Saami - Sociopolitical Organization

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Social Organization. Saami society is open, fluid, acephalous, and relatively egalitarian. Members of the reindeer-breeding sector enjoy higher prestige within the society and more attention from without. In some regions dominated by non-Saami, the ranking has placed the reindeer breeders last. In their core areas, the nomadic and sedentary sectors integrate symbiotically. Saami reside in parliamentary democracies with and without constitutional monarchies, as well as in the former USSR. When expeditious, Saami can appear to defer to the national majority culture.


Political Organization. In earlier times, the largest though noncorporate group, the siida, was based on resource utilization, and its consensual leader was, and still can be, active, but only in unusual circumstances. Although poorly represented in the governing structures of contemporary society, Saami have initiated a number of their own general- and special-interest organizations, the latter responsive to subsistence interests. Saami have also been active participants in the fourth-world movement since its inception in the early 1970s.


Social Control. Until the eighteenth century, social Control was informal and relatively nonproblematic. In the absence of any hierarchical regulating mechanisms, some disturbances such as reindeer theft could escalate. With the court and religious systems of the encroaching dominant societies, Saami found alternatives in formal administration and litigation while maintaining informal controls through persuasion, gossip, sorcery, and relocation (forced or voluntary).


Conflict. Saami history reveals little endemic conflict other than competition, often between reindeer-breeding units. The exception was a massacre in 1852 in which the two victims were non-Saami. In recent times, however, conflict is more prominent, centering on protests of encroachments on Saami areas through resource extraction (hydroelectric power, mining, logging), by communication networks (roads, snowmobile routes, boat and air lines, and power lines), through usurpation of land (by recreational, tourist, and military activities), and by pollution (most recently nuclear contamination from Chernobyl).

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