Siida Sää'mjie'llem
Skolt Sámi Life     Suomeksi  


From Petsamo to Inari

The Petsamo area, which became part of Finland in connection with the Peace of Tartu, was the homeland of the Suonjel, Paatsjoki and Petsamo Sámi. They were the indigenous population of the area. In the course of several centuries, other people, too, moved into the area: Russians, Karelians, Sea and Fell Sámi from Norway, Finns, and even some Komi. These immigrant groups naturally narrowed down the living conditions of the indigenous inhabitants and were a hinder to their lifestyle which was based on a yearly migration pattern.

This migration cycle was determined by the fishing opportunities, and reindeer herding was adjusted to fishing. Only the Sámi of the Suonjel, or Suonikylä, village could follow the migration pattern and move between their traditional family areas - between the winter, spring, summer and autumn places. However, the village lost part of its native lands as a result of World War I. The border defined by the Tartu Peace Treaty was drawn as straight as an arrow through the family lands of the Sverloffs, from the fell Korvatunturi to Vaitolahti Bay on the Barents Sea. The border of the Tartu Peace Treaty cut off many traditional livelihood connections, but it also severed the contacts to the relatives in the neighboring villages.

Copyright: Sámi Museum Siida. Copyright: Sámi Museum Siida.
Skolt Sámi siidas: 1) Näätämö, 2) Paatsjoki, 3) Petsamo, 4) Muotka, 5) Suonikylä, 6) Nuortijärvi, 7) Hirvas. Map: Sámi Museum Siida Yearly migration routes of the Skolt Sámi siidas in the Petsamo Region as recorded at the beginning of the 20th century. Map: Sámi Museum Siida

Fedosia Jefremoff with her children by the Petsamo Fjord - preparing to move to thefamily´s summer camp in the wilderness. Photo: National Board of Antiquities

The Petsamo area was divided between the above-mentioned three Sámi communities so that each village had its territory along a distinct river system: on the river system of Paatsjoki, Petsamojoki or Tuulomajoki-Luttojoki. The borders between the villages were very exact. Sometimes, a village meeting would decide that part of its land could be used by a neighboring village for a certain period. The village administration was the indigenous population's own way of regulating livelihood and social relationships within its territory. The heads of the families gathered to discuss and to decide over important up-to-date matters. Each community chose its own representative, the Village Elder, to preside over the administration of the community.

After Petsamo became part of Finland, it was even more difficult to carry on the traditional trades. New groups of people came to Petsamo, as the road made these remote areas easily accessible. Especially in the field of sea fishing, traditional fishing grounds were surrendered to the newcomers. The Skolt Sámi swore an oath of allegiance to the State of Finland, but the new home country paid little attention to the rights of the indigenous population of the area.

Darja, Elli and Saveli had themselves photographed at a studio in Kalajoki during their evacuation trip. Photo: Private Archive

The outbreak of the Winter War in 1939 forced the Sámi of the Petsamo area on an evacuation trip: the Sámi living in Suonikylä went to Tervola, and those living in Paatsjoki to the neighboring country Norway. As regards the Sámi living in the village of Petsamo, the Finnish evacuation authorities were, however, too late, and the inhabitants of this community were evacuated to the Soviet Union, to central Kola Peninsula. In 1944, during the next phase of the war in Finland - the Continuation War - all the Sámi of the Petsamo area were evacuated to Ostrobothnia: to the regions of Kalajoki and Oulu. They got permission to return to the north in the summer of 1945, and some as late as in 1946.

The area of Petsamo had been lost in the war, so the Sámi of the area needed new home regions. They settled temporarily in the area between Nellim, Raja-Jooseppi and Ivalo, waiting for the decision on their final homelands. In the end, the Sámi of the Petsamo village settled permanently in the Nellim area, the Sámi of the Paatsjoki village in Keväjärvi and the Sámi of the Suonjel, or Suonikylä, village in the Sevettijärvi-Näätämö area. A few families from the Paatsjoki community settled in Sevettijärvi, closer to the Norwegian border, and a few Sámi from the Suonikylä village in the region of Nellim.

Before finding a permanent place to live in, the Skolts stayed in temporary lodges on the River Lutto and Lake Tsarmijärvi, and in Pikku-Petsamo in the vicinity of Ivalo. Uljana and Matti Fofanoff on Lake Nangujärvi. Photo: Private Archive

For the most part, the Skolt Sámi settled permanently in their new homelands in the course of 1949. Later, a law on Skolt Sámi settlement was passed, defining for instance the rights of the Skolt Sámi to land and waters in their new home regions.


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