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Sami People

Last modified: 2014-05-31 by zoltán horváth
Keywords: sami | saami | lapp | scandinavia |
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[Flag of the Sami People]
image by Željko Heimer

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The Sami people live in the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and The Russian Federation. Their language belongs to the Uralic language family, the Finno-Ugric branch to be specific. It is related to the Finnish and Estonian languages. In reality there are three different Sami languages, and a variety of dialects. In all the Sami population numbers about 70.000 people. About 45.000 live in Norway (mostly in the county of Finnmark), 17.000 in Sweden, 6000 in Finland, and about 2000 in Russia.
Jan Oskar Engene, 16 October 1995

History of the flag

The question of a adopting a flag surfaced with the increased activism among the Sami in the 1970s. The idea of having a flag was first regarded as too radical by many. These people associated the idea with demands for separatism and the establishment of a Sami state. Nevertheless several proposals were made over the years. However, no decision was made, until the present design was chosen in 1986.
The flag of the Sami was adopted at the 13. Nordic Sami Conference in Are (Sweden), where it was hoisted for the first time on 14 August 1986. The Sami Council (an umbrella organization of Sami organizations, of which the Nordic Sami Conference is the supreme representative body) announced a competition for a Sami flag. In response, 27 participants submitted a total of 74 designs. Two proposals were submitted to the Conference for final decision.
The first was the already well known unofficial Sami flag of red, yellow and blue in the proportions 3-1-7. It was designed by Synnove Persen of Porsanger (Norway) in December 1977, and based on colours used by Sami activists in Norway from the 1960s. This flag was widely used, and was a common sight during the protests against the Alta-Kautokeino hydroelectric development project.
Jan Oskar Engene, 16 October 1995

The Saami flag is on its way to being legally recognized in Norway. For many years the flag has been used by the state and municipalities without any legal regulation. Now, government proposed to amend the law on the use of flags from municipal buildings to include the Saami flag as one of the authorized flags, and also to introduced a few passages mentioning the flag in the general act on Saami matters. These amendments will probably become law this spring.
Jan Oskar Engene, 27 March 2003

Flag flying days

According to these days are Saami flag days:

  • February 6, Saami national holiday
  • Annunciation
  • Midsummer Day
  • August 15, acceptance of the Saami flag and birthday of Isak Saba, who wrote Saami national song
  • August 18, establishment of Samerådet
  • August 25, establishment of Sametinget in Sweden
  • October 9, establishment of Sametinget in Norway
  • November 9, establishment of Sameparlamentet in Finland.
Ole Andersen, 16 March 2000

Description of the flag

Construction Sheet
[Saami Construction Sheet] image by Željko Heimer

The other, winning design was made by Astrid Bahl of Ivgovuonbahta (Skibotn in Norwegian). This design adds the colour green to the established colours red, yellow, and blue, adding also a circle in blue and red. This design was adopted by unanimous decision of the 13. Nordic Sami Conference. The measurements issued by the Sami Council are:

  • Overall proportions: 150 x 202 cm
  • Red 64.5 cm
  • Green 14 cm
  • Yellow 14 cm
  • Blue 109.5 cm
  • The ring is 8 cm thick, blue near the hoist, red towards the fly, and centered on the dividing line between the green and yellow vertical bands. It is set 27 cm from the bottom of the flag. The distance from the centre to inner border of the circle is 80 cm.
Jan Oskar Engene, 16 October 1995

The followig are the Pantone colors:

  1. Red, Pantone 485c
  2. Green, Pantone 356c
  3. Yellow, Pantone 116c
  4. Blue, Pantone 286c
Tomi Isoniemi, 21 January 2004

Symbolism of the flag

As for the symbolism, several interpretations have been launched. One is that the colours are those of the Scandinavian flags (if so, the white of Finland is missing), and the ring represents unity (in which case it is appropriate that the ring is 'divided' - just like the land of Sami people). Another version is that the colours are based on the Sami traditional dress, often made in the colours blue, red and yellow (some are mostly white, so this colour is again missing). The ring can be seen as the sun, or the moon, or both. The ring can also be interpreted as the drum of the shaman (this would be controversial in the puritan Lutheran communities of the Sami). I have also seen the colours interpreted as red for fire, blue for water, yellow for air, and green for earth. In this version the circle was seen as the sun.
Jan Oskar Engene, 16 October 1995

