The Skolt Sámi archives – a candidate for the UNESCO Memory of the World Register

The National Archives Service of Finland and the Sámi Archives have proposed including the Skolt Sámi archives in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register. Only 301 items have been listed in the register so far.

The archives from Suonjel, Pechanga, are the most significant body of documentation in the cultural heritage of the Skolt Sámi. The oldest document in the archives dates to 1601 and the most recent document to 1775.

The documents, which form an over nine‑metre scroll, comprise edicts issued by Russian emperors, confirming the rights of the Skolt Sámi to their pasture and fishing territories. The documents are of symbolic significance to the entire Skolt Sámi population and to indigenous people in general.

Saved from the turmoil of war

The documents were joined together using glue made from bones. The long document scroll was kept inside a case carved from a pine tree. The meticulously carved sliding lid of the casing was easy to close tightly to protect the valuable documents from the harsh northern weather conditions.

The archives were stored in a secret location known only to three trusted men, who all came from different families.

The Pechanga area was annexed to Finland by a peace treaty signed in Tartu in 1920. After the onset of the Winter War, the Skolt Sámi were evacuated from Pechenga to Tervola. Finnish border officials saved the archive casing they found in an abandoned village. It was first delivered to the headquarters of the Lapland Border Guard District in Rovaniemi and then, in 1942, to the state archives in Helsinki (the National Archives Service of Finland as of 1994).

The Skolt community did not know the archives had been preserved but thought them destroyed in the turmoil of the war. The archives were not “discovered” until in 1996.

Archives returned to the Sámi district in 2012

The Sámi Archives, a part of the National Archives Service of Finland, launched operations in Inari in 2012 in conjunction with the opening of the Sámi Cultural Centre Sajos. In the opening ceremony, the National Archives Service of Finland returned the archives to the Skolt community, who in turn submitted them to the Sámi Archives for permanent preservation. Thus, the historically and culturally unique archives were returned to the Sámi district.

The UNESCO Memory of the World Register only accepts a small percentage of the items recommended for the list. UNESCO will announce the approved items in June or July 2015.

The proposal of the National Archives Service of Finland has received the support of the Nellim-Keväjärvi and Näätämö Skolt community councils, the Finnish Sámi Parliament, the Skolt Sámi cultural association Saa’mi Nue’tt, the Finnish National Commission for UNESCO and the Finnish National Committee for the UNESCO Memory of the World programme.

For further information, please contact:

  • Jussi Nuorteva, Director General of the National Archives Service of Finland, tel. +358 40 592 513
  • Suvi Kivelä, Researcher at Sámi Archives, National Archives Service of Finland, tel. +358 50 562 3676
  • Email addresses:
  • Pauliina Feodoroff, Chair of the Saa´mi Nue´tt (cultural association of the Skolt Sámi), tel. +358 40 7364475
  • Email: pauliinafeodoroff[@]