Last Tuesday, as part of their excellent event series in conjunction with the 8 Seasons in Sápmi exhibit, the Nordic Heritage Museum hosted a screening of Suddenly Sámi, the documentary by Ellen-Astri Lundby about her discovery of Sámi heritage. This was my second viewing, and almost as powerful as the first.
Lundby is a charming and deft storyteller. As she explores the heritage her mother kept from her, she brings us along to northern Norway, meeting with relatives and finding clues to her family’s past. With several parallels to my own experience of suppressed heritage, I found Lundby’s story profoundly moving. Her mother reminded me of my grandmother, her cousins of my uncles, the rural scenes, my former home, the Laestadian hymn, my childhood church. Even the fish boning and the carving of a carcass were familiar, having witnessed both many times as a child. But it was the unfamiliar reindeer corral scene that moved me to tears.
Pondering what it means to be Sámi, Lundby jokes that despite her people being Sea Sámi, and the fact that only 10 percent of Sámi herd reindeer, reindeer might make her feel more authentic. After a comedic scene of her wrestling with antlers, she is shown in a breathtaking longshot, standing alone in the middle of the spiraling herd in the snow. Beyond its stark beauty, the image seems symbolic of the ancestral search itself, which is not linear, but widens and narrows and circles in on itself, less like a tree than a whirlpool. Continue reading