nation states also encouraged their citizens to immigrate to Sapmi. This was done to strengthen their power base in the areas. For example, the Russian government encouraged immigration to the Kola Peninsula. In 1868 they offered new immigrants an exemption in taxes; an exemption from military service; and unlimited freedom in trade and business. As expected this brought an increase in Russian settlers to the area. At the same time, though, the Russians encouraged the Kola Sami to give up their nomadic lifestyle. They offered them certain privileges if they acquiesced. Many accepted the offer. Those that did eventually intermarried and gave up their Sami language. According to the article “Kola Lapps,” several Sami villages became completely “russified.”
The Russians were not the only nation state to encourage immigration into Samiland, for Denmark-Norway and Sweden-Finland also did this. In 1673, for example, Sweden decreed the Lappmark Proclamation, which offered tax relief in exchange for resettlement. And in 1751 the Danish-Norwegian government not only encouraged immigration to Finnmark, but it also deported its life-term prisoners there. Again the reason for all this was because the nation states wanted sovereignty over Samiland.
Although the offer of incentives played a major role in increasing the immigration to Samiland, there were other reasons as well. Many immigrants came to Samiland because of its bountiful resources. In the 14th and 15th centuries (Changing Lapps) the fish business along the Finnmark coast attracted large numbers of immigrants from the southern districts. And increasingly Finnmark began to be populated by Finns. A small number of them came to escape Ugedei Khan’s Mongol domain of the 13th century. But it was not until the 18th century, during the Scandinavian wars, that a large number of them actually began to emigrate to Finnmark. War and economic depression forced large numbers of them to flee their land. And in 1860 the Komi were hit by plague, which brought many of them to Russia. In all areas of Sapmi foreigners came in search of a new life. Not surprisingly, the Sami did not welcome this encroachment. Their response was to move to different areas. For example, in Finland they moved north in the face of Finnish colonization, and in Sweden and Norway they moved south. There came a time, however, when there was nowhere else to move, for the foreigners were on all sides of them.
One may wonder why the Sami people did not do more to stop the encroachment on their land. The answer is that there was not a lot that they could do. They are a small, non-violent people. They had little choice but to retreat, but as the following example will show, they also complained to authorities.
From the books Lapps To-Day and Lapps in Sweden, we learn that the Sami began to complain about Finnish encroachment into Kemi Lappmark in 1500. And in 1602, they personally complained to Duke Karl who later published a letter favoring the protection of the Sami people. But in 1670 the Provincial Governor, Johan Graan, a Sami descendant, insisted that the Sami and the farmers could live side by side since they earned their living differently. The reasoning was that since the reindeer and the farm animals subsisted on different foods–lichen and hay, respectively–they, meaning the Sami and the farmers, should be able to share the same area. The Lappmark Proclamation of 1673 was in keeping with this view. But among the problems was that both the reindeer and farm animals needed the swamps: The farmers needed the hay from the swamps, and the Sami needed the swamps as pasturage for the reindeer. In addition, both the Sami and the farmers subsisted on hunting and fishing, which caused a depletion of the wildlife. For the Sami, another issue was that the farmers acquired their grassland by ditching, which drew water from the lakes. Further as the Finnish farmers moved into Kemi Lappmark, they cleared the forests, which destroyed the traditional Sami lifestyle. So clearly they could not live in the same area.
Different notions of Territory:
What the authorities failed to realize was the intensely different ideologies each had about land. The agriculturalists believed that nature was something to be controlled. They practiced the slash and burn, which meant a loss of pasture for the reindeer. In addition, they believed in land ownership. In contrast, the Sami were nomadic hunters and herders; they were accustomed to following the migrations of the reindeer, so the idea of land ownership was foreign to them. Further they believed that man must live as one with nature, not spoil it. When the nation states came along they discounted the Sami’s historical and cultural connection to the land. Scott Forrest, author of “Territoriality and State-Same Relations,” believes that the different notions of territory explain much of the conflict over land use. According to Forrest, “‘Western’ or ‘modern’ views of territory are characterized by fixed, exclusive, geographically bounded space. Exact borders are defined…The Sami are a pastoral nomadic people, and these absolute notions of territory are not suitable for a lifestyle based on reindeer husbandry, which requires…seasonal migration, and flexible and adaptive land uses.” So in effect the nation states viewed the Sami as nomadic people, and as such, they had no ownership rights to the land. The Swedish King Gustaf Vasa, for example, declared that lands with nomadic inhabitants “belong to God, to us, to the Swedish Crown and to no one else.”
