Research group and themes

Our project grasps the concrete activities and possible frictions and tensions in constructing the Sámi political subjects. Many crucial layers of modern Sámi society are represented in our project from recent ethno-political history and the role of women in Sámi policies to Sámi participation in many levels of local, national and international politics. Sámi reindeer herding and repatriation processes are introduced as examples of controversies between Sámi and Finnish institutions.

The research project, which is a part of the Arctic program of the Academy of Finland in 2015-2018, is led by the professor of Sámi culture at the University of Oulu, Veli-Pekka Lehtola. The research team comprises of seven researchers, three at the University of Lapland, and four at the University of Oulu.

The research group:

Senior researchers

Veli-Pekka Lehtola

Sanna Valkonen

Anni-Siiri Länsman

Juha Karhu

Vesa Puuronen

Doctoral researchers

Juha Guttorm

Eeva-Kristiina Harlin

Anne-Maria Magga

Sigga-Marja Magga


Themes of the doctoral researchers:

Juha Guttorm (2016-2017), in his sub-study on legislative initiatives of Finnish Sámi Parliament, focuses on the real influence and authority of Sámi Parliament in the issues related to cultural autonomy of Sámi people, which has in principle been assured by Finnish legislation. The aim of the study is to analyze the position of the Sámi parliament as a political actor in Finnish domestic politics.

Eeva Kristiina Harlin (2015-2016) is studying how the idea of repatriation or returning the Sámi heritage from majority museums and collections has been adopted from other indigenous peoples to Nordic context, especially to Sámi-Finnish relations. Parallel to linguistic revitalization, repatriations have become important in revival of Sámi cultural heritage. In the frames of postcolonial theories, Harlin examines how Sámi actors are using repatriation processes as tools for reconstructing identities and dismantle dominant representations. As research material, Harlin is interpreting textual materials. e.g. official reports and correspondence, making interviews and analyzing representations both in Finnish and Sámi museum exhibitions.

Anne-Maria Magga (2015-2016) analyzes the governance of Sámi reindeer husbandry both in the siida system and in official management in Finland. Also the frictions and conflicts related to operationalizing customary laws, traditional practices and indigenous peoples' rights will be tackled. The aim of the study is to find out how Sámi reindeer herders’ traditional decision-making and governance models could help to develop and re-establish own models of self-governance. Theoretically, the research is founded on indigenous anti-colonial theory and legal pluralism. The empirical fieldwork is based on collaborative research method in which the communities participate actively to the knowledge production at every steps of the research.

Sigga-Marja Magga (2017) examines the situation when the modern Sámi identity is not only reflecting the traditions in transition, but the Sámi artists and handicraft makers are also commodificating the traditions e.g. in Sámi festivals or in internet. Social media has become a popular channel to distribute new ideas or to challenge prevalent notions on "genuine" Sámi expressions, to find new consumers of duodji or Sámi art, or to practice "craftivism", to use art as a form of political activism. Magga studies what kind of cultural and ethical aspects are involved in exploiting the collective tradition for individuals, or in using internet to develop modern Sámi identities or to challenge the traditional conceptions of duodji and Sámi visuality.


Themes of the senior researchers:

Veli-Pekka Lehtola is dealing with the transition period in Sámi ethno-political development from 1950s to 1970s in local, national and international levels in Finland. The perspectives of Finnish Sámi politics broadened from local and national context to Nordic cooperation, to European spheres and international movements. Operating in international networks helped the Sámi in their demands, but also created pressure to Sámi politicians when shuttling between multiple levels of participation, from indigenous forums to local interest groups.

Anni-Siiri Länsman studies the role of the Sámi representative institutions, Sámi Parliaments and Sámi Non-Governmental Organizations in international policy making processes at the level of UN. It´s relevant to ask who represents the Sámi in the meetings of UN mechanisms on the rights of indigenous peoples and by whom the international political innovations and standards concerning indigenous peoples are brought to the national Sámi political discussions. Policy making at UN level requires a lot of economical resources, language skills and competence in the international law and policy. How is this competency build in Sámi society and what kind of differences there are between the Sámi in Sweden, Finland, Norway and Russia?

Vesa Puuronen investigates the Sámi political participation at municipal level in Finnish Sápmi. The study is based on interviews of local Sámi and Finnish politicians in three northernmost municipalities in Finland. It will highlight interaction of political organizations, their different activities and actors, ideals and cross-ethnic alliances formed e.g. in municipal elections and municipal councils. The focus is on the interethnic co-operation or interethnic conflicts in local politics. Comparison of three municipalities will produce comprehensive knowledge about the political structures and strategies of local political subjects to benefit their alternatives.


Sanna Valkonen analyzes how the concept and discourse of international law,  indigenous people, has been domesticated in local and national discourses in Finland. Valkonen examines in the public debate the struggle over indigenous recognition as well as  different political and legal articulations of indigeneity. Valkonen suggests that there are different approaches to indigeneity, depending on understanding on the social relations of time, space and belonging.

Juha Karhu is the leader of a Sámi law research group at the Faculty of Law in the University of Lapland, as well as the leader of NORSIL Nordic Sámi Law network. His research concerns Sámi customary law and multicultural tendencies in international discourses on indigenous peoples.



Last updated: 30.1.2019