About Sámi culture

Explore the rich heritage of the Sami, the indigenous people of Fennoscandia. Discover our ancient traditions, unique language, and deep connection to the Arctic regions of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Kola Peninsula.
A woman in traditional Sami clothing smiling and holding a black bucket. She is wearing a blue dress with a colorful shawl and a red and blue hat, standing in a snowy landscape with a warm, golden light in the background.
A man in traditional Sami clothing guiding reindeer that are pulling a sled with a person on it. The scene is set in a snowy landscape with bare trees and mountains in the background.
Two people in traditional Sami clothing standing among a herd of reindeer in a snowy landscape with mountains in the background. The people are engaging in conversation while reindeer graze around them.
A person dressed in traditional Sami clothing is embracing a white reindeer with large antlers in a snowy landscape. Other reindeer can be seen in the background.

Who are the Sami? Get to Know Them by First Hand

We know that the Sami have lived in the land known as Fennoscandia for around 2000 - 2500 years. We have been here even before the North Germanic people. Nowadays, most of us live within our cultural region (called Sápmi) which today encompasses the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Kola Peninsula, but many have migrated to big cities such as Oslo in the case of Norway.

Estimates put the total number of Sami today at around 70,000-80,000. Around half of the total population of Sami live in Norway.

We prefer to be called Sámi instead of Lapps or Finns.  In Norway, Sámi were still called Finns at least until the modern era, and you can still see that on some toponyms (like Finnmark, Finnsnes, Finnfjord and Finnøy). Some northern Norwegians will still occasionally use Finn to refer to Sámi people, but just note that “Sámi” is the most appreciated term.

The Reindeer Sámi are traditionally ‘semi-nomadic’, meaning they don’t stay in the same place all year. Sámi herders migrate with their reindeer during the seasons, heading to the mountains for winter and coming back together with the community in the summer. On the journey, Sámi herders will camp in a traditional tent, called a lavvo.

Life in Touch with Nature

Back in the days we were hunters, farmers, fishermen and last but not least, we were reindeer herders. Today around 2.500 people of the Sami population in Northern Norway make a living or supplement their income through herding reindeer, while most people have adopted a modern lifestyle and have modern jobs.
A herd of reindeer running through a forested area with autumn foliage. The group includes a mix of brown and one white reindeer, all with antlers, set against a backdrop of misty mountains.
A reindeer adorned with colorful harnesses and decorations, standing in the snow, with other reindeer in the background.
A reindeer with large antlers standing in a snowy landscape during twilight. The moon is visible in the background, along with snow-covered mountains and a clear blue sky.
A white reindeer standing in the snow with mountains in the background. Other reindeer are grazing in the distance.
Close-up of a reindeer's face with large frosty antlers in a snowy landscape.


Reindeer herding was the basis of the Sámi economy until very recently since we give use to every part of the animal. Thus, ranging from fur, meat, needles from their bones, and tools from their antlers. Although the Sámi hunted reindeer from the earliest times and kept them in small numbers as pack and decoy animals, full-scale nomadism with large herds began only a few centuries ago:

During the 15th and 16th centuries, when Norwegian farmers roamed north and began to colonize Sami lands. A practice the Norwegian government would later encourage.

As we were pushed up north, we became herders, which put us in the position of being nomadic across northern Scandinavia. This culture was problematized by the invention of national borders, which Sámi herders had previously ranged across without issue. That lead us to pay taxes twice or more for just crossing to another country.

When we were on the move, we lived in tents (lavvo) or turf huts (gamme) and migrated with our herds in units of five to six families, supplementing our diet along the way by hunting and fishing.

Nowadays, reindeer herding in Norway is regulated by law. For traditional, environmental, cultural, and political reasons, reindeer herding is legally reserved for people of Sámi lineage with connections to a reindeer herding family.

The loss of pasture though, is nowadays a significant challenge to the community, and it's common to see Sámi opposition to new infrastructure projects such as roads, power lines, pipelines, and military activities.


