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A Skolt Sámi headdress showcased at the National Museum’s exhibition. It is one of the objects collected in 1912 by T. I. Itkonen from Petsamo. It was donated to Itkonen by Kiureli Moshnikoff. Photo: The Finnish Heritage Agency

The Homecoming, opening in October, celebrates the repatriation of Sámi artefacts to the Sámi homeland, Sápmi

Exhibitions, Collections, Museums

Opening in October 2021, the exbition Mäccmõš, maccâm, máhccan – The Homecoming illustrates the vibrant Sámi culture and provokes thoughts about the importance, value and ownership of cultural heritage.

The majority of the Sámi artefacts collected over approximately 170 years by the National Museum of Finland will be returned to the Sámi people in autumn 2021 as a result of several years of collaboration between the National Museum of Finland and the Sámi Museum Siida. The National Museum’s exhibition Mäccmõš, maccâm, máhccan – The Homecoming is part of this repatriation process, and the total number of artefacts to be returned is over 2,000.

The exhibition provokes thoughts about the value of objects, traditions and history. Why do Sámi and Finnish people see such different things and meaning in the same object? Is an object’s value dependent on who is handling it? The exhibition showcases artefacts that are to be returned to Sápmi. They have been in the museum’s collections since the 19th century and have modern-day counterparts still being used by the Sámi, representing a living form of cultural heritage.

The exhibition includes around 150 objects, archive material, photos, artworks and audiovisual material from the Sámi collections. The Homecoming illustrates the vibrant and ever-changing Sámi culture, which draws on traditions and wants to evolve on its own terms. A culture whose history we sadly know little about, and what is known is fragmented.

‘Repatriation is currently a hot topic in the museum sector around the world and challenges us to rethink the role of museums and the power that they wield. While the focus has shifted to cultural diversity, people’s and population groups’ ability to determine their own cultural heritage and decide on its use has become increasingly important. The repatriation of the Sámi collection will see an invaluable part of Sámi cultural heritage returned to the Sámi community,’ says Director General Elina Anttila from the National Museum of Finland.

‘It is about so much more than just returning some objects.’

The National Museum’s exhibition is a collaborative effort with the Sámi community, as it is important for the museum to share as much of the agency as possible with various communities, because the work is about their cultural heritage.

The exhibition has been designed using various forms of art by the National Museum of Finland and the Sámi Museum Siida, in cooperation with members of the Sámi community. The content has been coordinated by Sámi activist Petra Laiti.

‘Repatriation is not just about the return of artefacts. Instead, the process can help us consider the value of objects: to whom is an object, made by an indigenous people, valuable and why? To the Sámi, every item in the collection carries with it an element of their heritage, their own history, invaluable to our culture. This form of value does not always depend on the materials used or the purpose of an object. Now, these objects will return home to where they are truly understood and where their heritage value can be correctly interpreted. This exhibition provides an exceptional opportunity to learn about a piece of history shared by the Sámi and the Finns, sometimes through positive, sometimes painful things.’

Sámi artist Outi Pieski has been in charge of the artwork decisions and visual direction.

‘The exhibition aims to create a balance between different means of narration through art, for example by highlighting parts of our history from women’s perspective. After all, most of the collectors of Sámi artefacts and narrators of our recorded cultural heritage have been men. The pieces have a strong link to past generations and nature in Sápmi, and current themes connected to the Sámi community, such as land use, gain new depth from being part of the exhibition’s culture-historical narrative. In the exhibition, history is described by modern-day Sámi through myriad voices that echo our ancient heritage and the tensions that are bubbling under between an indigenous people and a dominant culture. Through this exhibition, repairing history, we would like to welcome our beloved forebears back home, to the ground.’

The exhibition’s graphic design is by Lada Suomenrinne. The spatial design has been created by Kaisa Karvinen together with the community’s representatives.
The exhibition is produced by the National Museum of Finland.