A new dissertation study focuses on girls from the Finnish Sámi Homeland


Helena Ristaniemi's dissertation "Here, it matters which family you are born into, it affects everything." The formation and meanings of historical consciousness in the lives of girls from the Finnish Sámi Homeland" shows that local history and culture affects young people's lives when making choices about their future. The longitudinal study followed the lives of 12 girls from comprehensive school to upper secondary between education during the years 2019 and 2020. The research combines historical research, Sami studies, and youth studies with a new materialist philosophy. The study opens perspectives on the historical relationship of both Sámi and non-Sámi girls and shows how locality and local history frame young people's lives. Even though the lives of young people in sparsely populated areas are increasingly studied in Finland, relatively little research has been done on northern youth. This study opens new perspectives on the lives of young people in the northernmost parts of Finland.

"History is not just about notable people or distant events in the past, but about family histories, kinships, and homelands. Young people's historical consciousness assembles with everyday chores, storytelling, objects, local traditions, and cultural conventions," says Ristaniemi. Historical consciousness constructs feelings of belonging for young people when they recognize their past and how it is present in their lives. Additionally, historical consciousness and local cultures play a crucial role in determining what people want for the future and what kind of life they will end up choosing.

Unlike shown in many previous studies, the sparsely populated home region is not just a remote place from where the girls want to leave away as soon as possible, but the local people, culture, and Sami language are important assets to the girls. During the transition phase from comprehensive school to secondary education, young people from the Sámi homeland must make big decisions concerning their future. Young people must ponder staying and leaving since there are only limited opportunities to study in the northernmost municipalities. For some, the choice is difficult, while others are happy to go. However, even those looking forward to leaving see value in their home region. Northern and Sámi identities were considered as a richness and a strength they wanted to cherish, even though difficulties were pointed out and encountered.

Family, friends, and a relationship with nature at the heart of everyday life 

In Ristaniemi's research, history is transmitted through families, kinships, and local communities. For example, families talked about local histories and relatives who might have already passed away. Intergenerational family ties and local communities are meaningful for young people. Additionally, some young people felt they were expected to live in the North in order to preserve and maintain the local culture and ways of life.

"There is a major difference between the girls who were and were not from the north; for the newcomers, the feeling of being an outsider was often stigmatizing. They considered the Sámi region more as a vacation place, and future settling in southern Finland," Ristaniemi points out.

For the girls in the study, nature was a place where they spent time with family and friends, and they had broad knowledge about it. Nature was essential in young people's thoughts about the future. They were concerned about issues such as climate change, land use plans such as the Arctic railway, and the depopulation of the North. These concerns reflect a fear of a loss of transgenerational and cultural continuity. The past thus influenced their thoughts about the future in many ways. Despite these worries, the future was perceived as bright, and many girls considered the future possibility of living in their home regions.

" Even though young people are considered forward-looking, it would be important to acknowledge how the weight and strengths of the past contribute to their present. For young people, history can be vibrant, valuable, and influential," Ristaniemi highlights.


Helena Ristaniemi defended their thesis 27.1.2023 in the University of Oulu. The opponent was Professor Sanna Valkonen from University of Lapland and custos docent Kaisa Vehkalahti, University of Jyväskylä. Link to an open access version of the book (in Finnish): https://jultika.oulu.fi/Record/isbn978-952-62-3537-0