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.

By Josephine Price
photographs by Josephine Price
Published 26 Nov 2019, 05:42 GMT
Oskal Homestead
Saltfjellet–Svartisen National Park is just inside the Arctic Circle. The topography of this region is diverse, from high mountain and glaciers to alpine meadowland.
Photograph 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 film – coming to Disney+ on July 3rd – 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.)

Angel, the Oskal family's favourite reindeer, at their homestead in Saltfjellet, Northern Norway
Photograph by Josephine Price

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. 

The Oskal sisters, Elin (left) and Anne wearing the Gákti, or traditional Sami clothing. Used for both ceremonial purposes and herding, the dress is practical and warm, and was often made from reindeer skin or pelt as well as woollen and ornamental effects.
Photograph by Josephine Price

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.

Reindeer herds are the gravitation point for the traditionally nomadic Sami, who are spread across northern Norway, Sweden and Finland in the multi-national region of Lapland.
Photograph by Josephine Price

“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.

A gamme, a traditional residence for the Sami. The structure is typically formed of domed wooden shafts then covered in turf or peat moss.
Photograph by Josephine Price

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 for more information. See more Frozen II locations here

Start streaming Frozen II from 3rd July on Disney+

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Located near Saltfjellet-Svartisen National Park, the Oskals live amidst birch woodland close to the Arctic circle.
Photograph by Josephine Price

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