The Sami People: Their Legacy in Polar Expeditions

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The Sami people, also known as the Sámi or Saami, are the indigenous people of the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia’s Kola Peninsula. Traditionally, the Sami have been a nomadic people who have relied on reindeer herding, fishing, and hunting for their livelihood. However, over time, they have also become skilled in other areas, including guiding and assisting expeditions in the Arctic regions. They have a rich and unique culture that has been preserved for thousands of years1.


The Sherpas of the North: How the Sami Helped Arctic Explorers 

The Sami can be referred to as the “Sherpas of the North” in the sense that they have played a similar role in Arctic expeditions as Sherpas have in Himalayan expeditions. Just as Sherpas have been instrumental in helping mountaineers navigate the treacherous terrain of the Himalayas, the Sami have assisted explorers in traversing the Arctic wilderness. They were often hired as guides, hunters, porters, and even reindeer herders by early polar explorers, including Carsten Borchgrevink2 and Fridtjof Nansen3 in the late 19th century. The Sami’s knowledge of the land, the animals, and the weather was invaluable to these expeditions, and they often played a crucial role in the success of the missions. 

One example of the Sami’s involvement in Arctic expeditions is their assistance in polar expeditions in the early 20th century. The legendary Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen used equipment that the Sámi woman Margrethe Lango from Karesuando had sewn: pesks, skulls and sleeping bags.4


The Sami Way of Life 

The Sami people have traditionally lived as nomadic reindeer herders, moving with their herds across vast distances of tundra and taiga. This way of life has given them a deep understanding of the natural world and its rhythms, and has allowed them to develop a highly specialised set of skills for survival in the Arctic. These skills include building shelters, making fires, finding food and water, and navigating through the often featureless landscape. 

In recent years, the Sami people have also become known for their activism on issues such as land rights, climate change, and cultural preservation. They have fought against the exploitation of their traditional lands by mining and oil companies, and have advocated for the recognition of their language, culture, and identity. As the world faces an uncertain future with regards to climate change and the environment, the Sami people’s knowledge and expertise might become more important than ever. 

Kristin and her Sami Heritage

Kristin’s Sami heritage has played a significant role in shaping her identity and connection to her cultural roots. As a proud descendant of the Sami people, she carries forward a rich legacy of traditions, knowledge, and values. Kristin’s Sami heritage is not just a part of her ancestry, but it influences her perspective on life, the environment, and her deep respect for nature. Growing up, she has been immersed in stories, customs, and practices passed down through generations. This cultural background has instilled in her a strong sense of community, resilience, and a profound understanding of the natural world. Kristin embraces her Sami heritage with pride and seeks to honour and promote her cultural heritage through her endeavours, inspiring others to appreciate the wisdom and beauty of Sami traditions.


1Kent, N. (2019). The Sámi peoples of the North: A social and cultural history. Oxford University Press.

2Did you know that two Sami men participated in the first overwintering on the Antarctic continent?. 2011. (n.d.).

3Balto, Samuel Johannesen (1861-1921). FRAM. (2019, August 21).

4Samer på polarekspedisjoner. Samer på polarekspedisjoner -. (n.d.).

Sápmi, the land of the sámi. Swedish Lapland. (2022, February 6).

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