Early Rights to the Land:
In The Lapps in Sweden, we learn that between the 16th and 19th centuries records show that the Sami people in southern Lappmark had private land, with carefully defined limits. In return they paid tax on the land to the Swedish crown. Not only that, the land was hereditary. Each new owner had to have his right to the land recognized by the court. This changed in the 19th century, for land approval passed from the courts to county administration. At the start, the county administration accepted the idea that tax-paying Sami had the right to the land, but this changed when they realized that by legitimizing this right, it would, in fact, conflict with Sweden’s colonization efforts. Consequently, the Sami people were ultimately denied ownership rights.
In Sweden the worst conflict was not over land, but rather forced labor. In the 17th century, silver and iron ore were discovered in the mountains of Sweden. The Sami people were forced to work in the mines and (with the use of their reindeer) transport the ore. Those who refused or attempted to flee were punished. Conditions were so bad that the provinces of Pite and Lule were depopulated. The Sami people were treated as slave laborers. Swedish troops were called in to prevent the Sami villagers from fleeing. It is not surprising then that the Sami look upon this as one of the worst acts committed against their people.
Besides the issue of land, there was also conflict over the wildlife. Early on the Sami were given exclusive rights to hunt the beaver, but in 1747, the court ruled that the Finns and the Sami had equal rights to the beaver. It was because of the farmers that several species of wildlife, including the beaver, were brought to the brink of extinction. In Sweden, the Sami parliament is trying to appeal both a 1994 law that allows non-Sami to fish in lakes previously reserved for them, and a law that allows small game hunting in their territory.
In Russia, the Sami were encouraged to give up their nomadic lifestyle, and accept the collective farming ideology of the 1930’s. Those who refused were sent to Solovets concentration camp. Stalin’s collectivization of the farmers lead to agricultural disruption, and the famine in 1932-1933
The 19th and 20th Centuries:
The 19th century brought more cultural conflict, due largely to the increase in immigration. The Kola Bay and Murman coast, for example, attracted a large number of immigrants because of the abundance of fish in the Arctic Ocean. Most of the immigrants, however, did not present a problem for the Kola Sami. This was not true for the Komi immigrants. According to Karl Nickul in his book The Lappish Nation, the Komi (Zyryans) were the only immigrants who conflicted with the Kola Sami. Unlike other immigrants, the Komi had a highly developed reindeer economy. Nickul writes: “Not only were the Komi competing …in reindeer raising…they were also highly adaptable, energetic and unscrupulous and they showed great group solidarity.” This cultural contact brought about some changes in the Sami method of reindeer breeding, for their system was to set the reindeer loose after calving, to build reindeer barns, and to milk the reindeer. In the 1930’s the Sami adopted the Komi system of watching over the herds all year long.
The 19th century also brought back the old issue of border disputes. The dispute this time was over the different grazing periods of the Finnish and Norwegian reindeer; that is, Norway’s reindeer grazed on Finnish land eight months of the year, while Finland’s reindeer grazed on Norway’s land only four months. Their solution was to close their borders to each other. This in effect nullified the Strömstad Treaty, which was beneficial to the Finnish reindeer herders, but for the Sami herdsmen, this was against customary practice. The reason for this is that traditionally Sami reindeer were allowed to graze freely across different areas of Samiland; there were no borders. For the Sami, the border closures brought about major consequences. Many Sami families were forced to move from Utsjoki into Inari in order to have access to the Finnish border; this increased the number of reindeer in Inari by five times. Similarly, many families also moved to Sweden in order to have access to Finland’s Enontekio area, which, at the time, already had a large number of foreign reindeer. The outcome of this was that certain areas became too crowded, and this led to a massive slaughter of reindeer. The border closures presented other problems. For example, the Sami of Finland were cut off from the Arctic Ocean. Likewise, the Skolt Sami of Patsjoke lost the west bank of the Patsjoke River. And in the 20th century the Treaty of Dorpat between Finland and Russia, brought about a cut in ties between the Skolt Sami of the Suenjel and their siida in the east, the Nuettjaur Sami.
