Sevettijärvi - The Heart of Skolt Sámi Culture

Seine fishing equipment. Photo: Sampo Parkkonen

Sevettijärvi is the centre of the Skolt Sámi culture in Finland and it has the most Skolt Sámi people living there. The village of Sevettijärvi is located within the Skolt Sámi homeland. It was established by law in the eastern part of the municipality of Inari at the end of the 1940s. Within the homeland people have primarily settled in the villages of Sevettijärvi, Nellim and Kevätjärvi. The Skolt Sámi living in the homeland have special rights such as free fishing rights in state-owned waters and the right to build fishing and hunting cabins on state-owned lands.

The History of the Skolt Sámi

The Skolt are a group of Sámi people originating from the east. The Inari Sámi also belong to this group. Traditional livelihoods were fishing, reindeer husbandry and hunting. The Skolt Sámi lived in Siidas - close-knit communities made up of nuclear and extended families. Fishing was the main source of livelihood and families stayed close to lakes. Families migrated by season to where fishing was best at the moment. They had separate places where they lived during spring, summer and autumn. For winter a larger community would settle together in a winter village in the centre of which there was a prayer room.

After the Winter War began in 1939 Skolt Sámi who lived in Petsamo were evacuated to inland Finland. When Finland's border moved the Sámi who had previously lived in Suonikylä Village during winter were relocated to Sevettijärvi. Other Skolt Sámi were relocated to Nellim and Kevätjärvi. After this move occurred the Skolt Sámi did not migrate between summer and winter villages any longer. Also some traditional fishing waters and reindeer herding grounds were no longer with Finnish borders.

Bead decorations. Photo: Satu MoshnikoffCulture and Clothing

In the past speaking the Skolt Sámi language and practicing the Orthodox religion were considered the main characteristics of Skolt Sámi identity. The language only existed in its spoken form for a long time. The development of the written form of Skolt Sámi was initiated only in the 1970s. Orthodox religion is part of the people's everyday life, but customs related to it are most obvious at for example funerals and memorial services. The traditional celebration held in honour of St. Triphon of Petsamo pilgrimage is held annually during the last weekend of August in Nellim, Ivalo and Sevettijärvi. There are very few women these days who master singing Skolt Sámi folk songs, but the tradition is still cherished and kept alive. The Skolt Sámi have also maintained local government based on a traditional Skolt Sámi community organization. Characteristic of Skolt Sámi handicraft tradition are decorative beads, containers and dishes made of roots and products made of fish skin.

Traditional Skolt Sámi dresses and suits are an important part of the people's identity and culture. Eastern influences can be seen especially in the dresses. Older Skolt Sámi women use this traditional attire sometimes on an everyday basis. Younger people only use it at celebrations and special events. A Russian influence can also be seen in their customs and habits and in the objects they have in their homes.

Life Today

Today around 600 Skolt Sámi live in the municipality of Inari. Their everyday lives do not differ much from that of other Finns. Reindeer husbandry continues in the local herding cooperative of Näätämö and Vätsäri, but the importance of reindeer husbandry and fishing as sources of livelihood has decreased significantly in the past few decades. Some of the Skolt Sámi population have found paying jobs and others sell traditional handicrafts to supplement their income from herding and fishing.

The school in the village of Sevettijärvi has classes taught in the Skolt Sámi language. From 1997 to 2001 there was a language group for children who were not yet in school. The children played and sang in an environment which encouraged the use of Skolt Sámi. A project to preserve the language and the culture was initiated in the autumn of 2001 and it continued to the end of 2003. The aim of the project was to teach children and adults traditions and pass them down to future generations. People learned the language as well as to make traditional handicrafts and to prepare traditional dishes.