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International Register

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Archive of the Skolt Sámi village of Suonjel Suenjel
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Archive of the Skolt Sámi village of Suonjel Suenjel - Post view
Region / Country - Europe • North America > Finland
Year of Registration 2015
Possessing Institutions National Archives of Finland
Management Institution National Archives of Finland
The archive of the Skolt Sámi village of Suonjel Suenjel (Sámi: Suõʹnnʼjel; Finnish: Suonikylä) in the Pechenga region forms a unique body of documentation of an indigenous community. Preserved for centuries, the archive consists of documents joined together with glue made from bones, eventually forming a nine metre-long scroll. The scroll was kept inside a casing carved from a tree trunk and stored in a secret location known only to three trusted men, who all came from different families.
 
The documents are official edicts issued by the Russian Emperor and the Imperial Government (gramota), which confirmed the rights of the Skolt Sámi community to their fishing and reindeer herding territories. The oldest preserved document dates from 1601 and the latest from 1775. The preservation of the documents started as early as the late 16th century but the oldest documents have not survived. The collection shows that the Skolt Sámi, who depended on fishing and reindeer herding for their livelihoods, understood at a very early stage the significance of written documents. These documents were proof of their rights to land and water territories and were therefore of crucial importance to the community. 
 
The Skolt Sámi population was evacuated and the archive moved from Pechenga during the Second World War in 1939. The archive was placed in the National Archives of Finland in Helsinki until it was returned to the Skolt Sámi community in 2012, which donated it to be preserved at the Sámi Archives, a unit established the same year under the National Archive of Finland and operating in Inari at the Sámi region. Skolt Sámi is listed as an endangered language by the UNESCO. The archive forms a crucial part of the community’s identity and it has wider symbolic meaning for other indigenous communities as well.