The Saami Culture Archive of University of Oulu

The Saami Culture Archive of University of Oulu (Sámi kulturarkiiva) is a developing research infrastructure. The collections of Saami Culture Archive form a significant “bank of resources” for academic research in Saami language, cultural and sociological studies as well as teaching and Saami cultural work. The collection of the Saami Culture Archive consists of notable amount of sound, video and photograph material as well as digitalised documents of the Saami traditional culture and various Saami cultural activities.
Saamelaisen kulttuuriarkiston logo, jossa arkiston nimi pohjoissaameksi ja suomeksi.

About us

The Saami Culture Archive was founded at the Giellagas Institute to gather new material and preserve a notable existing collection of material describing the historical and present-day Saami culture and language, as well as to organise the use of it. Providing the material of the Saami Culture Archive for a wider scientific and cultural use can be seen as a part of the Giellagas Institute's nation-wide responsibility.

The Giellagas Institute is a unique host organisation for the Saami Culture Archive, since it is a national and international meeting point for the members of the Saami society and academic research. It is the only sound archive in Finland with staff competent in Saami language, which is crucial for the work with the Saami archive material. It also hosts the required knowledge of Saami culture and legal and ethical questions, along with the competence to make decisions regarding the use of Saami cultural material.

The functions of the archive

The main functions of the archive are:

1) To collect Saami cultural and language data and organise gatherings of new material

2) To preserve and digitalise data and to facilitate its usage in research and teaching provided by the Giellagas Institute

3) To provide expertise and advice in the questions regarding the use of Saami material

4) To serve as a meeting point for the users of the Saami material and the Finnish sound archives

5) To provide material for the strengthening and revitalisation of Saami traditional knowledge.

Archival research

Scientific and cultural significance of the archive

The significance for research derives from diverse cultural data, which has not been used widely in previous research. The collections bear significance also for the general cultural study of Northern Finland and the entire Saami area in Scandinavia and Kola Peninsula, as the Saami are the indigenous people of the area and therefore the data collected from the Saami offers an indigenous perspective to the history of the whole region.

Linguistic research

The archive has a significant potential for linguistic research and developing the teaching as well as in the language revitalisation efforts, as the archive will serve as a vast source of material that can be used in the study and teaching of Saami languages. The archive material is an especially important resource for linguistics as speech is the primary form of language, but in spite of this, the existing vast collections of sound material have nevertheless played a surprisingly small role as sources of research material during past decades.

All Saami languages are minority languages in countries where they are spoken. Furthermore, UNESCO classifies all of them as endangered. Linguistic material can be accessed through Saami Culture Archive. This enforces research and revitalisation of the Saami languages. It also has substantial value when organising teaching or creating and publishing materials for studying the Saami languages. Since the Saami languages are spoken over such a vast geographical area, the study of local Saami languages also benefits in understanding the other languages in those areas, due to centuries of language contacts.

Research of the Saami culture

In the field of Saami cultural studies, it is noteworthy that Saami oral tradition of historical knowledge can be found from the archive material. On a general level this material offers an important Saami perspective as it shows the Saami as active and productive people in contrast to earlier research, in which the Saami were often seen only as passive objects of the actions of the majorities. In the archive material there are Saami oral histories and descriptions of the Saami culture told by the Saami themselves in their own mother tongue.

This can lead to an entirely new and broader perspective on how people have lived and still live in the Northwest of Europe. The earliest informants were born in the 19th century, and therefore the historical memory stretches back over a hundred years. It is also important to note that historical knowledge is transferred orally in audio material, and it therefore resembles the way of how oral history was transferred between generations in the traditional Saami society.

Due to radical change from traditional to modern society during the last decades, a notable amount of the traditional knowledge has vanished. However, archive material can compensate this process at least partly, as the archive material can function in a supportive role for present-day Saami generations and strengthen their Saami culture. This has already been shown in the process of the revitalisation of the Inari Saami language and culture, documented in the book Revitalising Indigenous Languages How to Recreate a Lost Generation by Marja-Liisa Olthuis, Suvi Kivelä and Tove Skuttnab-Kangas (2013). In the future, the collections of the Saami Cultural Archive can be used in various revitalising projects of Saami languages and local cultures

Legal and ethical questions

An important portion of the work of the Saami Culture Archive focuses on the legal issues and questions on the rights to the material gathered from indigenous peoples. At the general level this is linked to the question of the indigenous people’s rights to their own cultural heritage. These themes have been emphasised in the work of UNESCO and World Intellectual Property Organisation, and they are part of the national and international agreements concerning the rights of the Saami people.

This study on legal issues and ethical questions is done in co-operation with University of Lapland, and it is in many ways outstanding: it will offer the Saami Culture Archive principles and a safe way to organise innovative use of the archive material in the future. The work benefits also the users of the archive material on a practical level, since the ethical and legal questions concerning the archive material are investigated. In this field the work has a pioneering status and the Saami Culture Archive functions as a pilot case, which may be of benefit to collections of other ethnic and minority cultures found in sound archives both in Finland and in the Nordic countries.

