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"Foreigners come here and want to see a shaman" – photo guide aims at an accurate image of the Sámi

The main political body representing Finland's Sámi people, the Sámi Parliament, has published a guide to using photographs in marketing in a manner that respects the realities of indigenous culture and individuals.

House of Lapland diŋgon rávvagat.
The cover of new guidelines on presenting the Sámi and Sámi culture in photographs. Image: House of Lapland rávvagat / Paadar Images

"We've seen that now and then photos of Sámi published in marketing campaigns or in blogs and such which don't show real traditional Sámi dress, just costumes that look something like Sámi dress. The Sámi have reacted to this and told people that it is unacceptable," explains the Speaker of the Sámi Parliament Tiina Sanila-Aikio.

The region's promotional marketing organization, House of Lapland, asked the Sámi Parliament for best practice guidelines on the Sámi in its own work and the work of the clients it advises. The company wanted guidance on how to use photos accurately, where to get the best ones, and what the basic principles of use should be.

In addition to cultural sensitivity, Sanila-Aikio believes that once aspect of the request is that marketing companies and businesses in the tourism sector don't want tourists to have a distorted picture of the Sámi people and be disappointed when they arrive in Lapland.

"I've heard, for example, that foreigners come here and want to see shamans, asking insistently for information about where to find the shaman they saw in an advertisement. When we tell them that there aren't any, they are very disappointed. This kind of disappointed tourist is sure not to pass on a good impression of our tourism industry. This has got to be the kind of thing that anyone working in marketing or tourism wants to pay attention to," says Sanila-Aikio.

Getting it right

The instructions that the Sámi Parliament has formulated are ethical guidelines, not legally binding.

CEO Sanna Tarssanen of House of Lapland, which is focused on boosting the region’s visibility and appeal both nationally and internationally, says that her organization intends to follow them.

"We at least will implement these guidelines. We produce photo material for general use and now we have guidance to follow when we do so. We also advise large international production companies coming to Lapland to film. Now we have concrete directions that we can give other operators and companies," says Tarssanen.

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