The half rings of blue and red are to represent moon and sun respectively. Nothing is said on other colours than they are traditional colours of Sami outfits.
Željko Heimer, 10 February 1996

Status of the flag

The flag enjoys semi-official status in Norway, and is flown by the 'Sameting' - the (mainly consultative) assembly elected by the Sami people.
Jan Oskar Engene, 16 October 1995

February 6th is the national holiday for the Sami (Lapps). In the municipal council of Oslo, Kari Pahle (SV) proposed to hoist the flag of the Sami on that holiday, because there are a lot of Sami living in Oslo. Spokesman Per Ditlev-Simonsen declared on January 28th that there wouldn't be an official hoisting of the flag, because the Foreign Department (UD) hasn't worked out rules for the use of this flag. As a result, every commune may decide on its own whether it wants to hoist the flag or not, and apparently, the municipal council of Oslo decided not to do so. One of those opposed to the official hoisting of the flag was Svenn Kristiansen (Fr.p.), who said that the Norwegian flag sufficed for him.
Source: Aftenpost Aftennummer, 1998-JAN-29, page 19, 'Sameflagget heises ikke i Oslo'.
Filip van Laenen, 1998-JAN-30

First of all, let me explain the politics here. Per Ditlev-Simonsen, of Hoyre the conservative party, is the mayor of Oslo. SV is the Socialist Left Party which is to the left of the Labour party. The party is mostly positive towards the Saami minority, especially outside the Saami core areas in the North of Norway. It should be noted, however, that the SV candidate in Finnmark in the September 1997 election ran a campaign against giving more rights to the Saami people and against granting more powers to the Saami Assembly. He was elected. FrP is a party to the right of the Hoyre, the conservatives, and is know for its negative attitude to foreigners. In the 1997 election campaign it also launched the Saami issue and argued against 'special treatment' of a small group of people.'

Oslo, though a far way from the traditional Saami areas, is nevertheless the municipality with the highest number of Saamis.

No doubt some of the municipalities in the counties Finnmark and Troms will hoist the flag. The Saami flag has a kind of semi-official status. It is flown by Sámediggi, the Saami Assembly, which is an official elected assembly with mostly consultative powers. Despite the semi-official status, or perhaps because of it, there is a lack of official guidelines for flying the Saami flag.

Two years ago the County Governor of Finnmark (the county where the Saami presence is strongest) said that the flag was not hoisted outside the offices on Saami national day because his office didn't have a flag. They had hoisted the Norwegian flag instead.

Some time ago I received information on the use of the flag of the Church of Norway, and they noted that the church flag was on the same level as the Saami flag, and should be used subordinate to the national flag. The Church of Norway, which is a state church, frequently displays the Saami flag.
Jan Oskar Engene, 30 January 1998

Alternate version of the flag

I found recently in Flaggenmitteilung a flag labeled (in German) Samid Aednan (Samenland). I think that was a Sami movement or proposal.
Jaume Olle, 7 April 1997

I have no definitive information on this flag, but I came across a very similar emblem some time ago when I did a little research on Saami flags.
This resembles the emblem used by the Nordic Saami Council (now known as the Saami Council,or Samiraddi in Saami), except that the circles only overlap (or touch) in the narrow white bands and that there is a smaller white circle in the centre of the three. Most frequently, the NSC's emblem was *not* drawn as perfect circles, but in a more rough style. I have seen the emblem used on flags in several photographs, mostly dating from the period before the mid-1980s. These photos were all black and white, so I am unable to say anything else than that the field is of a dark colour while the circles are of a light colour. Green and white may very well be the colours. I do not know if the flag with the emblem is still used today.
Jan Oskar Engene, 09 April 1997