Finland returns thousands of artifacts to Sami homeland in Lapland

The National Museum of Finland in Helsinki recently repatriated to the Same Siida Museum in Inari, Sápmi. The two museums, together with representatives of the Sami community, have created an exhibition, “Mäccmõš, maccâm, máhccan – Back to basics», on view until February 27, 2022.

The Sami are an indigenous people who mainly live in the northern regions of Finland, Sweden, Norway and western Russia known as Sápmi or Lapland.

Repatriation is currently a hot topic in the museum sector around the world and challenges us to rethink the role of museums and the power they wield,” said Elina Anttila, director general of the National Museum of Finland, in a statement. “As the focus has shifted to cultural diversity, the ability of individuals and population groups to determine their own cultural heritage and decide on its use has become increasingly important.”

The exhibition focuses on the objects in the collection in the context of tradition and history, and “illustrates the vibrant Sami culture and provokes reflections on the importance, value and ownership of cultural heritage”, organizers say of the show when announcing the news, “and do not avoid critical examination of historical sensitive points.

The exhibition includes a selection of the returned works alongside those of contemporary Sami craftsmen and artists, texts and stories of Sami storytellers and archival documents. The explanatory texts are in six languages; three are Sami languages ​​currently spoken in Finland.

“The repatriation process has increased the interest of Sámi communities in museum collections and has made our work as a Sámi-specific museum more visible,” Sari Valkonen, director of the Sámi Museum Siida, said in a statement. “Soon we will see all the positive effects that this repatriation will bring.”

A ten-member working group consisting of experts from the museums of Siida and the National Museum of Finland, as well as representatives and contemporary artists from the Sami community consulted for the exhibition.

“It brings us closer to our Sámi past and allows us to study and reconnect with our cultural heritage on our own terms,” said Anni Guttorm, curator at the Sámi Siida Museum and one of the working group members, in a statement. “It is a symbolic gesture of recognition of the right of the Sami people to manage their own cultural heritage.”

The National Museum of Finland said it is actively working to highlight the importance of the museum’s collections not only in terms of the right to cultural heritage, but also in the context of the sustainability of culture. In 2020, it repatriated the remains of Pueblo Indian ancestors along with 13th-century grave goods associated with a coalition of Native American tribes, part of a collection created by Swedish geologist Gustaf Nordenskiöld in the 1890s.

“We hope that the cooperation between the National Museum of Finland and the Sami Museum Siida can show the way forward in the world,” said Anttila, director general of the National Museum. “Cultural heritage plays a key role in dealing with problematic history. At best, repatriation is a process that allows us to take responsibility for our past mistakes in a constructive way.

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