Map showing the Sámi arctic territories

Sámi people

Originally published on The North Way, my previous blog …

Sámi people, which you might know as “Lapps” (pejorative term!), are an indigenous people of northern Fenno-Scandinavia also called Lapland. This nation is made up of many tribes who officiate mainly in fishing, trapping and reindeer herding. In collaboration with our blogging friends from Gluk, we have created for you an illustrated article on the Sámi history to make you discover this really interesting culture from the north…

Who are the Sámis?

Sámis are the native inhabitants of Sápmi. You have probably heard about Lapland (or Lappland, we apparently can write both), but Lapland is the pejorative word for Sápmi as well as Lapp is the pejorative word for Sámi. Sápmi regroups the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia.

Map showing the Sámi arctic territories

* This is a ‘Gákti’. It is the traditional Sámi dressing. The shapes can inform about where the person comes from, her/his marital status and even sometimes her/his family.

In Norwegian language, Sámis are also sometimes called ‘Finns’, from which comes the name of Finnmark (northernmost area of Norway), Finnmark being the only place in Norway where you will find more Sámis than Norwegians. Their language is also called Sámi, but it is actually not one language, but many. Everything becomes really complicated when it comes to languages in this part of Europe!

When everything begins

11000 BC: Ice age is ending. Therefore, new possibilities of settlement opens up for humans on the Arctic coast. Tribes of hunters, fishers and gatherers start to appear in this previously virgin area. They will be the first ancestors of those who are going to be called ‘Sámis’. As a consequence, Sámis are considered as an indigenous population of this area.

Time passing, we see this ensemble of different tribes sharing the same culture being more or less split : The sea Sámis, mainly fishers, and the mountain Sámis, living by reindeer hunting.

Somes Sámis are fishers, other are hunters ...

The middle ages

1349 is a major date in Norwegian history. It’s the year during which black death decimates over 60% of the Norwegian population. During this time, Norwegian’s diet is rye and wheat based and part of this food is imported through European trade routes.

Map of the European Trade Routes linked to Black Plague in Norway

Plague then comes from the rest of Europe to Norway in the wooden barrels containing this food and other supplies. Sámis at this time are still fishers and hunters and thus are not as much concerned about the plague as the Norwegians do.

Consequencies of the Black Plague do not concern Mountain Sámis

After the plague, income revenues of the monarchy drastically diminish, as you can imagine. Sea Sámis are then encouraged to take over abandoned farms (they continued to take over those farms until the 18th century! ). This way, population of sea Sámis grows bigger: nowadays, mountain Sámis population does not represent much than 10% of the Sámi population.

Some Sámis became farmers

On the other side, mountain Sámis , due to their nomadic way of life, have to pay taxes for each nation they are crossing, which does not really help them to grow actually!

Sámi had to pay for every country crossed

The dark ages

During the beginning of the 17th century, colonization of northern Scandinavia begins. Settlers are mainly practicing farming, which is in contradiction with the nomadic way of life of northern Sámis. Some settlers adapt to their way of life, and some Sámis adapt to the Norwegian way of life, interested in the products farmers can provide (houses, butter, milk, wool, …). But in the end, farming and other activities of the settlers lead to the extinction of species and to the destruction of Sámi hunting culture, which imply starvation for their people. Meanwhile in Sweden, the Nasafjäll mine opens up and Sámis are coerced to work here or be severely punished. Many Sámis run away from this area, but the Swedish government sends troops to prevent that …

 Some Sámis had to work in the mine as slaves

At the end of the century, colonization of northern Scandinavia becomes more violent. Sámi polytheist religious practices are punished and holy sites and traditional religious objects as Sámi drums are destroyed.

