Sámi Facts

• The Sámi define themselves as an Indigenous People, as stated in the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 169: “Peoples in independent countries who are regarded as indigenous on account of their descent from the populations which inhabited the country, or a geographical region to which the country belongs, at the time of conquest or colonization or the establishment of present state boundaries.” The ILO is a specialized agency of the United Nations.

• As far back as recorded history we know that Sámi people have lived in the Nordic countries and on Kola Peninsula in Russia, where Sámi still live today. It is estimated that about 40,000 Sámi live in Norway, 20,000 in Sweden, 7,500 in Finland, and 2,000 in Russia. For the most part, language and self-identification are the ethnic criteria used in all countries with Sámi inhabitants.

• The Sámi have depended on hunting, fishing, farming, and reindeer herding, and have been semi-nomadic. Today only 2 percent of Sámi work in the reindeer industry.

• The Sámi language is part of the Finno-Ugric branch of the Uralic language. There are several dialects of Sámi, and people who speak them may not understand each other.

• The Sámi parliament, Samediggi, was established by law in 1987 and opened by the King of Norway in 1989. The assembly has 39 members chosen by direct elections based on census numbers. The Sámi parliament is the authoritative advisory agency in issues regarding the Sámi people, but has no legal or executive power. The parliament is located in a beautiful building in Karasjok shaped like a gamme, or the old earthen huts where the Sámi used to live.

• The Sámi are organized in several large organizations in Norway and through common Nordic organizations. The Sámi Council assembles the largest organizations in the Nordic countries and works to advance Sámi interests.

• The Sámi are represented at the UN by the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues; in the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, which includes Norway, Sweden, and Finland as well as the surrounding areas of Russia; and in the Arctic Council.

• The Sámi in Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia have their own flag, which was approved in 1986. Today the Sámi people celebrate Sámi People’s Day on February 6.

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