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Rough Cut: Norway: Reindeer Men
Background Facts and Related Links
Learn more about Norway and the Sami people and ongoing efforts to preserve their nomadic way of life.

Country Background

The Kingdom of Norway is known for its long, craggy coastline and rugged mountains. The coast spans 51,460 miles (83,000 km) along the North Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, making it one of the longest coastlines in the world. The country's rich sea-faring tradition has been central to its development.

Two-thirds of Norway is covered with mountains, and glaciated high plateaus and artic tundra cover the northern latitudes. The arable land, comprising only 3 percent of the country, is tucked into the valleys that break up the mountains.

Norway borders Finland, Sweden and Russia. It is slightly larger than the state of New Mexico, with a population of 4,593,000.

The country declared its independence in 1905 when the union with Sweden was dissolved. Bokmal Norwegian and Nynorsk Norwegian are the official languages, but in some districts, Sami is also an official language.

Norway is rich in natural resources, including petroleum, hydropower, fish, forestry and minerals. Oil and gas account for one third of its exports -- only Saudi Arabia and Russia export more oil than Norway.

Norway has one of the highest standards of living in the world, and U.N. surveys have found it to be the best place in the world to live. Its literacy rate is 100 percent.

The Sami People

The indigenous Sami people are sometimes called "the people with four countries" because their ethnic group spans the borders of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia. The majority of the estimated 85,000 Sami live in Norway.

The Sami language is divided into several distinct dialects belonging to the Finno-Ugric or Uralic family of languages.

The Sami culture can be traced back at least 2,000 years. Traditionally, they hunted reindeer and practiced a nomadic lifestyle following the reindeer migrations. In the 16th century they began domesticating the reindeer.

Reindeer, known as caribou in North America, are arctic- and subarctic-dwelling deer that have long served as a source of food, clothing and shelter for indigenous people in Siberia and Scandinavia. The Sami reindeer husbandry area covers Norway's five most northerly counties and the municipality of Engerdal in Hedmark County.

Though Sami people are best known for reindeer herding and it is considered an important part of their cultural identity, only a small percentage of the Sami still follow that traditional path. More common livelihoods include husbandry, hunting, fishing, farming and duodji, or Sami handicrafts.

Norwegian nationalization and economic development have led to several waves of disintegration of the Sami way of life. But in recent years there has been a cultural renaissance for the Sami people. The movement to rejuvenate the culture has convened parliaments in Norway, Finland and Sweden. Sami National Day was founded on February 6, 2004, and is celebrated as a symbol of a united Sami nation across national boundaries. The date commemorates the first Sami congress, held in 1917. The Sami have retained the story of their ancestral lands, or Sapmi, and their rich mythological history. Many still wear the traditional red and blue embroidered felt clothing.

These hardy people are sometimes referred to as Laplanders or Lapps, but this is considered an outdated and derogatory term. Lapp means a patch of cloth for mending and suggests that the Sami wear patched clothes out of poverty. Lapp has also been interpreted as "uncivilized" or "dumb."

The traditional Sami religion, a shamanic, pre-Christian religion, was practiced until the 18th century. It shared many traits with Norse mythology. Remnants of the traditional religion are still practiced by some Sami people.

In pre-Christian Nordic countries, it was a custom to celebrate the "return of the light" at the time of the winter solstice in December. The Vikings celebrated the coming of the sun by sacrificing for their gods, feasting and drinking, playing games, and giving presents.

The Swedish, Norwegian and Danish word for Christmas, jul, the Estonian joul, and the Finnish joulu all have their origins in the old Viking word hjul, meaning "sun disk."

Sources: BBC News, CIA Factbook,, Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sami Parliament, Wikipedia.
(Note: Wikipedia is a free-content encyclopedia that it is written collaboratively by people from around the world.)

Related Links

The Saami Council
This is the official Web site of the Saami Council, a nongovernmental organization supporting Sami interests in Norway, Finland, Sweden and Russia. The content is published in several languages and includes articles related to Sami land use issues and links to sites about life in the Arctic.

Sustainable Reindeer Husbandry
This Web site, managed by the Center for Sami Studies at the University of Tromso, in Norway, outlines a sustainable development project focused on family-based reindeer herding and provides links to Sami parliaments and other organizations.

Aftenposten is Norway's leading daily newspaper, published in Norwegian and English. The site provides regional, national and international coverage and webcams overlooking 10 Norweigan cities.

Drive-In Cinema Is Norway's Coolest
This BBC report on the 2004 Sami Film Festival, a weeklong event held every spring, highlights the unique qualities of the festival, which uses a drive-in theater built out of snow for snowmobiles.

Norsk Hostfest, North America's Largest Scandinavian Festival
The Norsk Hostfest celebrated its 28th year in 2005. Held every October in Minot, North Dakota, the five-day-long festival is attended by tens of thousands of people who come from all over to celebrate Scandinavian culture. More than 200 internationally recognized artisans, craftsmen, chefs and entertainers participate.

The Sami of Norway
In her research of the Sami people, Elina Helander, director of the Nordic Sami Institute, focuses on the Sami language and its role in the cultural identity of the Sami people.

The Unofficial Sami Site
This comprehensive Web site was compiled by a Sami individual. It has abundant links to Sami-related issues and includes a historical timeline of the Sami people, descriptions of the many cultural groups within the Sami and samples of Sami music.

Conflicts Between Forestry and Reindeer Herding in the Sami Area
The Finnish Nature League and Nordic Greenpeace track forestry issues in Finland. This site follows some of the legal battles and ongoing conflicts between the land needs of reindeer herders and the logging industry.

Indigenous Peoples' Human Rights Project -- Case Study: Sami
A Web site produced by the University of Minnesota Human Rights Center outlines one of the most pressing issues surrounding the preservation of the Sami way of life -- the encroachment on their land rights in Norway, Finland and Sweden. It includes case studies and treaties, including a draft of the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Lapland's Reindeer: Nowhere to Herd
This BBC news report from February 2000 covers conflicts between Sami reindeer herders and private landowners in Sweden. According to the article, the Sami in Sweden must prove their right to use private forests and provide documentation going back 90 years.

Sami Reindeer Herders Losing Their Traditional Lands
This article from the Nunatsiaq News, an English-Inuktitut weekly newspaper in Arctic Quebec, investigates military activities and industrial developments that have impacted the Sami reindeer herds in Norway.

The Land Sales Act of 1902 As a Means of Norwegianization
This paper, by Regnor Jernsletten, provides a historical perspective on land ownership and nationalization initiatives in Norway. The Sami people protested the Land Sales Act's requirement that land buyers must speak Norwegian.

The Reindeer of Eurasia
A rich resource for reindeer lovers, this site provides information on the role of reindeer in human culture and lists other native peoples who have hunted or herded reindeer. There are maps, photos and stories of herders across Eurasia.

Baiki, the International Sami Journal
Baiki is the Sami word for "the home that lives in the heart," alluding to the survival of cultural identity. This Web site is connected with a biannual publication devoted to Sami identity, including coverage of Sami people and related news events in North America.


The Reindeer People, 2004
French director Hamid Sardar follows a family of Dukha reindeer nomads in Mongolia. The film draws on native mythology related to the forest and the filmmaker's work is discussed on this site.

Even If a Hundred Ogres
Native Videos, a site dedicated to preserving and protecting native cultures, features Even If a Hundred Ogres, an award-winning video about the Sami people, narrated by Joanne Woodward. Themes explore outside intruders, often referred to as "ogres," that have threatened the Sami way of life for a thousand years. The video was made during the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.