Pirita Näkkäläjärvi Column: Celebrating Sámi National Day

Pirita Näkkäläjärvi is the 2017 recipient of the Sámi of the Year award. Originally from Inari, she was previously head of YLE's Sámi-language news. Pirita now lives in Helsinki, and works as a consultant.

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2009
File picture of large Sámi flag / Credit: iStock

“Help! This comes at short notice, but I’m looking for a smart Sámi, who’d be in Helsinki next Tuesday February 6, and could go and speak about Sáminess at a theme day of the Mäkelänrinne secondary school.”

A familiar shout-out on Facebook by a Helsinki-based Sámi friend of mine.

As the Sámi National Day, February 6, approaches, Sámi people around the country start receiving requests. There are invitations to speak at schools and events, requests for interviews and questions from the broadcast media preparing for the day.

Unfortunately I and many other Sámi living in Helsinki had to turn down the invitation to speak to the Mäkelänrinne students, because this year the Sámi National Day falls on a weekday. As nice as it would be to raise awareness about the only indigenous people acknowledged in the EU, for most of us that would mean taking a day off work.

As our Facebook discussion evolved and we tried to figure out who would be available to visit Mäkelänrinne, it occurred to me: the Sámi National Day should be made a public holiday! Not only for the Sámi but for everyone in Finland.

What better way to raise awareness about the Sámi indigenous people in Finland than by giving everyone an extra holiday? Making the Sámi National Day a public holiday would send a strong signal about the importance of the Sámi people for the Finnish state. The public holiday could also increase the appreciation of the Sámi minority by the majority population.

Sámi National Day has been celebrated for 25 years. The 15th Sámi conference in 1992 made a decision to have the Sámi National Day on February 6. The date was chosen to commemorate the first Nordic Sámi political congress that took place in Trondheim on February 6, 1917. So last year we celebrated the 100th jubilee of the 1917 Sámi congress – a nice coincidence with Finland’s 100th independence anniversary!

Sámi National Day evolves every year. This year Finland’s Ministry of Education and Culture and the Finnish National Agency for Education invite all Finnish schools to celebrate the Sámi National Day. A great initiative that hopefully spreads to as many schools around the country as possible!

If you’re not lucky to attend a school celebrating Sámi National Day, hopefully you can join another event. The official celebrations take place in Inari, the centre of Sámi culture in Finland, but there are events also outside the Sámi home region.

In Helsinki there are events throughout the week. Today, the Sámi flag is raised at the University of Helsinki. On Wednesday 7th February, you can see brand new Sámi short films and movies at the Mini Skábmagovat film festival; and try stepping in Sámi politicians’ shoes at the Sápmi Speech Karaoke. On Thursday 8th February, the famous Sámi yoiker Wimme Saari has a concert with Tapani Rinne.

Happy Sámi National Day, somás sámi álbmotbeaivvi!