Borderline identities in the European North – The Case of the Man of Lapland

Authors: Tapio Nykänen*,
Topics: Indigenous Peoples, Europe
Keywords: Identity, north, indigenous, Sámi
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Astor Ballroom II, Astor, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The Sámi are recognized as indigenous people in the Finnish Constitution. They have a cultural self-government body, Sámi Parliament, and a right to use Sámi languages when dealing with the authorities.
Nevertheless, many problems concerning Sámi rights are yet to be solved. Perhaps the most difficult one has been the question over land rights and especially the question over who is Sámi. The Sámi Parliament has supported a narrower Sámi definition and emphasized the role of home language, while others have claimed that ethnic identity should be based solely on ancestry. According to Sámi Parliament this would mean that thousands of Finns would be suddenly counted as Sámi.
I my project, I propose that the prevailing dichotomy of Sámi / Finnish in the Finnish public discourse should be rejected. Instead, one should recognize a processual nature of group identifications and the fact that there are identifications that are located in between.
By this, I do not claim that Sámi people should not have right to self-definition, or that there should not be a clear definition of Sámi. Instead, I seek a way to understand historical-geographical identities that have features from both Finnish and Sámi traditions. To do this I analyze the cultural history of “the Man of Lapland”, which traditionally has meant a Laplander who is not Sámi but not a typical Finn either. This identity category shows that one could have a unique northern identity and history without a need to be (re-)identified as Sámi.

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