The Sámi Museum Siida stores the spiritual and material culture of the Finnish Sámi in its collections and presents it to the public through its exhibitions and publications.
There are approximately 10,000 Sámi people living in Finland, where the Sámi region includes the municipalities of Enontekiö, Inari and Utsjoki as well as the Lappi reindeer herding cooperative in the northern part of the municipality of Sodankylä. Utsjoki is the only municipality in Finland where the Sámi people constitute the majority of the population. More than 60% of the Sámi people live outside the Sámi Homeland, and e.g. in Helsinki there is a large and active Sámi minority.
In Finland the definition of a Sámi is laid down in the Act on the Sámi Parliament and is primarily based on the Sámi language. According to the Act, a Sámi is a person who considers himself/herself a Sámi, provided that he/she learnt Sámi as his or her first language or has at least one parent or grandparent whose first language is Sámi.
The Sámi are descendants of the people who first inhabited the northern regions of Fennoscandia shortly after the end of the ice age10,000 years ago. Despite the fact that the Sámi are linguistically related to the Finns the Sámi genetic heritage has retained features which distinguish them from all their neighbouring peoples. The origin of the Sámi people is still a mystery which scholars in many different fields are trying to solve.
The Sámi region and population were at their height from the beginning of the Christian era to the 11th century. The Sámi region then covered, with the exception of the south and south-west coast, all of what is now Finland. As the settlement of Finland spread north in the 19th century, the Sámi gradually started to merge with the main population.
The Sámi languages belong to the Finno-Ugric family of languages, and there are altogether ten different Sámi languages. The Sámi language and the Finnish language share a common parent language. The divergence of the two languages started some 3000 – 3500 years ago.
In Finland, there are speakers of three different Sámi languages: North Sámi, Inari Sámi, and Skolt Sámi. All the Sámi languages spoken in Finland are endangered languages, but it is especially the Inari Sámi and Skolt Sámi which are in danger of disappearing altogether. Each of the two languages has approximately 300 native speakers depending on how one defines the notion of being able to speak a language. The number of North Sámi speakers in Finland is approximately 2000.
The Sámi languages have been revived by means of the language immersion method. A Sámi language nest is a day care centre based on a comprehensive language immersion method. The method has sought to increase the number of both children and adults speaking the language. The Sámi language immersion activity can be considered to have originated in the Skolt Sámi language nest in Sevettijärvi in 1993.
The traditional Sámi livelihoods include fishing, gathering, handicrafts, hunting and reindeer herding as well as the modern ways of practising them. Some of the Sámi people still earn their living by the traditional methods, but a great deal of them are working in modern professions.
Contrary to popular belief, the Sámi practising reindeer herding never constituted a majority of the Sámi population. In Finland, the traditional Sámi source of income has been described as a multiple economy with a variety of sources of income.
The most visible of the national Sámi symbols is the Sámi dress. The dress used to be worn as a piece of everyday clothing, but it is now worn mostly on festive occasions. In Finland, there are five main versions of the Sámi dress: The river Teno dress, the Enontekiö–Koutokeino dress, the Sodankylä Vuotso dress, the Inari dress, and the Skolt Sámi dress.
The dress design varies by region, which is why the designs, colours and decorative sashes indicate the bearer’s Sámi group and even family. The prototypes of the Sámi dress are folk dresses made of leather and fabric, but today there are dresses in different colours made of a variety of materials such as baize, cotton and artificial fabrics, silk and even lace.