The best books about the Sami and Sápmi

Barbara Sjoholm Author Of By the Fire: Sami Folktales and Legends
By Barbara Sjoholm

Who am I?

Although I’d been to Scandinavia many times as a translator and travel writer, it wasn’t until about twenty years ago that I spent significant time above the Arctic Circle, writing my travel book, The Palace of the Snow Queen. Over the course of three different winters spent in Lapland, I discovered a world of Sami history, politics, culture, and literature. I was particularly interested in the friendship between Emilie Demant Hatt and Johan Turi. It’s been inspiring over the past years to see a new generation of artists and activists shaping and sharing their culture and resisting continued efforts to exploit natural resources in territories long used by the Sami for herding and fishing. 


I wrote...

By the Fire: Sami Folktales and Legends

By Emilie Demant Hatt (illustrator), Barbara Sjoholm (translator),

Book cover of By the Fire: Sami Folktales and Legends

What is my book about?

The 70 tales in By the Fire were collected from reindeer herders by Danish artist and ethnographer Emilie Demant Hatt during her adventurous travels from 1907-1916 among the Sami in Sweden and Norway. They include tales of animals, ogres, and pestilent spirits, as well as Russian bandits and Scandinavian farmers to be outwitted and resisted. First published in 1922 and reprinted here with an introduction discussing Demant Hatt’s life, the Sami storytellers, and her artwork, the book is illustrated by her original linoleum prints. A treasure for folklorists and general readers alike. 

The books I picked & why

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With the Lapps in the High Mountains: A Woman Among the Sami, 1907a 1908

By Emilie Demant Hatt, Barbara Sjoholm (translator),

Book cover of With the Lapps in the High Mountains: A Woman Among the Sami, 1907a 1908

Why this book?

If you’re curious about the woman who collected the Sami folktales, you’ll want to read Emilie Demant Hatt’s story of living in a tent with a Sami family in a community in Northern Sweden. You’ll be fascinated by her grueling journey with a group of Sami herders and their hundreds of reindeer over the icy mountains in the spring of 1908 to find summer pastures on the Norwegian coast. I’ve long loved the adventure, humor, and visual feast in this book, first published in 1913, and was eager to translate it and share it with readers curious about the high north of Scandinavia. Demant Hatt was a brilliant observer and an early immersive journalist who didn’t shy away from hard work, rough conditions, and learning the Sami language. 

With the Lapps in the High Mountains: A Woman Among the Sami, 1907a 1908

By Emilie Demant Hatt, Barbara Sjoholm (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked With the Lapps in the High Mountains as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With the Lapps in the High Mountains is an entrancing true account, a classic of travel literature, and a work that deserves wider recognition as an early contribution to ethnographic writing. Published in 1913 and available here in its first English translation, With the Lapps is the narrative of Emilie Demant Hatt's nine-month stay in the tent of a Sami family in northern Sweden in 1907-8 and her participation in a dramatic reindeer migration over snow-packed mountains to Norway with another Sami community in 1908. A single woman in her thirties, Demant Hatt immersed herself in the Sami language and…

An Account of the Sámi

By Johan Turi, Thomas A. DuBois (translator),

Book cover of An Account of the Sámi

Why this book?

Johan Turi was a herder and hunter when he first met Emilie Demant Hatt on a train in Northern Sweden in 1904. He confided that he wanted to tell the story of the indigenous Sami, and she encouraged him to write what became the landmark text, Muitalus Sámiid birra, the first secular book in the Sami language. She translated it into Danish and it was published in a bilingual edition with his drawings in 1910. Combining history, folktales, explanations, and poetry, it’s a humorous, sometimes poignant, and remarkable compendium of Sami life a hundred years ago. I’ve enjoyed this book since I first read it in an earlier translation. This version, translated with care by noted scholar Thomas A. DuBois, has an excellent introduction to Turi’s life and work. 

An Account of the Sámi

By Johan Turi, Thomas A. DuBois (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked An Account of the Sámi as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Liberating Sápmi: Indigenous Resistance in Europe's Far North

By Gabriel Kuhn,

Book cover of Liberating Sápmi: Indigenous Resistance in Europe's Far North

Why this book?

A lot of books about the Sami people ignore the fact that the discrimination and territorial colonization they faced in the past is still ongoing, though it takes shape in new ways. This succinct book of interviews with twelve engaging and thoughtful activists from Sápmi is proceeded by a “short political history of Sápmi” by Gabriel Kuhn. In addition to history, we get personal observations from, among others, the artist/poet Synnøve Persson, the filmmaker Suvi West, the politician/ fisherman Aslak Holmberg and the rapper Maxida Märak. I find this book a superb source for Sami voices and perspectives, as well as for the images and English-language resources at the end. 

Liberating Sápmi: Indigenous Resistance in Europe's Far North

By Gabriel Kuhn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Liberating Sápmi as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


The Ládjogahpir – The Foremothers` Hat of Pride

By Outi Pieski, Eeva-Kristiina Harlin,

Book cover of The Ládjogahpir – The Foremothers` Hat of Pride

Why this book?

This stunningly designed new book, available from the Sami publishers in Norway, has a fascinating historical text (in English and North Sami), put together by Sami artist Outi Pieski and Finnish curator Eeva-Kristiina Harlin. Together, they collaborated on a project centered around the ládjogahpir, the horn hat once widely worn by Sami women across the high North. They inventoried the remaining examples in museums and they began to hold workshops to teach contemporary Sami women how to make the hats. Along the way, they tell stories of how the hats disappeared or were collected, and discuss the idea of “rematriation” as part of new initiatives in the Nordic countries to return Sami craft and culture.

The Ládjogahpir – The Foremothers` Hat of Pride

By Outi Pieski, Eeva-Kristiina Harlin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Ládjogahpir – The Foremothers` Hat of Pride as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Sámi Media and Indigenous Agency in the Arctic North

By Coppélie Cocq, Thomas A. DuBois,

Book cover of Sámi Media and Indigenous Agency in the Arctic North

Why this book?

Another new book by two scholars who work with Sami linguistics and folklore, this volume is a must-read account of how, beginning in the 1970s, the Sami began to employ Sami-language media, from recordings, books, and periodicals to films, tweets, and YouTube recordings, to maintain and create social and political awareness and art. I loved reading about the work of filmmakers and musicians in a way that respects their innovative work in the context of Sápmi’s long-standing indigenous culture. I only wish that more Sámi films and art exhibits were available for viewing in North America. Luckily we have YouTube and music streaming services to accompany our reading!

Sámi Media and Indigenous Agency in the Arctic North

By Coppélie Cocq, Thomas A. DuBois,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sámi Media and Indigenous Agency in the Arctic North as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Digital media-GIFs, films, TED Talks, tweets, and more-have become integral to daily life and, unsurprisingly, to Indigenous people's strategies for addressing the historical and ongoing effects of colonization. In Sami Media and Indigenous Agency in the Arctic North, Thomas DuBois and Coppelie Cocq examine how Sami people of Norway, Finland, and Sweden use media to advance a social, cultural, and political agenda anchored in notions of cultural continuity and self-determination. Beginning in the 1970s, Sami have used Sami-language media-including commercially produced musical recordings, feature and documentary films, books of literature and poetry, and magazines-to communicate a sense of identity both…


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