Traditional clothing helps the Saami maintain and communicate their cultural heritage, amongst themselves and among others. They are known for using bright red, blue, yellow, and green in their outfits. In a snowy white environment, these clothes stand out clearly, announcing their identity to passersby. The colors also represent parts of their home; the red represents the sun, and the blue, the moon.
The Saami people do many sorts of traditional work, including fishing, fur trapping, and sheep herding, but they are best known for semi-nomadic reindeer herding. In some Nordic regions, the practice of Saami reindeer herding is so important that it is legally reserved to their culture alone. Reindeer herding is done in a “one herd per family” style, so during the travelling months, each family unit goes their own way to find pasturing space for the animals. Families often reconnect with friends during the spring season, when they return to more permanent housing to enjoy the nice weather.
The Saami were, for the most part, isolated from the rest of Scandinavia until the late 19th century, when Nordic countries began to launch nationalization programs. As part of these programs, Saami children were often sent away to national schools, southern companies encroached on Saami industries, and reindeer herders were required to purchase the land they herded and lived on, although their regular travelling made it impossible to section off land in this way. All ten Saami languages were banned from schools. These restrictions were very similar to challenges faced by Indigenous peoples in the United States and Canada. In the 1980s, the Saami people began a campaign to reclaim their national identity and territory. They achieved national recognition by state governments including their own parliament, independent land ownership, and a national flag and anthem. Today, there are approx. 80,000 Saami living in both urbanized areas and in far-north villages.