Border disputes were not the only issues affecting the Sami people. They were also affected by wars and revolution. For example, the Russian Revolution of 1917 brought about the end of the Pomor Trade. For the sea Sami, this trade was extremely important. According Gjessing in Changing Lapps the cessation of this trade brought a crisis in the lives of the sea Sami, for the Pomor trade benefited them not only economically but socially as well. The author states, “This is one of the most important reasons why many sea-Samis have been unable to cope with financial competition today.” Unlike the Bergen tradesmen, the Russian (Pomor) merchants did not care whether the fish were caught during the spring or summer. So the Sami merchants were able to unload their catches. Also, because the trade was based on an exchange basis, the sea Sami were able to exchange their fish for the products that they needed. The Sami were also less dependent on the commercial houses, which allowed them to trade with anyone. When the Pomor Trade ended, the sea Sami and other merchants were unable to sell their fish. The government did offer relief, but the Norwegian fishermen got the larger share because of the erroneous argument that the sea Sami’s economy was supported by their farming, while the Norwegians depended solely on the fishing industry. Consequently, the Sami fishermen received little if any assistance.
Another issue was WWII. During WWII, some of the Sami of Norway were evacuated to Finland and Sweden. When they returned, they discovered that the majority of their homes and fixed property had been destroyed. With the help of Finland and charitable organizations, they were able to rebuild.
The Assimilation Policy:
The nation states’ assimilation policy brought about the most profound changes in Sami culture by far. One of the principal factors in this was the church. According to Gjessing in Changing Lapps Christian missionary work started among the Sami as early as the 13th century, but it was not until 1700 that aggressive conversion efforts began. In 1716, missionary Thomas von Westen, for example, is said to have converted over a thousand Sami in his first journey to Finnmark. Eeva Minn (in her 1955 book The Lapps) asserts: “As a rule the Lapps readily accepted the Christian religion, and today they are at least as good Christians as their southern neighbors.” The author provides no evidence to substantiate this claim. Clearly, she does not consider the possibility that their conversion to Christianity may have been coerced. In contrast, Robert Bosi in his book The Lapps says, “This missionary zeal the Lapps found irksome. They retreated before it farther and farther into their mountains.” In the 17th century a special law was created that ordered the Sami to dispose of their drums and other religious symbols and attend church. Most continued to hide in the mountains, and those that did come, came by force. Many people were killed. Anders Nilsson, for example, was burned alive after he refused to give up his drum. Bosi writes, “[T] he old magicians who claimed the power to speak with the Spirits of the lakes and of the great rivers were burned alive–with their drums.” This occurred in 1692 at Arjeplog.
Like the other nation states Russia also built churches and sent missionaries to Samiland. The Stroganoff family, for example, built the first monastery in the Kola Peninsula in 1500. But from Roberto’s 1960 book The Lapps we learn that the Kola Sami kept a lot of their beliefs and practices. The Russian missionaries were not as demanding that the Sami give up religious symbols. According to Karl Nickul in his book The Lappish Nation, Jacob Fellman said:
The Lapps have always been better treated in Russian Lapland than in Sweden and Norway. The right of the Russian Lapps to the water and land, earlier given them, has been recognized, nor are they punished for their pagan beliefs or witchcraft by death or banishment; on the other hand, little or nothing has been done to teach them; they have been left in their spiritual darkness, or to seek enlightenment wherever they can find it.
By far the most influential religious movement to affect the Sami people was movement created by Lars Levi Læstadius. Læstadius was born in Jäckvik, Sweden in 1800. He grew up in Kvikkjokk, Luleå’s Lapland. His movement awakened a people who were falling apart both morally and socially, for alcohol abuse and reindeer theft was becoming more and more prevalent. According to Gutorm Gjessing, “[T] he vices introduced by traders and other Scandinavians – primarily, drunkenness and theft – disappeared almost completely.” Further it “had a strong culture-preserving and socially cohesive function, and greatly contributed to the maintenance of Samish social structure.”
