Siida Sää'mjie'llem
Skolt Sámi Life     Suomeksi  


The Skolt Sámi today

The number of the Skolt Sámi people that were born in the old homelands in Pechenga is constantly decreasing in the Skolt Sámi region in Inari. Life in Pechenga belongs to the past. The old homelands and the environment with all their riches had been the carrying forces of the traditional way of life of the Skolt Sámi. The Skolt Sámi traditions started to break when the old homelands were lost.

In Inari the Skolt Sámi newcomers were looked down on by both the other Sámi groups and by the Finnish population. Many young people wanted to hide their ethnicity and give up all its external signs, such as the traditional Skolt Sámi costume.

The Skolt Sámi self-esteem began to grow stronger in the early 1970's. The Skolt Sámi orthography was created, language lessons were organised also for grown-ups, and textbooks were printed. Skolt Sámi crafts skills were taught and passed to the younger generation. Traditions were turned into performing arts as they were no longer an integral part of social life. Traditional dances were danced, traditional Skolt Sámi songs, leu'dds, were recorded, church chants, the New Testament and liturgical texts were translated into the Skolt Sámi language. Contacts with the long-lost relatives on the Kola Peninsula were recreated after 70 years of separation.

The post-war Skolt Sámi settlement in Inari has experienced great changes during the last few decades. The nature-based livelihoods defined the locations of the original Skolt Sámi homesteads in the settlement period. Families were dispersed to a 60-kilometre stretch in the Näätämö region, as well as to a 30-40-kilometre stretch in the Keväjärvi – Nellim region.

It was thought that, to survive in the new area, families would need enough space to make their livelihoods profitable. However, the distant location made it difficult to find jobs for the baby boom generation, that is, for those born in the late 1940's and the 50's. Lack of job opportunities forced people to move to Southern Finland, and also to Norway and Sweden. These days most of the Skolt Sámi get their income from service industry. The younger generations in Sevettijärvi ja Nellim find themselves living and working in Ivalo and Inari, the municipal centres, as well as in the village of Keväjärvi in the vicinity of Ivalo. This development has changed the demographics of Nellim and Sevettijärvi drastically. Young families disappear gradually and so do many municipal services. There is no longer a school in Nellim, and the school of Sevettijärvi will also be closed down if there are no quick changes in the demographics. The Skolt Sámi youth that have a high education cannot come back as there are no suitable jobs available.

The past few decades have brought substantial improvements to the lives of Skolt Sámi: a proper road to Sevettijärvi, electricity, modern housing, schools with education in Skolt Sámi, a EU-approved slaughterhouse for reindeer, companies that develop diverse reindeer meat products and tourism, etc. The Skolt Sámi of Sevettijärvi have got their own museum, the Skolt Sámi Heritage House. The Skolt Sámi village of Nellim obtained an Orthodox Church at the end of the 1980's, a road to Kontosjärvi as well as a bridge over the Paatsjoki River and – controversial – smaller roads to Kessi Wilderness Area.  Improvements in Nellim include a new harbour for fishing and recreational purposes, new reindeer product companies, and a trail to the log-floating location of Keskimäjärvi that was reconstructed in cooperation with Metsähallitus and the Finnish National Board of Antiquities. The Club House of Nellim was renovated and made into a comfortable meeting place for the inhabitants of the village. Erecting a Travellers’ Cross in Tsarmijärvi was a joint venture of the inhabitants of Keväjärvi and Nellim. New houses have been built in the village of Nellim, and new businesses have been started. At the beginning of the 1970's there were about 10 households in the village of Keväjärvi. The revised Skolt Sámi Act made it possible for the village to grow so that, at present, there are altogether 60 households and 200 inhabitants. In spite of this, the village lacks all services, such as shops. In 2008 the inhabitants of Nellim built a small conical Orthodox Chapel in Keväjärvi.

One of the future challenges for the Skolt Sámi is how to establish a relationship with those who have left their home regions and live elsewhere in Finland. They need to be made aware of the possibilities of Skolt Sámi culture. All knowledge and traditional skills are very much appreciated in the Skolt Sámi community. No one can underestimate one´s own cultural background. A younger Skolt Sámi woman living in Southern Finland tells about her relation to the Skolt Sámi identity, language and the Orhodox religion with pride and a positive attitude, totally lacking the low self-esteem of past generations:

“My childhood and youth in Sevettijärvi prepared me well for my later life. I am so grateful for being able to grow up there. The rich cultural heritage affected my choice of career, and gave me excellent skills. In my daily life the Skolt Sámi background shows, for instance, in my way of using Skolt Sámi proverbs. During meals I ask my children what they would like to have. Being an Orthodox by religion is the strongest culture-bearing force. The Church has been very supportive of the Skolt Sámi culture, and we are very grateful for this. The traditional Skolt Sámi costume is a natural choice for all festive occasions, and I enjoy the attention it gets. In discussions, I like to tell people where I come from and what it means to be a Skolt Sámi. I tell them where the Skolt Sámi come from and how our traditions differ from those of other Sámi.”


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