Nuohtti contains 30,000 documents and photos from the Sámi area gathered from 32 European archives, libraries, and museums. The service responds especially to the need and right of the Sámi to get information about themselves and their people. Launched in February, the service has been developed by a multidisciplinary Nordic project led by the Faculty of Art and Design at the University of Lapland.

For roughly 400 years, archive material on Sámi cultural heritage has been created by officials, scientists, explorers, and missionaries from all over Europe when visiting or working in the Sámi area. Up until now, this material has been scattered in archives around Europe. A large amount of this archive material is now digitally available through the Nuohtti service. In collaboration with the universities of Oulu and Umeå and the Sámi Archives of Finland and Norway, the service has been developed by a multidisciplinary Nordic project led by the Faculty of Art and Design at the University of Lapland.

"We started developing the service at the request of the two Sámi Archives in order to provide easier access to material residing in different parts of Europe. In particular, we intended to create a service that enables Sámi people to get information about their cultural heritage and brings it back to them in a digital format," says Jonna Häkkilä, professor of industrial design and the leader of the project from the Faculty of Art and Design at the University of Lapland.

Following an extensive feat of mapping and development, Nuohtti now provides access to roughly 30,000 digitised documents and photos from the Sámi area collected from 32 European archives, libraries, and museums. Among other things, you can use Nuohtti to search photos taken by private persons and officials, ethnographic reports, Sámi missionaries' diaries, Lapp taxmen's diaries, and court documents. The service is available in five languages: Northern Sámi, English, Finnish, Swedish, and Norwegian. Indeed, the archives can now be searched using Northern Sámi as well.

"In terms of technology, the database can also be expanded and more archive material can be imported, for instance, as soon as it gets digitised by the European memory institutions. The technology also enables the inclusion of other Sámi language versions, provided that funding can be arranged," Häkkilä notes.

The outcome of multidisciplinary collaboration

According to Professor Jonna Häkkilä, the University of Lapland as a northern and Arctic actor has a special responsibility to support the fostering and preservation of our northern indigenous people's cultural heritage. Developing a multidisciplinary and international service such as Nuohtti requires large investment, for which a single archive does not have sufficient resources.

"In situations like this, a university can gather various actors to a joint venture, whereby the basis is broader and the chances to get funding are better. A multidisciplinary project, in this case Nuohtti, also requires extensive expertise in areas such as technology, user-centred design, usability, archives, Sámi culture, cultural history, and ethical issues. I am glad that the University of Lapland had enough experience and expertise to complete a venture of this magnitude and that the collaboration between the participants went so well," Häkkilä says.

In constructing the Nuohtti service, the expertise of the partaking organisations united into a multidisciplinary whole that was driven forward by twenty or so persons at three universities and two Sámi archives.

First, the Sámi Archives mapped the European memory institutions that possess material related to Sámi cultural heritage and whether the material has been digitised. Meanwhile, the universities of Lapland and Umeå deliberated over the concept of the new service, its customer requirements, and its user interface. The University of Oulu, for its part, had a tech team that was in charge of developing the interfaces between the archives and Nuohtti and programming the user interface.

Furthermore, the University of Lapland organised the creation of ethical guidelines and the collection of user feedback by arranging prototype testing sessions at five libraries in Finnish Lapland and at the schools of Kilpisjärvi and Vuotso. The Finnish, Swedish, and Norwegian Sámi Parliaments appointed their representatives to the steering group, in which they were actively involved throughout the project.

"We worked hard to make Nuohtti flawless and user-friendly. We wanted to create a so-called one-gate user interface through which you can search material from different archives with a single keyword. In addition, you can search material by selecting areas on the map or a desired time period on a timeline," Professor Häkkilä notes.

Ethical guidelines as part of the service

The material in the European archives has largely been created and collected by persons outside the Sámi community. Nuohtti has jointly-established ethical guidelines that users are expected to follow. The creation of the guidelines was led by Iiris Kestilä, a doctoral researcher in the Faculty of Law at the University of Lapland.

"We also aimed to make the ethical guidelines user-friendly. They are integrated into the service and can be found on the front page. Guidelines of this type are often rather long, and people may avoid reading them. We therefore chose to make cartoon-type guidelines. In addition, Nuohtti has a quiz for testing your knowledge of how to use material that belongs to indigenous peoples' cultural heritage," Häkkilä says.

Häkkilä thinks that the ethical guidelines may also apply elsewhere and that they can be utilised in corresponding cases.

The national archives of Norway, Sweden, and Finland and the Sámi archives of Norway and Finland are in charge of the Nuohtti digital service. It is open to everyone interested in Sámi history and culture. Above all, the service offers Sámi people an opportunity to delve deeper into historical material concerning their own culture.

Nuohtti has been developed as part of the Nordic Digital Access to the Sámi Heritage Archives project in 2018–2021. The project was led by the University of Lapland and it was carried out in collaboration with the Sámi Archives (Inari) of the National Archives of Finland, the Sámi Archives of Norway (Kautokeino), the University of Oulu, and Umeå University. The project was funded by the Interreg Nord Programme of the European Union.

Further information:

Professor Jonna Häkkilä, phone +358 40 484 4203, Jonna.Häkkilä
Nuohtti service:

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