Umeå2014 - Europas Kulturhuvudstad

Information boards about Sami history in Umeå

Pressmeddelande   •   Sep 17, 2014 10:00 CEST

Sami culture gets highlighted during the European Capital of Culture year in Umeå with the help of eight information boards that are placed at different locations. The information boards tell of the Sami presence at each place, such as Umeå University that was used as reindeer grazing lands for about 60 years ago.

Eight information boards have been mounted across Umeå. The signs contain stories about the Sami presence at each place, and the idea is to increase knowledge about Umeå being a Sami place. Umeå2014 has together with Sami representatives produced the information boards.

Sami presence

“The most important thing about this project is to clearly show that Ubmeje, Umeå, is part of Sápmi. This project demonstrates the long Sami presence in what we today call the city of Umeå, from both a contemporary and historical perspective. Såhkie Umeå Sami Association sees this as a necessary first step in demonstrating that Sami and reindeer herding existed here before Umeå came to be and that there are now three Sami communities who herd reindeer within Umeå municipality boundaries, including Rans Sami village that are on winter grazing every year in the outskirts. It shows that the Sami culture is still alive and developing.”

So says Michael Lindblad, president of Såhkie Umeå Sami Association and one of the people who helped produce the information boards, using the sources of the Department of Dialectology, Onomastics and Folklore Research in Umeå and the Museum of Västerbotten.

He continues:

“Our hope is that it will help increase people's knowledge and understanding that Umeå is a Sami place and part of Sápmi, and that the Sami people are one of the world's indigenous people. How Umeå's history is interwoven with the Sami, it has shaped and continues to shape the city and Umeå's identity as a multicultural area.”

“We can learn what Sápmi is”

The idea comes from Anne Wuolab, producer of Sápmi Today, the Sami design of the Town Hall Square during the grand opening of the European Capital of Culture year in Umeå. During and after the opening weekend there were many critical voices who didn't like that Sami culture was highlighted, and many argued that Sami culture wasn't part of Umeå's culture.

“We learned what pizza is and saying 'capricciosa'. We learned how to spell it. We can do this with Sápmi too. We can learn what it is, learn to say Sápmi and even learn to write it. There is knowledge in both pizza and Sápmi,” says Anne Wuolab.

Umeå2014 has also produced a booklet, where the stories are gathered together with a map. It also contains information about where the Sami culture centre Tráhppie is, and a number of Sami concepts with the hope of enhancing the expertise of Umeå residents and visitors. The brochure is available both in digital and physical form, at Trápphie for example.


“The Sami perspective is a central part of the European Capital of Culture year in Umeå and we are excited about and proud of over these information boards. The signs can be seen as a complement to all the Sami projects and events that are part of the programme. I can also recommend Bautafilm's Sami themed season films which can be found at Umeå2014's website,” says Elisabeth Lind, Head of Communication and Deputy Head of Administration at Umeå2014.

“The signs are memorials, a reminder of past lives. Stories about people with dreams and thoughts about the future, who lived right here”, says Nils-Henrik Sikku, Sami advisor at Umeå2014.

Download the folder:

Sápmi and Umeå

● The Sami land area is called Sápmi, and it extends through parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Umeå is part of Sápmi and large parts of the municipality is also part of Rans Sameby. There is a clear ambition for there to be a Sami presence in the European Capital of Culture year in Umeå.

● Sami stories tell of links to the city of Umeå that go way back to long before parish registers began to be kept. Ubmeje is the Umeå Sami name for both the Umeälven River and the City of Umeå. The name is old and probably means “thundering, turbulent” and very likely has its origins in the sound made by the rapids on the Umeälven River.

Brief facts about places in Umeå with a distinct Sami presence

● The railway (on the Haga side): Until 1924 the area on the other side of the railway line was luscious reindeer pasture and the paths to the winter grazing area had been used for centuries. The reindeer herders used Sami sleds called ackjor as their means of transport.

● Backen Church: Umeå’s oldest church has been important to many reindeer-herding Sami. Before it burned down in 1893, it had seats that were reserved for Sami people in what was known as the “Sami balcony”. Where people sat in church reflected their status in society.

● Umedalen/close to Prästsjön lake (business park): A noticeable presence of Sami winter settlements has been documented here as far back as the 1500s. In those days the place was called Lappkläppen and it is still used as reindeer pasture by Rans Sami village today.

● Mimer School: The world’s first yoik concert was held here in 1910. Yoik, which had previously been forbidden, is one of the oldest kinds of music in Europe and exists today in both traditional and modern forms.

● Haga: During winter grazing’s quiet periods, reindeer races were held here at Haga, giving the reindeer herders a pleasant break from their work. In a reindeer race, contestants are pulled along on skis by reindeer and try to cross the finishing line first.

● Umeå University: Reindeer-herding Sami used this area as winter grazing for their reindeer. The land that you are standing on was at that time a pine forest of high food value with reindeer-lichen and good grazing. When the central parts of the city expanded later, reindeer grazing had to come to an end. The last time reindeer grazed on the campus area was in 1952.

● Umestan business park: Long into the 20th century this area was winter pasture for Rans Sami village. The reindeer dug through the snow to find reindeer-lichen on the ground or ate the hanging lichen growing on the pine trees. Up until the 1800s the families lived in their portable tents, known as cots. in their winter settlement. Later they would rent somewhere to live, for example from local farmers.

Umeå has been appointed European Capital of Culture 2014. Each year EU appoints two cultural capitals of Europe, with the aim of highlighting our shared cultural heritage and stimulate interest in the cultural riches of the countries in the EU. In Umeå  this award is an important part of the municipality's long-term growth strategy. This will create a greater interest in the city and its stakeholders, and contribute to culture-driven growth.