Lapland Or Sapmi – In Norway, Sweden, Finland, And Russia

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When I was a young child, we would go outside and play in the snow, and my mother would put on a hat from Sapmi or Lapland, Sweden. We also had mittens Sapmi mittens from Sweden because they are so warm.

The Sami are indigenous people who live in northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia, known as Lapland or Sapmi. Most Sami people live in Norway and Sweden, some in Northern Finland, and a few in Russia. I have long been fascinated by this most northern part of the world of reindeer, Sami, and the midnight sun. I used to have a beautiful reindeer skin rug on my floor.

Table of Contents

Lapland (Sapmi) – Why Is It Called Lapland?

Lapland is the name of the northern part of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Kola Peninsula of Russia; this area is known as Lapland. Lapland is a region and not a country, as the region of Lapland goes through 4 different countries’ borders.

This region of the world is called Lapland because the word Lapp is the name that the Scandinavians have long used to call the Sami people who have inhabited the area for thousands of years. The Lapland area is known as the land of the people of Lapp or the land of the Sami people.

Today, most Sami people consider the name Lapp a derogatory term, so it is best not to use it if you are traveling there and speaking to Sami people. The Sami people call the region Sapmi.

The region of Lapland has the Barents Sea on the north, the White Sea on the East, and the Norwegian Sea on its west.

Because Lapland or Sapmi straddles a large landmass, the land is as varied as the region. Parts of Norway’s Lapland are mainly open and filled with the wind without trees or timber.

Other areas of Lapland have a dense forest of pine, spruce, and other foliage. The Swedish Lapland has large finger lakes, while the Finnish site has many bogs and small lakes.

The Sami Live In Lapland (Sapmi)

The Sami people are indigenous Finno-Ugric-speaking people who inhabit Sapmi or the Lapland region. The name Sami is sometimes also spelled Saami.

There is no census for the Sami people. The total population of the Sami is estimated to be 80,000 people.

Here is a general breakdown of which country they live in:

Country Approx Sami Population
Norway 50,000
Sweden 20,000
Russia 2,000
Table of Approximate Sami Population By Country

As you can see from this table, over half the Sami population lives in Norway. If you look at a map, Norway has a large area of Sapmi (Lapland). Next is Sweden, and then Finland and Russia. The majority of Sami live in a Scandinavian country.

The Sami speak a language that is known as the Sami language. There are about ten or more dialects of the Sami language. The language is a Uralic language.

There are so many languages, so you may see different terms from the Sami language, including SámiSamiSaamiSaameSámicSamic, and Saamic. The terms Lappish and Lappic may have been used in the past, but today, they are considered derogatory.

The traditional Sami livelihood is coastal fishing, fur trapping, sheep herding, and reindeer herding. The Sami are famous for their semi-nomadic lifestyle of reindeer herding.

Reindeer in the sima tundra in the snow.
Reindeer in the Sima tundra in the snow.

The Sami, Lapland (Sapmi), And Reindeer Herds

When most people think of Lapland, they think of reindeer. Lapland is home to several hundred thousand reindeer. Today, about 10% of the Sami are Reindeer herders; the reindeer herds provide meat, fur, and transportation.

The Sami people and the reindeer have lived together for thousands of years. Traditionally the Sami herder were nomadic people who moved with their reindeer herds between the winter and summer pastures.

Like many nomadic people, the Sami lived and worked in a “siddat,” or a reindeer herding group. They herded the reindeer for milk and meat and used them as transportation animals.

In a “Siddat” or a herding group, the group members had individual rights, but they also helped pull their resources and aid to help each other out.

That is similar to the many nomadic herders in places like Mongolia. The Mongolian herders had their herding community, and the nomad’s community would move together between the pasture lands as a group; in this way, they always had a support system they could trust close by.

Like many other parts of the world, technology has helped the reindeer herders. They can use snowmobiles to help round up their herds. And modern tracking and other devices also help them in their work and help them keep track of their herds.

Reindeer herding would not be possible with the traditional knowledge that the Sami have passed down from generation to generation. This knowledge is invaluable as it helps the herders know and understand the land, reindeer, and pasture lands.

Effects Of Global Warming On Reindeer Herds

Even with all the technology, due to global warming, reindeer herding has become a lot more difficult. Before, the reindeer could roam free during the wintertime and dig through the snow to find something to eat; this is almost impossible today.

Due to the effects of global warming, when the snow comes, it is near freezing, so the ground is covered with a block of thick ice. The thick ice makes it almost impossible for the reindeer to dig through the snow to find food.

Where reindeer once roamed free all winter, the herders must now round and feed them. Reindeer who cannot be rounded up or found will eventually starve to death as they cannot eat.

If the rate of global warming continues by the end of this century, the climate in northern Finland could represent that of southern Finland. The weather and climate change could threaten the Sami’s traditional culture and livelihood of reindeer herding.

The effects of global warming have already forced many Sami reindeer herders to switch from herding to another career. When this culture is lost, most experts believe so will the Sami culture, language, and life that has been around for thousands of years.

The Sami culture and Sapmi or Lapland are fantastic places. The Sami indigenous people have lived and worked the land for thousands of years and have rich traditions, language, culture, and ways of life. It would be a great loss for the world if this culture and people disappeared.

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Anita L Hummel
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One response to “Lapland Or Sapmi – In Norway, Sweden, Finland, And Russia”

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    Your article helped me a lot, is there any more related content? Thanks!