Showing off their beads at the market. Saara Aikio, Mikko Palokangas, Maria Morottaja, (Ranta Maárjá), Elsa Aikio, Johannes Morottaja, Olga Morottaja, Anna-Briita Mattus and Paul Valle's wife in 1920. Museovirasto.



The Inari Sámis are the only Sámi group that traditionally lives within only one State and one municipality. Though other groups of Sámis and Finns have for various reasons come to the region of the Municipality of Inari, the Inari Sámis have at least during the whole historical period lived in the same place, the Lake Inari environment. It can be truly said of them, as Sámi writer Johan Turi wrote, “We never heard that we had come here from anywhere else.”

The Inari Sámi identity distinguishes them from not only the Finns but also other Sámis, Northern and Skolt, although they identify with all Sámis in general. The foremost characteristics of their group are language, home environment, ancestors and clothing.

Individual Style of Reindeer Husbandry

The Inari Sámi culture varies in relation to their closest linguistic relatives. The Inari people’s methods of making a living were in the past in principle the same as other Sámi groups, based on natural subsistence. The greatest difference is probably that large-scale reindeer herding and the migration based on that was not practiced by the Inari Sámis. Some large reindeer herds did exist, but only a few. There were usually only enough reindeer per household to ensure lead and bearing reindeer. The reindeer also provided meat, handicraft materials and other necessities; the whole reindeer was used. In fact, not much of anything was left over.

Elsewhere, reindeer were allowed to calve freely and the calves were not marked until the worst insect season, i.e. just after midsummer, or later, but the Inari Sámis kept their calving deer tied up. The younger female deer were made accustomed to being tied up in spring-winter. Each reindeer owner or herd partnership tied up (or “strapped”) the females at the latest in May, which meant that each female deer had to be shifted daily until a calf was born earmarked. Calving in this way was so characteristic of the Inari Sámis that North Sámis gave them the name lávžeanáraččat, or Strap-Inaris.

The Yearly Move Stamped the Inari Sámi Lifestyle

Life varied along with the yearly moving. The Move Between Summer – Winter Homes made practical use of natural resources possible and conserved nature. The Inari Sámis lived alongside fishing waters in the summer and in the winter in places where the snow was soft and full of lichen as well as near firewood. There do not seem to have been joint winter villages shared by many families like the Suonjel Skolts, at least not in the not-too-distant past, for the Inari Sámis’ living areas were widespread around the great Lake Inari. There were, however, winter villages in the distant past, like in e.g. Nukkumajoki, where the foundations of an ancient winter village have been excavated.

There were naturally dealings with neighboring peoples, but e.g. clothing and language were clearly distinguishing cultural traits. The Inari dress mostly resembles in décor parts of the Varanger dress, even as there are similarities in language. The Vuotso dress is close to the Inari model. People living further west use, however, the Utsjoki model of dress.

A History of Adaptation and Survival

The history of the Inari Sámis has been the history of integration, adaptation and survival. People from Inari were most likely started to become baptized into Christianity during the time of Nicolaus Rungius at the beginning of the 1600s. They were acclaimed for their law abiding ways even as for abandoning their language. Master Johan Ervast (died 1737) relates in his account concerning missionary work in Lapland that “the people of Inari, although they live distant from us by a far-away lake, are most flexible and disposed to abandoning all pertaining to their forefathers’ ways and religion, and for this reason are to be placed before all others”. Evidently for this reason the Inari Sámis’ old yoik tradition, livđe, has been nearly completely extinguished.

The Utsjoki Pastor Jacob Fellman, for his part, acclaimed the reverent participation of the Inari Sámi churchgoers as being much better than those of the Utsjoki people and said that the father of an Inari Sámi family read from the book of homilies every Sunday at home and that in their use of alcohol they would be fitting examples to others. Also, language researcher Matias Aleksanteri Castrén said at the beginning of the 1800s that the Inari Sámis were in their faith and their ways much superior to the North Sámis, but also confessed that it could be because the North Sámis did not understand the Finnish language well, which was the language of Christian instruction at that time.

The New Age Reduced the Area of Subsistence

The Inari Sámis have piece by piece lost a large portion of their prospects for subsistence. For a couple hundred years, Finns have come from the south to settle in the Inari Sámi region. Because of the border-closing of 1852, North Sámi families came to the Inari region as the summer grazing of reindeer on the Norwegian side was no longer possible. The evacuation of Petsamo after the last wars also brought people right into Inari. It is certain that the Inari Sámis were never consulted because they were considered as ordinary citizens of both the municipality and the nation, not indigenous people. Later forms of settlement actions were the reindeer homestead law, the natural homestead law and zoning actions. Lake Inari has been regulated and over-fished, the Muddusjärvi Lake herding district had an important summer grazing are sheared off in the 1970s and merged into the Näätämö herding district, the Utsjoki common forest was linked to Inari, reindeer grazing forests are being deforested. The natural and reindeer homestead laws applied to Inari Sámis but so too for all others.

When everyone is allowed to utilize natural resources, it can no longer provide for anyone sufficiently. The resources for natural subsistence are already overused. These factors are not overly detrimental to anyone exclusively, but the joint effect of the reduction of the conditions for subsistence has forced a large number of Inari Sámis to move away. The language has also rapidly disappeared; it has departed, away from these lands, with its speakers to neighboring countries and southern Finland. The indigenous Sámi culture in Finland will disappear with this generation if efforts to resuscitate it are not put into effect quickly and extensively enough.

From Natural Subsistence Economy to the Present

The Inari Sámi culture has experienced great changes in a short period of time. People lived natural subsistence economies in the 1950s still when only a little money was needed because commercial articles could be bartered for natural products. Not all villages were accessible to modes of transportation accept in winter, by reindeer or on skis, in the summer by walking or by boat. Telephones and radios were rare and post was delivered at most once a week. School attendance required living in dormitories all year long which meant powerful assimilation into the Finnish culture. Along with the Finnish culture the Inari Sámis gained access to the prerequisites of so-called high-culture, like the experience of literature, music and visual arts; all of course in Finnish. This brought with it as well a powerful compulsion to conform to Finnish values and world view. Manners of dressing changed, Finnish fashions displaced Sámi clothes, although the Finnish clothing were less suitable to this climate. Dressing as a Sámi made the wearer nearly a laughing stock and the use of shoe hay was forbidden in dormitories. The Sámi language of the school children rapidly became poorer and began to disappear.

Like Sámis in general, the Inari Sámis learned to adapt and live with the times. Language and other forms of culture have gradually begun to revive. They have received support from the general development of Sámi activities. At present the progress of North Sámi literature, media, art, school instruction and political organs has also contributed to the development of the Inari Sámi culture.  

Matti Morottaja

Ella Sarren kotialbumi
At Kessi Inlet in the 1950’s: Sammeli Antti Sarre (Anttii-Mat Saammal), Saara-Maria Sarre, daughter Ella Sarre, Maria Kristiina Saijets or ”Tuuru-Grandmother”, as well as Aili-Kirsti Sarre and Viljo Martti Sarre.












Photo: Seppo Lammi
Dried pike is an essential part of Inari Sámi culture.









Matti Morottajan kotialbumi
Brothers Sammeli, Hans and Matti Morottaja at a peat hut in their home tract in Sammuttijärvi in 1978.






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