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Lapland

Lapland (lăpˈlăndˌ) [key], Finn. Lappi, Nor. Lapland, Swed. Lappland, vast region of N Europe, largely within the Arctic Circle. It includes the Norwegian provinces of Finnmark and Troms and part of Nordland; the Swedish historic province of Lappland; N Finland; and the Kola Peninsula of Russia. Swedish Lappland is now included in Norrbotten and Västerbotten counties.

Lapland is mountainous in N Norway and Sweden, reaching its highest point (6,965 ft/2,123 m) in Kebnekaise (Sweden), and consists largely of tundra in the northeast. There are also extensive forests and many lakes and rivers. The climate is arctic and the vegetation is generally sparse, except in the forested southern zone. Lapland is very rich in mineral resources, particularly in high-grade iron ore at Gällivare and Kiruna (Sweden), in copper at Sulitjelma (Norway), and in nickel and apatite in Russia. Kirkenes and Narvik (both in Norway) are the chief maritime outlets for Scandinavian Lapland, and Murmansk is the port for Russian Lapland. The region abounds in sea and river fisheries and in aquatic and land fowl. Reindeer are essential to the economy; there is a growing tourist industry in the region.

The Sami, formerly known as Lapps or Laplanders, who constitute the indigenous population, number from about 80,000 to 100,000. The largest concentration of Sami are found in Norway (about 50,000), where formerly they were called Finns (hence the province name Finnmark). Sami institutions in Norway include a parliament (est. 1989) in Karasjok, which advises the federal parliament on Sami concerns, and the anthropological Nordic Sami Institute in Kautokeino. There are also Sami parliaments in Sweden and Finland, and the international Sami Council works to protect the rights of Sami throughout Lapland. The Sami speak a Finno-Ugric language, also called Sami and divided into three broad regional dialects, but only about 30,000 are Sami speakers. The Sami once led a largely nomadic life, but now only about a tenth raise and follow the reindeer herds, wintering in the lowlands and summering in the western mountains. Their movements today are more restricted than in former times. Other Sami are sea and river fishermen and hunters or work in other fields.

Little is known of their early history, and they have proved to have no genetic resemblance to any other peoples. It is believed that they came from central Asia and were pushed to the northern extremity of Europe by the migrations of the Finns, Goths, and Slavs. They may have assumed their Finnic language in the last millennium B.C. Though mainly conquered by Sweden and Norway in the Middle Ages, the Sami long resisted Christianization, which was completed only in the 18th cent. by Russian and Scandinavian missionaries, and elements of their traditional shamanism survived despite being banned.

See V. Stalder, Lapland (1971) and N.-A. Valkeapaa, Greetings from Lappland: The Sami—Europe's Forgotten People (1983).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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