The Sámi Museum Siida in Inari, northern Lapland has received more than 2,200 objects from the National Museum of Finland following years of negotiation for their return.
The Sámi collection represents the history of the indigenous Finno-Ugric speaking Sámi people and was compiled by various collectors and travellers from 1830-1998.
Repatriation is a sign of change in both society and museum operations
National Museum of Finland
A new collections unit at Siida completed last year now houses the repatriated objects and they will play an important role in the current expansion of the museum, which will open in spring 2022.
Sámi women hold fabric at a special celebration of the Sámi collection’s return. Photograph by Ville-Riiko Fofonoff
The Sámi Museum held a celebration of the collection’s return last week, limited to numbers because of COVID-19, where some of the objects were on show to the community.
“The repatriation of the Sámi collection of the National Museum of Finland has a great meaning to the Sámi people,” Anni Guttorm, Curator at the Sámi Museum Siida told MuseumNext.
“It brings our past closer to us Sámi and enables us to study and reconnect to our cultural heritage in our own terms. It is a symbolic gesture of recognising Sámi people’s right to manage their own cultural heritage.
“Because of this repatriation we here in Sámi Museum feel more empowered to tell the stories of the Sámi. Now we are able to study and display also the oldest material culture of the Sámi which we didn’t have in our collections before this repatriation.”
Telling the story of the Sámi by the Sámi
Sámi woman’s headgear called ládjogahpir in Northern Sámi or horn hat in English. Photograph courtesy of National Museum of Finland
A new major exhibition, These Lands Are Our Children, will showcase the returned collection to tell the story of the Sámi by the Sámi. “It reflects how the past lives in us and how we utilise that when adapting to changes around us,” said Guttorm. “The repatriated objects transmit their stories from the past Sámi generations to the new ones.”
The Sámi Museum was founded in 1959 by the first Sámi association with the mission to collect and document the surviving remains of their cultural heritage, much of which was destroyed in the Lapland War of 1944-45 by German troops retreating to Norway.
National specialised museum
In 1999 it was grated the status of national specialised museum and in 2007 partnered with other Sámi museums in Norway and Sweden to establish the Recalling Ancestral Voices – Repatriation of Sámi Cultural Heritage project.
The Repatriation of Sámi Cultural Heritage project mapped the collections spread across Scandinavian museums and subsequently, since 2015, three other museums have repatriated their Sámi collections, including The Museum Centre Vapriikki, but the most important and significant by far is the collection returned this month by the National Museum of Finland.
The National Museum of Finland has retained 150 objects from the collection that will be part of a new exhibition Homecoming opening on 31 October to celebrate the significance of the repatriation with plans to tour it in Finland and internationally.
“Repatriation is a sign of change in both society and museum operations,” the museum said. “The exhibition will showcase the significance of cultural heritage to people and identity and encourage us to think about the control and ownership of cultural heritage
It said the planning and multi-art implementation of the exhibition will be carried out together with the Sámi community and Sámi Museum Siida.
The exhibition will be directed by Sámi activist Petra Laiti with art direction from artist Outi Pieski and it will be produced by the National Museum of Finland.
About the author – Adrian Murphy
Adrian is the Editor of MuseumNext and has 20 years’ experience as a journalist, half of which has been writing for the cultural sector.