Date of this Version
The Sami people of Northwestern Eurasia in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia share historical vicissitudes brought upon them with most other First Peoples. Their languages were suppressed, their religion and culture obliterated, and their way of life ultimately condemned to marginality. In a painful process that was first given wider attention in texts of the seventeenth century, the Sami were given few options for survival but to acquiesce and adapt to the dictates issued, largely losing their cultural identity in the process.
Today, thanks to extensive advocacy of Sami activists starting in the 1960s, a reawakened Sami identity is fostered through schools, native-language publications, and higher-education programs teaching traditional and contemporary crafts. What once were objects of basic needs for a nomadic reindeer herder society have therefore become exquisite expressions of duodji craft items and works of art, the trademark-protected brand for Sami collectibles that include woven and braided bands, dress and footwear made of furs and hides. Beyond the duodji brand, many Sami artists find markets for their cultural expressions in galleries and other art market venues.
This paper will briefly examine Sami history in a contextual and historical sketch, describing the nature and challenges of the Eurasian Subarctic region. It will focus on the work of contemporary duodji textile and clothing makers who regard their heritage either as an obligation to continue traditions in an unbroken form, or as opportunities to express personal visions and innovative departures.