Sami Sovereignty in Museum Practices

The Sami art museum – Sami sovereignty in museum practices

Since the end of the 1970’s there has been a vision, or a dream in Sapmi, to establish a museum for Sami arts. The Sami political activists and artists initiated collecting of Sami artworks already during the time of the Alta controversy, which mobilized the uprising of Sami arts. At that time, the art treasures were stored at Sámiid Vuorká-Dávvirat (SVD) in Karasjok, the first Sami museum in Norway. Various assessments and reports have been conducted to argue for the establishment of the Sami art museum since the 1980’s [1]. Yet, in 2022, the Sami art museum is still just a dream. However, a large collection of Sami arts is kept in a museum storage managed by RiddoDuottarMuseat. Comprised of 1500 artworks at present, the collection is growing every year under the auspices of the Sami Parliament of Norway. The collection includes artworks from all over Sápmi and represents therefore a wide Pan-Sami or overall Sami perspective. Since there are no facilities for art exhibitions, RiddoDuottarMuseat loan-out artworks from its collection to various exhibitions worldwide. Through these lending practices, some Sámi arts can be displayed, although not as often in Sápmi.

In 2021 the Sami art museum was mentioned as one of the priorities in the White paper of the Norwegian government[2], which is good. It is decided that the Sami art museum will be built in connection to the first Sami museum in Norway, Sámiid Vuorká-Dávvirat in Karasjok. This museum has since the 1970’s developed its unique way to display Sami cultural history looking from a genuine Sami perspective, the Sami way of thinking, This philosophy implies that Sami culture, language, history, duodji (traditional Sami handikrafts) and arts are inseparable and shall be seen in a holistic way. SVD have also collected the first works of the Mázejoavku[3], and SVD was managing the art collection of the Sami parliament from 2006, then the Museal foundation RiddoDuottarMuseat was established.

In 2017, RiddoDuottarMuseat together with Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum in Tromsø had a museum performance[4] that lasted for a couple of months, named Sámi Dáiddamuseax. The performance visualized the absence of a a Sami art museum that the world has been missing. Five years later, the Sámi art museum is still lacking, and RiddoDuottarMuseat is still the sole caretaker of the ever-growing collection of Sami arts.

The Sami museums shall create a space for display, production and preservation of knowledge in a wider sense. There is a need to maintain museum collections, to preserve techniques and methodologies in production of duodji and arts, to disseminate information about the meaning and the use of the objects. The Sami museums are places for safeguarding and transmission of the tangible and intangible Sami heritage.

We also need more knowledge, more research that utilizes indigenous Sami methodologies, continue to use our own traditional techniques and apply them to museum practices. As a museum, we need an ever expanding knowledge of materials degradation and the necessary facilities in order to be able to preserve and even revitalize Sami techniques. We also need to preserve the richness of the Sami language, words and terminologies that are no longer in use – which are vital for the biographies of the museum objects.

The Sami contemporary arts give access to see the internal dynamics in the Sami communities. As time goes by, the Sami art collection will be an important source not only in art history, but for the indigenous Sami people and their history. That is why it is essential to build the Sami art museum both as a physical infrastructure and also as an institution that values and prioritize the Sami value systems, their theories of knowledge and understanding of reality. A Sami art museum that focuses on Sami perspectives, values and knowledges, would contribute to the development of a Sami museology, which in turn will enrich the diversity of the museal representations both In Norway and globally.

It is important for the future Sami art museum, that we have

  • Formal education of Sami curators. We also need a formal Sami curatorial education
  • Formal education for Sami conservation work that will incorporate traditional knowledge and methodologies for preservation of duodji, dáiddaduodji and other objects
  • Strengthen Sami languages in the museal work, in all areas and fields
  • Maintained a good network with other indigenous museums and professionals through proper facilities


The indigenous museums in Norway are small in size, with limited human resources and limited funding. As a result of a harsh assimilation politics, the Sami people were taught to be ashamed of their culture, and many generations of the Sami were in hiding or abandoning their Sami identity. Many children did not learn the Sami language, or history and traditions of their people. The Sami museal institutions are therefore important for the safeguarding of this marginalized culture.


As representatives of RiddoDuottarMuseat at the Venezia Biennale Arte 2022,

  • We need to spread knowledge about our unique Sami art collection and the high quality of the artworks.
  • We need to attract attention to the fact that after more than 40 years of argumentation, there is Still No Sami art museum, neither are there facilities for decent storage, conservation and for research. Five years after the museum performance “There is No Sámi Dáiddamusea (art museum),” we only need to settle for – once again – a new concept assessment and  a new notice in the governmental White paper. Though the case be such, concept assessments and governmental notices were published a decade ago as well, but the Sami art museum still does not exist.[5]. It is a tremendous difference between good intentions on paper and factual decision making.
  • Dialogue with other indigenous institutions. One of the important questions is how they apply indigenous methodologies (or perspectives), but still conduct conservation and preservation practices. To handle the decomposition of materials as through knowledge of chemistry, biology, and physics, and this concerns all materials wherever they are and whoever is managing them, native or non-native alike.

The question remains: Do the museum professionals use traditional knowledge in museum practices, and is traditional knowledge incorporated into the education system?


[1] Eira, Mari Teigmo, 1988: Særmuseum for samekulturen – ideologien bak. Museumsnytt 4/88.


[3] Hætta, Susanne 2020: Mazejoavku – Indigenous Collectivity and art. ED: Katya Garcia-Antón. OCA/DAT.