From repatriation to rematriation. Dismantling the attitudes and potentials behind the repatriation of Sámi heritage

Thesis event information

Date and time of the thesis defence

Place of the thesis defence

Dolla auditorium, The Sámi Cultural Centre Sajos, Inari

Topic of the dissertation

From repatriation to rematriation. Dismantling the attitudes and potentials behind the repatriation of Sámi heritage

Doctoral candidate

Master of Science Eeva-Kristiina Nylander

Faculty and unit

University of Oulu Graduate School, Faculty of Humanities, Giellagas Institute

Subject of study

Saami Culture


Professor Gro Ween , University of Oslo, Cultural History Museum


Professor Veli-Pekka Lehtola, Giellagas Institute, University of Oulu

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From repatriation to rematriation. Dismantling the attitudes and potentials behind the repatriation of Sámi heritage

This dissertation belongs to the field of repatriation studies and expressly to the repatriation of the Sámi heritage in Finland. For a long time, repatriation was a subject that was not openly discussed in Finland or Nordic countries. In a process that seemed sudden, the National Museum of Finland decided to repatriate the Sámi collection to the Sámi Museum Siida in Inari in 2017. My dissertation examines contexts for this turn. I set out to explore the possibility of repatriation by involving both Finnish officials and academics, Sámi officials and academics, and the wider Sámi community in the discussion of repatriation. I ask what kind of processes have led to the birth of the collections and to their repatriation. Why were objects collected and what kind, and how do these collections differ between Europe and the Nordic countries and between the Nordic countries? How does the situation of repatriation differ from one Nordic country to another, and finally, what is the situation in Europe? What are the opinions of Western museums and cultural heritage workers about repatriation?

It is important to understand what lies behind the fact that although the Sámi people have been proactive in repatriation matters for decades, the subject matter has progressed slowly. This contextual knowledge helps to understand the slow process in understanding the meaning of repatriation and the reasons that triggered the rapid change. Finally, why is repatriation important to the Sámi people? I see repatriation as a decolonialisation process between the Sámi and the majority museum, in which both parties must face a “shared” unpleasant history, which is a process that is greatly influenced by the nature of the practice in majority museums. Is repatriation a sufficient concept when the meaning of this phenomenon is considered from the Sámi perspective? I think not. The second phase of the process is indigenisation, the continuation of repatriation in Sámi society, which brings life back to the objects. For this process, I suggest the term “rematriation”, which more precisely highlights the meaning of repatriation and the impact it can have on Sámi society.

The central actors in my studies are the duodji and archival material that describe their use and history, as well as the meaning they will have in the future. My study comprises four articles, each constituting an independent study and a partial study of my doctoral thesis and approaching issues related to repatriation from different perspectives, mainly during the years I have followed the process and been an activator within it. The primary material for the articles consists of interviews and archive material. Two were undertaken in dialogue with Finnish Cultural Heritage professionals, museum workers, and archaeologists; three are more the result of a dialogue with, and strongly include the Sámi voice.

The articles discuss the Sámi collections and their collecting, history, use and meanings in the National Museum of Finland, as well as their meanings and novel use among the Sámi people from different angles. The first article focuses on the attitudes of Finnish archaeologists towards repatriation, cultural heritage governance, and Sámi prehistory at the beginning of 2015. The second, written together with Veli-Pekka Lehtola, focuses on the collecting of Sámi collections undertaken by the well-known Finnish ethnologist Toivo Immanuel Itkonen for the National Museum of Finland. In this article, we focus on Itkonen’s work in general, but also on the provenance of the collections he gathered and the potential meaning this collection has for the Sámi people. The third focuses on the special meanings the collection of the National Museum of Finland has for Sámi duojárs, as well as the professionals who work in the museum. My fourth article focuses on one particular duodji, the Ládjogahpir and highlights the potential the museum duodji can have for today’s Sámi society.
Last updated: 23.1.2024