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Senior Museum Technicians Ari Vink and Niklas Kovács from the National Museum of Finland preparing a seulla vonas boat, which is part of the Sámi collection, to be loaded onto a lorry for transport from the Collections and Conservation Centre on Monday 30 August 2021. This Skolt Sámi boat is one of the objects collected in 1912 by T. I. Itkonen from Petsamo. Photo: Soile Tirilä, Finnish Heritage Agency

The Sámi collection of the National Museum of Finland arrives in Sápmi

Exhibitions, Collections, Museums

Today, Wednesday, the Sámi Museum Siida received the National Museum of Finland’s collection of Sámi artefacts. The repatriation of cultural heritage is a process that has taken many years, and as part of it the National Museum of Finland, the Sámi Museum Siida and representatives of the Sámi community have created an exhibition at the National Museum titled Mäccmõš, maccâm, máhccan – The Homecoming.

On 26 August 2021, the National Museum of Finland received the Government’s approval to return approximately 2,200 objects from the Sámi collection to the Sámi Museum Siida. The lorries carrying these artefacts arrived in Inari today, Wednesday 1 September.

Requests to have the National Museum’s Sámi collection returned had been made before, but the negotiations did not begin properly until the Sámi jubilee year of 2017. Also Director General Elina Anttila from the National Museum of Finland and the then Director of the Finnish Heritage Agency, Juhani Kostet, took part in the celebration held in Trondheim as part of Bååstede, a similar repatriation project in Norway.

‘I was very impressed by the vibrancy of the Sámi culture and its rich visual elements, and it seemed clear that Finland should begin returning collections back to the Sámi as well,’ Anttila says.

‘It was easy to engage in the discussions initiated by Siida’s Museum Director, Sari Valkonen. This required an in-depth review of the Sámi collection of the National Museum of Finland and all aspects that needed to be considered if it were to be repatriated,’ Anttila says.

Museum Intendant Raila Kataja, who is in charge of the National Museum’s ethnological collections, proposed an extensive repatriation.

‘If we had announced that we were going to return, say, half of the objects, how could we have chosen which ones to include? Such a process would have had a disruptive effect. Extensive repatriation was the only possible solution in terms of both the collection aspect and the human aspect. We are talking about the legacy of the Sámi people’s ancestors, and their spirit lives on in these artefacts,’ Kataja describes her thoughts from four years ago.

A memorandum of understanding on the repatriation of the Sámi artefacts was signed in April 2017 at an event held at the National Museum.

‘This was a significant moment – at long last the National Museum’s Sámi collection would return home. The agreement promoted the launch of Siida’s extension project, which resulted in new and bigger facilities for the collections. The repatriation process has increased Sámi communities’ interest towards museum collections and made our work as the Sámi’s own museum more visible. Soon, we will see all the positive effects that this repatriation will bring,’ says Siida’s Museum Director, Sari Valkonen.

On 26 August 2021, the Government plenary session granted permission for the collection’s return. Minister of Science and Culture Antti Kurvinen believes the decision to be a significant one.

‘We know that these objects and their repatriation are profoundly important to the Sámi community. Therefore, we feel it has been important to have been able to facilitate their return. This is a day of celebration of cultural heritage for us all. Understanding history and our roots will pave the way towards the future, creativity and interaction between people and cultures,’ Kurvinen says.

The exhibition will open at the National Museum in October

Mäccmõš, maccâm, máhccan – The Homecoming, an exhibition opening at the National Museum on 31 October 2021, is part of a repatriation process and celebrates a return of cultural heritage, large in scale even at a global level. The exhibition is about repatriation, the history of the Sámi culture and the importance of cultural heritage to this vibrant culture.

‘The Sámi people’s principle, Nothing About Us Without Us, has guided our work during the repatriation process and the creation of The Homecoming exhibition,’ says Museum Intendant Raila Kataja, a member in the exhibition working group.

The working group has ten members, including museum experts from Siida and the National Museum of Finland, as well as representatives of the Sámi community, such as contemporary artists. The exhibition illustrates the importance of controlling and having ownership of cultural heritage, and does not shy away from critical examination of historical sore points.

‘We hope that the cooperation between the National Museum of Finland and the Sámi Museum Siida can show the way ahead around the world. Cultural heritage has a key role in dealing with a problematic history. At its best, repatriation is a process that allows us to take responsibility of our past mistakes in a constructive way,’ says Director General Elina Anttila from the National Museum of Finland.

The Homecoming Jubilee at the Sámi Museum Siida on Thursday 9 September 2021, 18.00–20.00

The celebration
includes photographs of the returned collection of objects, and a few artefacts will also be available for viewing at the venue. The project partners will greet the audience, and the event will include performances by Sámi artists. The event will be held in Finnish and Sámi. The celebration will take place, in accordance with the coronavirus restrictions, at Restaurant Sarrit at the Sámi Museum and Nature Centre Siida in Inari. The celebration will also be streamed via Siida’s website.