Photo story: meeting the Oskal Sámi family of northern Norway

The Sámi people — the population of nomadic reindeer herders — live in northern Scandinavia, spending their time with their fantastical beasts. We meet one family to discover their unique culture.Tuesday, 26 November 2019

By Josephine Price
Photographs By Josephine Price

In Frozen II, the iconic sisters venture into an enchanted forest to find out about their past. Here, they meet the fictional people of Northuldra (based on the Sámi population) and their reindeer herd. On a journey to visit the locations that inspired the new Disney release, we headed to the Arctic Circle to meet two Sámi sisters Elin and Anne Oskal and their beloved reindeer, Angel. 

(The Walt Disney Company is majority owner of National Geographic Partners.)

What’s your relationship with reindeer like? 

Elin: A Sámi once told me it’s as though we look after the reindeer during their life and then, in exchange, the reindeer look after you at the end of their life. We’re protected from wild animals and, in turn, we protect them from danger. We show them food in summer and then, in winter, when the mountains are sparse, we buy them food. In return, they give us clothing, put food on the table and more. 

How long do they live?

Elin: They can reach up to 15 years of age if they’re in good health — but a lot of them get eaten by eagles, wolverines or bears. Eagles can snatch reindeer calves when they’re newly born. They’re very strong animals; one took my sister’s dog this summer.  

What defines your culture as Sámi people? 

Anne: Our culture, I’d have to say, is based around the reindeer. It’s our food, clothing, language and everything. I think the reason we still have our Sámi language is because of the reindeer herders who travel from place to place. We have different Sámi languages — some are so different from one another that we can’t speak Sámi to each other. But when it comes to the reindeer, the words are the same. There’s a saying in Sámi that we have home in our hearts, and it travels with us — but it’s really more like our home is with the reindeer, and we travel with them.

“It’s as though we look after the reindeer during their life and then, in exchange, the reindeer look after you at the end of their life.”

Elin Oskal

 How smart are reindeer?

Elin: They’re smart, although not in the way a dog would be. They wouldn’t understand if I said ‘sit’ or ‘go back’ — but I’ve learned so much from them. I see their mood swings; I see when they’re happy. I used to just see reindeer as, well, reindeer, but now I know each of them is very different.

What’s your living situation like?

Elin: We live in groups that we call siida: my family makes up one siida; my cousin, his wife and his children are another siida. We’re one people and one district, but divided into siidas.

Anne: In winter, we split up into different areas so that the reindeer can be protected. The people in one siida are like colleagues. In winter we’re all in siidas, and then in summertime the reindeer all get together again — so we all get together again.

The Oskal family invite guests in to try local fare, visit their homestead and meet the reindeer. To follow in our footsteps, email amkoskal@gmail.com for more information. See more Frozen II locations here

Frozen II is out now.

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