Happy Sámi National Day!
Published: February 2, 2017
By Christian 'Asle' Pederson Behrends
Lihkku Sámi Álbmotbeivviin! Happy Sámi National Day!
Sámi National Day is a holiday celebrating Sámi culture and identity. Observed on February 6th, the day commemorates the first Sámi Congress of 1917, held in Trondheim, Norway, that convened to address common concerns across Sápmi, the Sámi homeland divided by the Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, and Russian nation-states. First celebrated in 1993, Sámi National Day’s 2017 celebration marks the holiday’s 24th anniversary and the one hundredth anniversary of the Sámi Congress. Though not recognized as a Public Holiday, it is a national Norwegian flag day when both the Norwegian and the Sami flags are raised together. Likewise, Sámi across the world mark National Day by wearing regional clothing called gákti, flying the Sámi flag, and speaking and singing in Sámi languages.
The Sámi are the only recognized indigenous nation of Europe, have unique cultural histories, and command distinct legal protections. Historically, the Sámi have fished, trapped fur, and herded reindeer, the lattermost becoming the best recognized icon of their culture. The Sámi languages - of which Northern (Davvisámegiella), Southern (Åarljelsaemien gïele), and Lule (Julevsámegiella) are the most spoken - are part of the Uralic language family and display linguistic patterns similar to Finnish, Estonian, and other regional languages in Russia. Protected by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Norway, Sweden, and Finland, and the International Labor Organization Convention 169 in Norway, the Sámi have the unique right to ‘free, informed, and prior consent’ regarding any development affecting their lands, culture, and livelihoods within their own countries.
Implicit in the holiday’s name, Sámi National Day is a celebration of indigenous identity and a reminder of nationhood to counter the continued occupation of Sámi lands by the Fennoscandic nation-states. The continued overlapping of these states with Sápmi complicates Sámi self-determination by enforcing laws dictated via arbitrary borders, fracturing the Sámis’ ability to enact policy that works for them. That the Congress of 1917 that inspired Sámi National Day had to cross borders on their lands to convene with their own nation underlines the importance of National Day’s intent to overcome international borders separating Sámi. Because the holiday came to be in reaction to these borders, Sámi National Day can be seen as a construction of the colonial nature of Sámi-Nordic/Russian relations and an attempt to assert nationhood outside the parameters of the nation-state.