Reindeer herding, handicrafts and Sápmi: meet the Swedish Sami people

Reindeer herding, handicrafts and Sápmi: meet the Swedish Sami people
Photo: Mats Andersson/Flickr
The Sami Parliament of Sweden elections are coming up, SI News Service found out more about their history, values and why the election is so important...

The Sami are an indigenous people inhabiting the Arctic region across four countries: Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia. It’s believed that they’ve lived in these regions for thousands of years – hence their acknowledgement as indigenous peoples.

As indigenous people, they reserve the right to preserve their traditions – including reindeer husbandry, language (Sápmi) and identity.

Preserving their traditions, however, has been a struggle in the past, and even today, some Sami would probably argue they’re not quite there yet.

Many older Sami today, for example, are unable to read and write their language purely due to a lack of education. Whereas now, greater resources are given by the government, both financially and in terms of influence, so that the language can be preserved. In fact, courses in the language can now be taken at Umeå and Uppsala universities!

Even so, Sami across the four countries still believe there is work to be done.

SI News Service spoke with Marie Enoksson, PR Officer for the Sami Parliament of Sweden to find out more.

“The Sami Parliament was formed in 1993, but at this time it was a totally new thing, so no one knew what was going to happen and it wasn’t clear what the parliament was going to do.”

“Since then, our administrative role has grown, but our politicians don’t have any more power.”

The Sami parliament has 31 members, who gather three times a year around Sweden, to discuss policies and issues. They also elect a board who are responsible for the finances. 

“The board are the people who sign the documents!” Marie tells SI News Service.

The parliament can’t make any decisions but they can present what they want for the Sami people to the government, but any decision ultimately lies in the hands of the government.

Elections, like most governments, are held every four years, and their next election is coming up, on 21st May.

Sweden does not register the ethnicity of its citizens so Sami people must register to vote, and to be considered Sami, an individual, their parents or grandparents must have, or have had the Sami language in the home.

It is incredibly important that Sami people vote because it’s the only way they can get their voices heard.

“This is our only chance to choose a representative who can influence the Swedish government. If you don’t choose, you give the power you have to someone else,” says Marie, “it’s the only way to show support for the candidate you really trust.”

A hot topic for debate currently is the Nordic Sami Convention – the conventions objective is to affirm and strengthen the rights of the Sami people.

“Representatives in the Sami parliament agree that all things in the convention are things that apply to the Sami people, however, many Sami people believe the standard is too low.”

“There is also discussion among the Sami people over whether they can trust the state.” 

While certain issues, such as reindeer husbandry gets a large amount of attention, other issues don’t so much – hence why it is so important to engage and vote!

“Sami’s vote depending on their individual situation, for example, if someone is a reindeer herder, they want more focus on that but if someone works in handcraft, they want more focus on that.”

“Handicraft is something that has been discussed a lot because politicians haven’t done anything about it in the last four years. We’ve been thinking about how we can improve things for people who work in handcraft.”

“There has been a lot of focus on reindeer herding – people outside the industry think the herders get all the attention! They want an inclusive Sami act rather than just a reindeer act.”

There is one thing all Sami agree on however…

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“There is an overall wish to see younger people get involved in politics. Some politicians have been in the parliament so long they are no longer able to exercise any influence – instead they just argue among each other!”