Along with the churches, boarding schools were another factor in the assimilation process. In fact, they took over for the churches. Sami boarding schools, which began in the 19th century, did not allow the use of the Sami language. The first teachers were missionaries and clergymen. This was true in all the nation states. In the early schools the policy was that the Sami language should be used in the education process. But when the boarding schools started, each country’s respective language was used. In Norway, Thomas von Westen, the “apostle to the Lapps,” wanted to have the Sami language used in both churches and schools, and for a while the Sami language was used. However, in 1773 the government decreed that only Dano-Norwegian was to be used. This lasted until 1830 when the clergyman Niels Vibe Stockfleth convinced the authorities to use the Sami language in textbooks. In 1879 the law mandated that instruction be given in the child’s native language. However, this did not happen because of the 1860’s teacher instructions, which constantly decreased the use of the Sami language in the Sami districts. So in effect, the 1879 law was ignored. Then in 1880 the diocese of TromsØ decreed that, except as a guide in religious instructions, only Norwegian was to be used. And then in 1936, the authorities again forbade the use of Sami language in schools.
In Sweden among the first teachers were the “catechists” who were sent out to instruct the Sami during their migrations. In 1913, “goatte schools” were established. Like the “catechists,” these schools were to travel with the Sami on their migrations. According Nickul (in The Lappish Nation), the purpose was to have the schools conform as much as possible to the Sami lifestyle. Yet, the authorities insisted that the language of instruction be Swedish. Not surprisingly in Finland and Russia they too forbade the teaching of the Sami language. In 1937 the Russian government decreed that Samilanguage books would be reprinted in the Cyrillic alphabet.
Clearly the authorities were unsure of what direction to take. It would have helped had they consulted the parents, for all were unanimous in the view that the Sami language should be used. But again they did not consult the parents. This is just one of the many examples of where the nation states have totally disregarded the opinions of the Sami people. Nowadays, we know that before learning a new language, the pupil first needs a firm grasp of his native language.
Nature has always been revered in the traditional Sami culture; this is no less true today. The issue of environmental abuse–like the destruction of the land and wildlife– is another example of the conflict between the nation states and the Sami people. In Finnmark, for example, the Norwegian government proposed the construction of a dam in the Alta-Kautokeino watercourse as part of a hydroelectric power scheme. The problem was that this watercourse flowed through several areas in Sapmi. To the Sami its construction was seen as an infringement of their natural resources, since it involved the construction of a road across important grazing and calving areas. In addition, there was concern over the potential for ecological damage, such as the salmon spawning areas or the wildlife and vegetation along the Alta River. This mobilized an unprecedented number of people. Many held hunger strikes, and others had sit-down strikes; and then there were others who chained themselves together and lay in front of construction machines; there were even some who committed violent acts, such as the sabotaging of construction machinery. One Sami man fled with his family to Canada in order to avoid legal prosecution. The protesters (both Sami and non-Sami) also got support from a number of environmentalists from different countries. The dam construction sparked one of the biggest acts of civil disobedience in Finnmark. Even though the Alta dam was ultimately built, the controversy brought other Sami issues into the public arena.
The biggest ecological damage to affect the Sami was not in Norway, though. In 1983 the Chernobyl nuclear disaster poisoned fish, meat and vegetation. According to the article “Important Years in Same History,” in Sweden alone 73,000 reindeer had to be destroyed. At the time, the Swedish government recompensed its farmers and reindeer herders for the extra work and cost associated with the fallout, and then seven years after the accident, the government once again made remunerations, because radio cesium levels found in carcasses continued to be above safe limits.
In the article “Kola Lapps,” we learn that industrial pollutants–such as, apatite, nepheline, copper, aluminium, nickel, and others–have significantly damaged the quality of life in the Kola Peninsula. The areas of Kirovsk, Monchegorsk, Nikel, and Kandalaksha are inundated with these chemicals.
Some Last Thoughts:
Today the Sami continue to have conflict with the nation states over the same historical issues. Nowadays the Sami have their own parliaments, though currently, they have only consultative powers. Ole Henrik Magga, president of the Sámediggi in Norway (Harald Gaski’s Sami Culture in a New Era) thinks that the Sami parliament is in the process of becoming more influential. Currently, the Sami parliament has no veto power in matters concerning the Sami people. This is one of the things that Ole Henrik Magga would like to see changed. The Sami continue to strive for cultural autonomy and control over their natural resources.
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