 Sámis have been converted to christianity

During the 19th century, Norway becomes an independent country. Norwegian government starts reforms willing to make Norwegian culture and language universal. Sámi is restricted in schools and it is now forbidden to sell or lease lands to non Norwegians. Moreover, christianization still makes it’s way through Sámi communities. In 1852 in Kautokeino, the only  Sámi revolt against Norwegian policy involving human deaths takes place. An excellent movie has been made about those riots, and I strongly recommend you to watch it: The Kautokeino Rebellion.

 Norway tried to eradicate Sámi language and culture

This process of “Norwegianization” becomes more and more aggressive until WWII, therefore strengthening independent thoughts and links as a community.

Fight for the future

After WWII, pressure on Sámis is relaxed, but changes take a moment before having any effect. In 1960, the right for Sámis to preserve and develop their own culture is officially acknowledged. Sámi is taught again in schools and institutions are created.

 Sámi assembled and fought to keep their culture alive

But in 1979 in Alta, the construction of an hydro-electric power station rises up old daemons. A long fight takes place between Sámis and Norwegian authorities that lead in the end to a “compromise”. In 1986, Sámi flag and national anthem are created and in 1989, the first Sámi parliament is elected in Norway.

Sámi had to fight against an hydroelectric powerplant in Alta

During the previous decades, Sámis gained more and more rights. Although theory seems to be on the good way, reality is not always that beautiful. Most of the Sámis are now living a “modern” way of life and are no more considered as “under-Norwegians”.

Sámi and modern life ...

But for those who chose to live the traditional way, cohabitation and environment related problems remains and make their life harder if not impossible…

Sámis future is really perfect?

Big thanks to Céline for the killer drawings! ;)




  • 26/03/2012

    Pipicz Veronika

    “Their traditional languages are the Sami languages and are classified as a branch of the Uralic language family.” (wikipedia)I feel contradiction with the Uralic language family and “indigenous nordic” origin…:)

    • 27/03/2012

      Hi Veronika,
      Thanks for your comments! :)

      Actually, languages such as Hungarian, Finnish, Estonian are also Uralic languages. So IMHO it doesn’t make that much a contradiction that Sami speak a language close to Finnish or Estonian (

      But if it was only close to Hungarian, that would probably pretty weird :)

      But the fact is that we currently don’t know where Sami come from. Lots of theories are existing about this subject!


  • 26/03/2012

    Pipicz Veronika

    fine and funny illustrations!:) and good short summary, anyway…

  • 26/03/2012


    We are trying to get in touch with you we have listed you in our magazine Our Amazing Norway.  Please contact us so we can send you a copy!  Thanks

    • 27/03/2012


      I have received your mail a couple of days ago and answered to it. Thanks for adding us, much appreciated! :)

  • 22/04/2012


    awesome drawings and extremely clear explanation!

  • 03/12/2012

    Sami Pathfinder.

    Hello. Your knowledge about sami history is impressive. You have a lot more knowledge than the average swede and norwegian.

    But I had a question, these drawings, who do I have to ask if I want to use them as a part of my presentations about sami people?

    Best regard.

    • 04/12/2012

      Thank you very much for the compliment :)
      I asked her if she was ok, I tell you once I get the answer.


    • 04/12/2012

      Just received her answer : no problem, but do not forget to cite the sources! ;)

  • 17/01/2013

    JSYK: The gákti isn’t “ceremonial”, there are multiple types of it in use around Sápmi, and “indigenous Nordic” means “indigenous to the Nordic areas”. Which, surprisingly enough, does not mean vikings or even Finnish ppl. I’m liking the pics tho! Very nicely put.

    • 17/01/2013

      Thanks for the precision Neeti. I will correct this mistake immediatly. I am happy you like this post anyway! :)

  • 03/12/2019

    Hello. I’m a YouTuber and found this is so clear and easy to understand. Can I use your story and drawings as a part of my video about Sami people with credit? I’d like to post a video on Sami along with the movie Frozen II.

  • 03/12/2019

    Hello. My name is Nikki and Youtuber.
    I found your post is good summary of Sami. Can I use your story and drawings into my video on Sami and the movie Frozen II?

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