Our language is called Sámi, and we have several dialects: Southern Sami, Ume Sami, Lule Sami, Inari Sami, Skolt Sami and Northern Sami which is the one we speak here, in Tromsø. They are not necessarily mutually intelligible, despite them belonging to the Finno-Ugric language family. This speech is rich in words describing the natural world, especially wildlife and the weather conditions that impact the traditional nomadic lifestyle. Some of these expressions are in danger of being lost as our culture modernizes now that almost all Sami are bilingual while, at the same time, many no longer speak our language due to the old laws that prevented us from using it.
A group of people dressed warmly in winter clothing, standing outdoors. In the foreground, a person in colorful traditional Sami attire and a fur hat is prominent.
A woman in traditional Sami clothing smiling and holding a black bucket. She is wearing a blue dress with a colorful shawl and a red and blue hat, standing in a snowy landscape with a warm, golden light in the background.
Close-up of intricate silver jewelry worn with traditional Sami clothing, featuring detailed designs and shiny elements.
Traditional Sami clothing and reindeer pelts hanging on a wooden rack with a scenic background of mountains and a lake.
A person dressed in traditional Sami clothing feeding lichen to a white reindeer with large antlers in a snowy landscape.


Duodji: These traditional, striking handicrafts make use of skin and hide from reindeers mostly, wool from goats, wood and other natural items. The finished products can have a practical use (for example, bowls, spoons, clothing) or simply be ornamental.

Joik: Joik is one of Europe's oldest singing traditions and is still alive today. It consists of syllabic sounds in which they mimic the sound of nature or evoke a certain emotion and the harmonies reflect the characteristics of what you sing. This type of song can be deeply personal or spiritual in nature, often dedicated to a human being, an animal, or a landscape as a personal signature. Improvisation is quite common.

Clothing: Our traditional outfits – known as Gákti – are worn at special occasions but also when reindeer herding. The handmade outfits are decorated with different designs so the Sámi can easily tell where another person is from or if it is married.

Beliefs: After the Christianization, our old religion stopped being used almost entirely, thankfully we still preserve some information about it:

Our Traditional Sami Religion is Animist or Shamanistic. The Sámi belief that all significant natural objects (such as animals, plants, rocks, etc.) possess a soul. Sámi traditional beliefs and practices commonly emphasize veneration of the dead and of animal spirits.

Noaidi is our term for Shaman, a mediator between the human world and the underworld. He/She usually uses a special drum, a flute or joik to perform its rituals.

In the landscape throughout Northern Scandinavia, one can find Sieidis, places that have unusual land forms and that can be considered to have spiritual significance. Each family or clan has its local spirits, to whom they make offerings for protection and good fortune.

Four flags on flagpoles against a cloudy sky. From left to right: Norwegian flag, Finnish flag, Swedish flag, and the Sami flag.

Cultural Pressure

Like many other small indigenous groups around the world, it has not always been easy to be Sámi in Scandinavia. During most of the time, the Norwegian and Swedish authorities, had largely ignored the Sámi and did not interfere much in their way of life. Until the 18th, and especially the 19th century, when the governments of Norway and Sweden started to assert sovereignty more aggressively in the north. They moved upwards to gradually colonize the coast of modern-day Nordland County and Troms og Finnmark to engage in the exportation and exploitation of fish. Having the Sámi people subjected to a fierce Norwegianizing policy that originated in ideological ideas such as nationalism. The Sámi were basically told to forget about their language and culture to become Norwegians, and speaking or behaving Sámi became something shameful.

Present Day

To this date, we are still regaining our rights. We already have several favorable laws, which were first set in Tromsø in 1980. Now, the Sámi people own parliaments to represent them in Norway, Sweden and Finland, and their own newspapers, tv channels and radio stations, that report on issues that concern the Sámi people. We have the Sámi national day which is on February 6th, when the first Sámi congress was held in 1917 in Trondheim, Norway. The congress was the first time that Norwegian and Swedish Sámi came together across national borders to work on finding solutions to common problems.
The Sami flag waving against a bright blue sky with a few clouds. The flag features red, blue, green, and yellow colors with a circle intersecting the vertical stripes.

Do you want to learn some words in Northern Sámi?

Ollu Giitu – Thank you very much.
Lihkku Beivviin! – Congratulations!
Buresboahtin - Welcome

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