Viktoria Almgren holds a pair of shoes made from reindeer hide and handcrafted by a Sami person. These shoes are just one example of the items on display in a special exhibit currently at the Vasa Order of America National Archives, located at Bishop Hill, Ill. The display is on loan from Sweden, and at the end of June, it will go to the Swedish American Museum in Chicago.
Viktoria Almgren holds a pair of shoes made from reindeer hide and handcrafted by a Sami person. These shoes are just one example of the items on display in a special exhibit currently at the Vasa Order of America National Archives, located at Bishop Hill, Ill. The display is on loan from Sweden, and at the end of June, it will go to the Swedish American Museum in Chicago.

BISHOP HILL, Ill. — An exhibit featuring the Sami people gives visitors a glimpse into the life of this culture that is based on herding reindeer, hunting and fishing.

The “Eight Seasons in Sapmi, The Land of the Sami People” exhibit currently is on display at the Vasa Order of America National Archives Inc., located at Bishop Hill.

“Bringing this exhibit here is the brainchild of Viktoria,” said Rolf Bergman, president of the archives.

“I wanted to display this exhibit because I think it is very important to provide information about the Sami people,” noted Viktoria Almgren, archivist for the archives. “They are nomadic people, and their major work is to herd reindeer from colder to warmer areas, depending on the seasons.”

The oldest traces of the Sami culture are 8,000 years old.

“In the old days, they lived in tents, but now they use helicopters and snowmobiles,” Almgren said. “The exhibit includes videos of what happens today.”

Bergman, who was born in Sweden and immigrated with his family to the U.S. when he was 10 years old, remembers watching the Sami people come down with their reindeer herds to the coast.

“They move when the rivers are frozen, and at that time, they used skis or snowshoes,” he said. “Then they go back before the rivers thaw, and each group had 1,000 or more reindeer.”

Part of the Sami’s livelihood includes selling handcrafted items from the reindeer, as well as selling the meat from the animals.

The Sami exhibit is divided into the four vivid colors of the culture — red, yellow, blue and green.

It was developed by Ajtte, the Swedish Mountain and Sami Museum, and the Sami Duodji, the Sami Handicraft Foundation, which are both located in Jokkmokk, Sw eden. The exhibit features numerous photos taken by Birgitte Aarestrup, who lived with the Sami for a year.

In addition to the photos, the exhibit includes traditional Sami costumes, items made from roots of birch trees, leather items from the reindeer and reindeer antlers. There are examples of toys, scarves and belts that are part of the costume and a drum.

“At the end of June, this exhibit will be going to the Swedish American Museum in Chicago,” the archivist said.

Another reason Almgren brought the Sami exhibit to Bishop Hill is she wants everyone to know that the archives are for everyone to use.

The mission of the VOA National Archives is to collect, preserve and display artifacts, historical records and genealogical information of VOA lodges and their members. In addition, the archives also collect, preserve and display information relative to Swedish American people.

“The archives are at Bishop Hill because from a Swedish perspective, this is the beginning of Swedish immigration, when 400 people came here in 1846,” Bergman explained. “There is a collection of 1,600 audiotapes of interviews of Swedish immigrants.”

In addition, Almgren said, the national archives are available for people who are interested in genealogical research.

“We help people with their genealogy, and people come here to do research for books or students who are doing research for projects,” she added. “We are preparing for the future by making sure documents don’t get destroyed.”

The Vasa Order of America is a Swedish American Fraternal organization that originally was organized in 1896 in Connecticut, and it spread throughout the U.S., Canada and Sweden.

“It started as a structure for immigrant Swedes to support them with health and funeral benefits,” Bergman explained. “The Vasa Order has a lodge structure with three layers — local lodges, district lodges and the Grand Lodge.”

He joined a local Vasa lodge in 1982 and held offices at all three levels, including the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge from 2006 to 2010.

“It is the tradition for the most recent past Grand Master to become the president of the National Archives, so I’ve been the president for the past three years,” he noted.

“The Vasa Order is not so much a financial benefit organization today,” he added. “We are involved with promoting Swedish culture and heritage through civic events and however we can.”

The peak membership of the Vasa Order occurred in 1929, Bergman reported.

“It never recovered from the recession,” he said.

Until recently, the Vasa Order was only open to Swedish decedents and their spouses.

“In 2006, we opened the membership to anyone interested in joining,” Berman said. “However, many of our lodges have a lot of older members because today’s Swedish immigrants speak English, so they don’t see a need to be a member.”

In addition to promoting Swedish heritage, the Vasa Order also provides college scholarships to members and hosts children’s and youth clubs to help young people understand their Scandinavian heritage.

For more information about the Vasa Order of America, visit www. vasaorder.com. Information about National Historic Landmark, Bishop Hill and events scheduled for the year are available at www.bishophill.org.