Herding hundreds of reindeer from colder to warmer places in
Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia sounds like a movie to me. However that is
exactly what happens in Sapmi — the land of the Sami people, today, just as it
has for thousands of years.
The Sami people are highlighted in a special “Eight Seasons
in Sapmi, The Land of the Sami People” exhibit currently on display at the Vasa
Order of America National Archives, located in historic Bishop Hill, Ill.
This display is on loan from Sweden, and it features some
awesome photos that were shot by Birgitte Aarestrup, who lived with the Sami
people for a year.
The exhibit also includes many examples of handicraft items
made by Sami people from reindeer leather, antlers and roots of birch trees.
There are examples of the traditional clothes and a mercer’s reed that is used
to make the patterned yarns.
Traces of the Sami culture go back 8,000 years. It started
as a hunting, fishing and gathering culture and progressed to raising reindeer.
Sami life revolves around the annual cycle of nature and
reindeer and the eight seasons of the year — spring, springsummer, summer,
fallsummer, fall, fallwinter, winter and springwinter.
Rolf Bergman, the current president of the VOA National
Archives, was born in Sweden and immigrated with his family to the U.S. when he
was 10 years old. He remembers watching the Sami people come down with their
reindeer herds to the coast.
“They move when the rivers are frozen, and at that time,
they used skis or snowshoes,” he said. “Then they go back before the rivers
thaw, and each group had 1,000 or more reindeer.”
Of course, the Sami people today have adapted to modern
society and use snowmobiles and helicopters to assist with their herding.
However, they continue to make arts and crafts just as their ancestors have done
for hundreds of years.
This special exhibit is at the VOA National Archives thanks
to the efforts of Viktoria Almgren, the archivist. Viktoria also was born in
Sweden and moved to the U.S. three years ago. Prior to that, she had visited her
relatives in Woodhull many times.
“My goal is to put the Vasa Order and Bishop Hill on the
map,” the archivist stressed. “There are lots of Swedes who come to the U.S. to
The mission of the VOA National Archives is to collect,
preserve and display artifacts, historical records and genealogical information
of VOA lodges and their members. The archives also collect, preserve and display
information relative to Swedish American people.
In addition, Almgren said, the national archives are
available for people who are interested in genealogical research.
“We help people with their genealogy, and people come here
to do research for books or students who are doing research for projects,” she
added. “We are preparing for the future by making sure documents don’t get
I strongly encourage you to take a trip to visit this neat
exhibit in Bishop Hill, plus there are lots of other historical things to do in
this town while you are there. The exhibit will leave the archives at the end of
June and go to the Swedish American Museum in Chicago, where it will be
displayed until Sept. 8, giving you a second chance to learn more about the Sami