Shows on the web  |  January  2018

The Saami in Sweden – an indigenous people in far northern Europe
The Saami people live throughout Sápmi, the Saami homeland, which is a wide area reaching all the way from central Sweden and southern Norway, across the northern Scandinavian peninsula, northern Finland and into far northwestern Russia. Traditionally, the Saami speak one of ten Saami languages, the largest of which is North Saami, with around 20,000 speakers. Intensive contact with other northern peoples in the respective nation states of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia has led to significant endangerment of many traditional aspects of Saami life. This includes the Saami languages, and as a result all Saami nowadays speak the respective national language fluently, but frequently no longer speak their family's Saami language.

Early accounts on these Saami groups can be found in the reports of the missionaries from the 17th and 18th centuries in which Saami worldviews and ritual practices using their shaman drum are exhaustively described. Saami mythological thought has inspired many artists to produce prominent works of art.

Historically, the Saami have survived on hunting and gathering and, to a great extent, on fishing the many waters of the north. In the course of the past centuries, reindeer husbandry has developed into a common livelihood and is typically one of the main things associated with the Saami in Sweden, but in fact only a small portion of the Saami are active in reindeer herding today. Along with the advantages brought by modern technology from the outside, certain challenges have also been introduced, including how climate change is affecting reindeer herding. 

The Saamis' political history has rarely been easy. The relatively positive trend currently concerning the status or role of Sápmi within the Scandinavian nation states could potentially provide ways in the future to balance out new opportunities and potential long-term risks that could affect Saami culture and livelihood.

Negative political and cultural dominance of the Swedish state has driven several Saami languages nearly to extinction. However, attitudes towards multilingualism and multiculturalism over the past years have improved. As a result, efforts are underway to help revitalize these languages, as outlined in this proposed symbiosis for documentary linguistics and oral history research. As a specific example, Pite Saami has been the subject of extensive digital language documentation. In addition, Pite Saami speakers collected a word list, which led to a dictionary and orthographic standard (spelling system) being published in 2016. The orthography is also available online (in Swedish).

Winter Reindeer landscapes

On Hornavan Lake near Arjeplog/Sweden 
and in Lønsdal near Storjord/Norway

Joshua Wilbur
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Identifying reindeer
Pite Saami, near Arjeplog
with Anders-Erling Fjällås
Joshua Wilbur

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Copyright 2010 J. Wilbur, Anders Erling Fjällås and the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme, in the Endangered Languages Archive (https://elar.soas.ac.uk/Collection/MPI201072), SOAS University of London
Interview on climate change
Pite Saami. Arjeplog
with Anders
-Erling Fjällås
Joshua Wilbur

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Copyright 2015 J. Wilbur, Anders Erling Fjällås and the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme, in the Endangered Languages Archive (https://elar.soas.ac.uk/Collection/MPI201072), SOAS University of London
Treasure hunt

Landscapes and Saami mythology in new media art

Gaby Schulze
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