Who are the Sami?
The Sami, (also commonly spelled Sámi, Saami, or Same) are the Indigenous People of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Russian Kola Peninsula. They call their ancestral land—where they have lived for thousands of years—Sápmi. Today there are about 80,000 Sami living in Sápmi and there are also at least 30,000 descendants of immigrants from those countries in North America who have some Sami ancestry.
Arrival in North America
The Sami first arrived in North America in the great migrations from 1850-1935. Reindeer herding families were hired by the United States government in 1894 and 1898 to teach reindeer husbandry to the Alaska Native Inupiaq and Yup’ik Peoples, who were facing starvation because of the systematic slaughtering of whales, walrus, and seals by the whaling industries in the Bering Sea and Chukchi Sea. These Sami not only contributed to the Native diet, clothing needs, and economy, but also enriched the cultural lifestyle of these people, which still has an impact today. Other Sami arrived as immigrants in the larger migrations from Scandinavia and Finland. These Sami often blended into the immigrant and dominant societies. During the colonization of their homeland by the church and the state, their language, their nature-based spiritual traditions, and their Sami identity was lost or hidden as shameful family secrets. Today many descendants of these Sami know little of their cultural heritage.
North American Sami Reawakening
About twenty five years ago, a movement to reclaim Sami identity began in North America. The Sami began to find each other and learn more about their history and culture and to reconnect with relatives in Sápmi.