The questions concerning legal issues and ethical questions are various and they require both a thorough study and also experience on the use of the archive material. The main issues to be investigated are:

- What is the nature of material gathered before the present agreements?
- How can these old collections be used at present and what do the original oral agreements between an interviewer and an informant contain?
- Is it possible to expand the use of material to a wider cultural use in the case that the original informant had agreed that the material should only be used in scientific work?
- How can the law concerning personal registers be applied to the Saami Culture Archive?
- What is the impact of delicate information found in the material?
- Who has a right to access the archive if the use will expand to the area of culture work?
- What are the proper ways to use the material?
- How do the principles of the international agreements on the indigenous peoples’ rights show in the archive?

Research Infrastructure

Links to other research infrastructures

The Giellagas Institute is located on the national and international field of Saami studies. Therefore the Saami Culture Archive can provide material to the whole research field. In Finland Saami studies are hosted in University of Helsinki, University of Oulu and University of Lapland.

The main project collaborators in the Saami area are:

  • Sámi Archives in Inari
  • Sámi Museum Siida
  • Sámi Education Institute
  • Finnish Sámi Parliament

As a sound archive the object is to achieve a position compared to other professional sound archives, such as Finnish Literature Society and the Institute for the Languages of Finland and the Cultural Archives of the University of Turku.

International co-operation has been established with several institutions in Norway and Sweden, such as

  • Sámi Arkiiva (the Sámi Archives) in Kautokeino
  • University of Tromsø
  • Norwegian Institute of Cultural Heritage Research
  • Umeå University

The Saami Culture Archive has joined the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) and the Finnish Language Resource Consortium (FIN-CLARIN).

Significance for the strategy of the University of Oulu

As a research infrastructure, the Saami Culture Archive has special value to the University of Oulu. This can be seen in various segments in the Oulu University’s Strategy for 2013-2015.

1) The development of high-level research infrastructures is a part of strategy of the University of Oulu. From the point of view of the Saami Culture Archive it is significant that in the overall Research Assessment at the University of Oulu in 2007 some of the University's data collections and archives were discovered to be of great significance, if not unique in their field. This means that there is a special focus on achieving high-level research, and that, in turn depends on high-quality and state-of-the-art research infrastructure, research equipment, data collections and databases, a part of which are part of the national and international infrastructure network. In the center of this work is the update of the roadmap for national research during 2013, in which the Saami Culture Archive is as an applicant.

2) It is stated in the university’s profile, that the University of Oulu is a multidisciplinary science university with international operations. The University’s competitive edge comes with an up-to-date, scientifically imposing research infrastructure that supports a multidisciplinary research approach. It is characterized by effective shared usage and open access. In the future, a larger proportion of the University infrastructures will offer services on a national and international level, and this has been taken into consideration in the road map for national research. The Saami studies can be defined as a multidisciplinary research field concerning linguistics, cultural, history and social studies, for which the Saami Culture Archive can offer research material. The aim of the development of the archive is to create a fully functioning scientific sound archive open to academic research, the Saami society, and also in the future to wider audience interested in the Saami language and culture.

3) The University of Oulu educational profile is related to its research profile. One of the cornerstones for University’s research profile is cultural identity and interaction, to which the Saami Culture Archive and the Giellagas Institute belong.

4) The University implements its mission for regional education together with other universities. The University of Oulu has a particular responsibility in the area of research and education focusing on the Saami language and culture.

5) The significance of the University of Oulu as a circumpolar multidisciplinary expert strengthens while international interest focuses more and more on northern areas, where Saami culture has a special role as the only ingenious people of the European Union.

The model of the organisation

Administratively Saami Culture Archive is a part of Oulu University’s Central Archive, which provides a high archive status and guarantees the preservation of the collection. The Giellagas Institute is responsible for the functions of the archive and makes decisions regarding all use of the material. The Giellagas Institute has the required expertise of Saami Culture and Saami language, which is crucial when dealing with highly culture-sensitive material on indigenous people. The shared responsibility of the Saami Culture Archive offers opportunities to co-operate with other research infrastructures at both national and international levels.


The Saami Culture Archive of University of Oulu
Giellagas Institute, Department of Saami Studies

P.O. Box 1000
FI-90014 University of Oulu

Street address:
Erkki Koiso-Kanttilan katu 1, 90570 OULU
(University of Oulu, Linnanmaa, Faculty of Humanities, 3rd floor, room: HUM335)

For more information, see: Visiting the University

The Archive Researcher:
Ph.D. Marko Jouste, University of Oulu, Giellagas Institute
Email: marko.jouste (at) & ska (at)
Tel: +3582 94 483 491 / +3584 14 363 964 (Marko Jouste)

University of Oulu, Central Archive:
Development Manager Katariina Alha