The Skolt Saami: History, Present Language. From Siida Museum, Inari, Finland (2003)

From the Siida Museum

The Skolt Sámi today

The number of the Skolt Sámi people that were born in the old homelands in Pechenga is constantly decreasing in the Skolt Sámi region in Inari. Life in Pechenga belongs to the past. The old homelands and the environment with all their riches had been the carrying forces of the traditional way of life of the Skolt Sámi. The Skolt Sámi traditions started to break when the old homelands were lost.

In Inari the Skolt Sámi newcomers were looked down on by both the other Sámi groups and by the Finnish population. Many young people wanted to hide their ethnicity and give up all its external signs, such as the traditional Skolt Sámi costume.

The Skolt Sámi self-esteem began to grow stronger in the early 1970’s. The Skolt Sámi orthography was created, language lessons were organised also for grown-ups, and textbooks were printed. Skolt Sámi crafts skills were taught and passed to the younger generation. Traditions were turned into performing arts as they were no longer an integral part of social life. Traditional dances were danced, traditional Skolt Sámi songs, leu’dds, were recorded, church chants, the New Testament and liturgical texts were translated into the Skolt Sámi language. Contacts with the long-lost relatives on the Kola Peninsula were recreated after 70 years of separation

The Skolt Sámi in Finland

The Skolt Sámi are an indigenous population of the Kola Peninsula, who lost their native lands in Petsamo as a result of World War II. In terms of their language and traditions, they belong to the Eastern Sámi. They are Orthodox by religion. Their clothing style, music, festival traditions, customs, and food traditions also include eastern features.

The Skolt Sámi live in the eastern parts of the municipality of Inari, to the south, south-east and north-east of Lake Inari. This area, controlled by the state, is known as the Skolt Sámi area. It is estimated that there are some 700 Skolt Sámi in Finland today. Of them, about a third live outside the Skolt Sámi area and even the Sámi Homeland, in different parts of Finland and in Sweden and Norway. Many Skolt Sámi looked for new homes and living conditions in connection with the great migration waves of the late 1960s and early 1970s and even quite recently because of a lack of schooling and work opportunities. As the young Skolt Sámi move elsewhere in search of shcooling, the age-class distribution of the villages of the Skolt Sámi area grows older.

The importance of nature-based occupations – reindeer herding and fishing – has greatly decreased in recent decades. There are almost no small-scale reindeer herders with only some reindeer, and hunting, fishing and berry picking have lost significance as sources of livelihood. They are only done on a non-commercial basis. Some new sources of income have appeared in the sphere of services, but unemployment stays high in the Skolt Sámi area.

As regards Sámi administration, the Skolt Sámi put up their own candidates for the parliamentary elections of the Sámi. They also keep up their own heritage of village administration through choosing a village representative, or Elder, for all the Skolt Sámi every three years. The village meetings deal with affairs concerning the Skolt Sámi and prepare statements on such matters for state and municipal authorities. The Village Elder has an office in Sevettijärvi. After World War II, the Skolt Sámi have had the following persons as Elders: Jaakko Sverloff, Timo Titola, Matti Sverloff, Sergei Kp. Fofonoff, Raimo Gauriloff, Pekka Fofonoff and, since the beginning of 2003, Veikko Feodoroff.

You can get acquainted with the Skolt Sámi heritage in the Inari Sámi Museum Siida throughout the year, and in the Skolt Sámi Heritage House of Sevettijärvi in summer. Every year, many events are arranged with Skolt Sámi traditions and culture as part of the program.

The Skolt Sámi language, ortography and


Skolt Sámi belongs to the group of Eastern Sámi languages. The variety of dialects and many historical factors probably contributed to the fact that a standard written Skolt Sámi language was not created at the same time when the written language of North Sámi, for example, was developed. The translation of the New Testament into the Paatsjoki Lapp dialect – in the Cyrillic alphabet – by Konstantin Tsekoldin, a Greek Orthodox priest who was active in the Kolttaköngäs region – was one of the first attempts to create a written Skolt Sámi language. Researchers who travelled in the Petsamo region in the 1920s and 1930s collected place names, for example, in Skolt Sámi, developing an ortography for this purpose. In 1958, a Skolt and Kola Sámi dictionary made by T. I. Itkonen and stories and narratives concerning beliefs were published in Skolt Sámi.

Among the Skolt Sámi themselves, the language remained a spoken language for quite long. The first systematic attempts to develop the Skolt Sámi written language and ortography appeared as late as the 1970s. Even then, the development was hampered by the fact that the Skolt Sámi who had moved to the present Finnish territory after World War II came from three Skolt Sámi villages and spoke, therefore, different dialects. The Skolt Sámi of the Paatsjoki and Petsamo Lapp villages were reluctant to recognize a written language that was exclusively based on the dialect of the Suonikylä Lapp village. In 1973, A Guide to the Skolt Sámi Language (”Koltansaamen opas”) – made by Mikko Korhonen, Jouni Mosnikoff and Pekka Sammallahti – was published, and in 1975 came out the first ABC Book, edited by Pekka Sammallahti.

After this, the written language has been developed through the publishing of dictionaries, books and teaching material for different levels of education. At first, the Skolt Sámi language was taught in the Sevettijärvi elementary school and occasionally in the elementary schools of Nellim and Akujärvi. Today, the language is also taught in the lower and upper secondary schools. A Skolt Sámi grammarbook has still not been published. Reindeer herder Jouni Moshnikoff and Educational Councellor Satu Moshnikoff from Sevettijärvi have worked hard for developing Skolt Sámi teaching material. In 2002, an illustrated dictionary – translated by Katri Fofonoff – was published in Skolt Sámi.

The weekly newscast that is broadcast in Skolt Sámi by the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE’s Sámi Radio has contributed a great deal to the survival of the language. The Skolt Sámi newcasts were edited for a long time by Elli Rantala, a pioneering Skolt Sámi journalist.

The language has also developed in the ecclesiastical sphere with the support of the Finnish Orthodox Church. For decades, there has been a special committee working on the translation of church texts into Skolt Sámi. The first translation to be published was a book of church songs – a book of which a revised edition has already come out.

Poetry in Skolt Sámi: Kati-Claudia Fofonoff´s poetry book was published in 1998. Davvi Girji OS.

The next book to be translated was the Gospel according to St. John. In 1999, a handbook of the Orthodox faith and, in 2002, the liturgy of Johannes Krysostomos were published in Skolt Sámi. The translation of ecclesiastical texts has, to a great extent, been carried out by Cantor Erkki Lumisalmi, who belongs to the travelling clergy of the Orthodox Church and lives in Ivalo. He is a Skolt Sámi by birth.

Klaudia Fofonoff’s Skolt Sámi poems have been published both in the form of books and casettes. Klaudia Fofonoff has also recorded stories and narratives in her own language. Leu’dd poems that were once recorded in Skolt Sámi were later published – together with the texts – in the form of a CD ROM.



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