"The Sami people (also Sámi or Saami), traditionally known in English as Lapps or Laplanders, are the indigenous Finno-Ugric people inhabiting the Arctic area of Sápmi, which today encompasses parts of far northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, the Kola Peninsula of Russia, and the border area between south and middle Sweden and Norway."
From Harold Barclay, People Without Government: An Anthropology of Anarchy:
Reindeer herding in the European sub-Arctic is in sharp contrast to the lanky Nuer pasturing his cattle in the torrid southern Sudan. Yet these peoples share not only pastoral life, but an individualistic world view and anarchic social structure as well. While the Samek have generally shown a remarkable tenacity in maintaining their unique culture in the face of centuries of intimate contact with Europeans, they have nevertheless modified their political and religious systems as a consequence of this contact. For 300 or more years it can be said that the Samek have been subject to the rule of one or the other of the Scandinavian or Russian states and they have likewise been subject to either Lutheran or Orthodox Christian churches. It is therefore somewhat difficult to reconstruct the more 'pristine', pre-contact social order of the Samek.
For one thing it is obvious that the Samek never had any overall political integration. They were a people divided among many small herding bands, each of which was an independent and autonomous entity. The band is still important among the Samek. Despite the fact that the Samek are a pastoral people, this basic social unit, the band, is similar to that which characterises most hunting-gathering people. Thus the Samek band consists of a few dozen people, most of whom are related to one another. This relationship is bilateral; it may be either through the father or the mother. Indeed, Samek kinship, like that of the Inuits and of Europeans, is quite non-lineal. Members of the band have use rights to a certain territory; thus, it could be said that the territory is the collective property of the group. Band members have the exclusive right to hunt and fish in the area and of paramount importance is the right to pasture their reindeer.
Band membership has a rather fluid character in that it is perfectly possible for one to withdraw from a group and seek membership in another. It seems that at one time the band was an exogamous group and thus engaged in the cementing of alliances with other similar groups through the exchange of women as wives.
Internal affairs are managed by what some writers have called a council. Since this body included in its membership the heads of every family, the term 'council' is in fact somewhat misleading in its connotation of formal organisation and delegation of power. Group decisions are actually the collective responsibility of the adult male population as a whole - a common feature of the other anarchic polities which we have encountered.
There is in addition a band leader. This is a position for life and is often hereditary, passing to the eldest son. But sometimes the leader might be selected by the group. It is even possible for a man to marry into a situation where he can eventually become leader because the present one is his father-in-law, who has no sons to succeed him. Ordinarily a leader should be wealthier than any of his colleagues. Band leaders are essentially chief herdsmen of the group in that their authority over other individuals encompasses their relationship to the reindeer herds. The band leader is then co-ordinator of the group's major economic activity. "It is he who determines which kin groups within the band shall furnish personnel for a herding expedition. It is he who sets migration dates, accepts or rejects an applicant for band membership, and directs herd movements. It is he who gives some continuity and stability to the loosely organised Lapp band since his successor is usually chosen from among his sons or sons-in-law. " Outside the sphere of herd management the role of the leader "is ambiguous and he is frequently overruled in group decisions" (Pehrson, 1077).
'Master of the band' is the literal translation of the Samek title and 'mistress of the band' is the equivalent term for the wife or mother of the band leader. She has a considerable amount of influence within the group. Indeed, Samek society like that of the Inuit, Ifugao or Dayak awards a much more equal position to women in general. Women inherit equally with men; they could transmit property the same as men; they participate fully in the economic activities of the group and male leadership of the band itself could be transmitted through a woman.
Another source of power in the Samek community in pre Christian times was the shaman. Details of Samek shamanism are not well known, but it seems safe to say that such individuals, being the most skilled in communicating with the supernatural, in curing illness and in divining future events, were ones to be listened to and respected. It is hard to believe that they did not sometimes seek to use their powers to enhance their own personal positions within a neighbourhood.
Modern times have been accompanied by the expansion of individual property (enlargement of herds, acquisition of modern technology such as snowmobiles, etc) and this has tended to increase the individualism within Samek society. At the same time the governments of Sweden, Norway, Finland and the Soviet Union have instituted formalised techniques to foster more direct control over Samek social affairs.