Finland to Repatriate Sámi Artefacts

‘Repatriation is about so much more than just the objects’, say Sámi artists Petra Laiti and Outi Pieski, curators of an exhibition about the historic event at the Finnish National Museum this autumn.

Sámi head piece collected by T.I. Itkonen, 1912, in Suonikylä, Petsamo, gift from Kiurel Moshnikov. Photo: Museiverket

The National Museum of Finland has announced that it will repatriate its collections of Sámi objects to the Sámi Museum and Northern Lapland Nature Centre, Siida, in Inari during autumn 2021. The collection consists of some two thousand artefacts and was assembled over a 170-year period beginning in the 1830s. As a whole, it is characterised by different collectors’ views and interpretations of the artefacts, as well as their perceptions of Sámi culture and tradition.

A contemporary interpretation of both repatriation as a cultural heritage process and of the  meanings and cultural carrying capacity of the artefacts will be given in the exhibition Mäccmõš, maccâm, máhccan (Homecoming) planned by the Sámi artists and activists Petra Laiti and Outi Pieski:

“Repatriation is about so much more than just the returning of objects. The whole collection has a cultural carrying capacity that is invaluable. In the exhibition, we will highlight a female perspective which balances out the fact that it is mainly men who have defined our cultural heritage through the collection. There will also be a strong emphasis on nature, the earth, and the current issues of land use in Sápmi run through as an undercurrent. In general, it is about correcting the writing of history and paying attention to ancient life forces.”

The National Museum has worked actively to illuminate the museum collections’ significance not only for the right to cultural heritage, but also as a part of cultural sustainability. In 2020, the museum repatriated the remains of Pueblo Indian ancestors with associated funerary objects from the 13th century to a coalition of Native American tribes. They were part of the so-called Mesa Verde collection created by the Swedish geologist Gustaf Nordenskiöld in the 1890s. The exhibition Mäccmõš, maccâm, máhccan is scheduled to run at the National Museum in Helsinki 29 October 2021–27 February 2022.