Category: Pub: Article / Paper
Details: Aanta Forsgren (1997)
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The Saemieh, hereafter referred as to as Sami, are the indigenous population of the Scandinavian Peninsula in Finland and the Kola Peninsula in Russia. Although Samis are best known for their reindeer husbandry, a large number of Samis lived in a hunter-gather economy until the 16th century. The Samis are still considered one people even after the diversification of their languages and the development of subcultures before roads and telecommunications were developed. Although the first contact with the Europeans occurred in the middle ages, it was not until the last two centuries that these contacts have brought fast and radical changes to the Sami lifestyle.

Generally, the Samis have had a pragmatic view of new technology. For a lifetime, the telephone and national mail service have been available for most, and in the last decade, the fax has also become a common complement to these services. In the last few decades, new inventions such as the snowmobile, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), and cellular phones have become commonly used tools among the reindeer herders. In some families, computers have also been used for bookkeeping purposes. The adoption of computer technology for other purposes therefore, was a natural progression and cultivated by the Sami. E-mail, websites, and listservs have already shown their usefulness in the Sami educational boards and organizations in Sweden, Norway, and Finland.

Sami Websites

Before 1996, there was not much of a Sami presence on the Internet. One website in Finland had a decent presentation-a single page on a server in Sweden and a few pages on university servers in Norway. During that year, however, the number of pages and websites multiplied. Because of the Internet information revolution, the number of Sami-related pages will only increase. A number of the sites were controlled by the Sami from the start, while a few others were developed by single non-native individuals and organizations. The most notable Sami website is from the Sami Parliament in Sweden who hired a web design company to create their website. While the result is graphically pleasing, it lacks, somewhat, in content.

In June 1996, the Sami native youth organizations created a website with daily updates of the 4th World Indigenous Youth Conference (WIYC). The experiment was a partial success because it attracted many visits, but it did not get many people to contact us about the conference or motivate people to get in touch with representatives of native youth — the site’s original purpose. The WIYC website was successful, however, in initiating Sami web pages of current events and issues. During the spring of 1997, two Sami publications created websites of their own, the journal Samefolket or `The Sami People,’ and the North Sami Min Aigit, or `Our Time.’ The Internet has also been used for political reasons within Sami communities. Prior to the second election of the Sami Parliament, several political parties advertised their platforms on websites.

Although Samis live in a comparatively rich part of the world, the use of the Internet is not universal in our communities today. In fact, the existing number of web pages are available for only a small number of Samis. Generally, administrators and Samis elected to positions within Sami organizations have utilized e-mail as a means for fast and convenient exchange of messages for a number of years. The general Sami population, however, does not have access to the technology needed to create websites and send e-mail.

The Swedish Sami Parliament is preparing to complement the Sami web pages with discussion areas. This system will begin to function and be tested in September 1997. These discussion areas consist of a question and answer format and will only be accessible for members of the Parliament and the administrators. In an area accessible to all Samis with Internet capabilities, information about the EU funds, Interreg and Mal 6, will be presented on the site. These funds were created for cultural and economic development in sparsely populated areas and the Sami will receive a portion for communication infrastructure, reindeer herding, the marketing of traditional crafts, and services like tourism. Taken together, it could be said that the Sami are beginning to put the Internet technology to use a few years later than the Western world as a whole.

While there are a number of Sami websites maintained and developed by the Sami ourselves, there is nothing preventing non-Samis from posting wrong information on the Internet. There are a number of examples, such as the University of Linköping’s (Sweden) website about the Samis. This might be an honest attempt to describe the Sami situation, but there is a multitude of incorrect statements and on a few points, the description is basically wrong.

Their website states that “Sapmi is the name they use of themselves and their country. `Sapmi’ is the North Sami word for the Sami nation and only used in that area. The South Sami refer to themselves as Saemieh and Saemien Eatneme for `Sami nation’ and the other languages have their own as well.” This text divides the Samis into forest, mountain, and sea Samis which certainly is not the real division lines among the Sami peoples.

Also, in describing the Sami pre-Christian religion, there are several incorrect statements, one being: “Not all beings in the spiritual world were benevolent; the most famous of the malicious gnomes known in all Sami cultures was stallu (taalo in Finnish).” Actually, the Staaloe was not a spirit, but a race of living humans most likely the Vikings. And statements like “the Sami had no priests but the head of the family was responsible for the contact with gods with a ‘magic drum'” are not correct; only the Sami shamans or noaidie used the drum.

The rest of this article can be read on the Cultural Survival website.

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