My name is Julie. I am a mom, community organizer, and freelance Jane of This & That. I grew up in Minnesota and Washington State, in a large family (nine kids) that belonged to a religious sect called Laestadianism, after its 19th century Swedish Sámi founder. The roots of the sect and my own Sámi ancestry were suppressed and denied, for reasons I will explore in this blog.
I am now a settler in Seattle, on the traditional homelands of the Duwamish and the customary territories of the Suquamish and Muckleshoot, peoples who, like my ancestors, were relocated, dispossessed, and forcibly assimilated. I acknowledge that I am the beneficiary of those losses. This comes with deep grief and a responsibility to learn the history, redress wrongs where possible, and honor this land as they did.
As a child I was told our family was Swedish and Finnish. Two of my grandparents were first generation immigrants, and the other two second generation immigrants. We were related, it seemed, to just about every other large family in the sect, virtually all of them with Nordic surnames. The sermons were given in Finnish and English.
We had missionary preachers and visitors from “Lapland.” The “mother church” was in “Swedish Lapland.” At what time did I suspect that we may have roots there also? I can only remember that whenever I asked my parents, they dismissed it. We were Swedish and Finnish, full stop.
I left the sect at age 18 and for many years, did not look back, focusing on getting an education, making a living, and seeing the wide world which had been so demonized in my youth. Fast forward to marriage and kids. I began researching the history of Laestadianism.
My breakthrough came in January of 2012, after the film Suddenly Sámi (at the Seattle International Film Festival). Director Astrid Lundby’s struggle to learn about her past was instantly relatable. I decided to get my DNA tested as she had done. Initially, I was disappointed to learn that it could not tell me my ethnicity. But it did give me the names and emails of matches of many genetic cousins in Sweden and Finland, many who were able to populate the branches of my family tree. They confirmed what I suspected: Sámi ancestry (on both sides).
So the un-erasing, re-membering of my family history began. What a journey it has been! I found cousins and elders who opened their hearts and homes both here and in “the homeland,” where the land — its fauna, flora, waters, skies — feel as familiar as my own skin.
While Laestadianism has sadly adopted many of the attributes of the high-control state church that it originally resisted, I have come to see the sect as a complex reaction to colonialism. It remains in many ways a bulwark against modern society, market values, and individualism. I explore my own and others’ stories of leaving the sect here.
In 2012, with some local women seeking their Sámi roots, I cofounded Pacific Sámi Searvi (PSS). In 2018, Stina Cowan of the Nordic Museum and I curated, produced and promoted the first Sámi Film Festival in Seattle (now an annual event).
From 2018 to 2020, while I served as President, PSS attained 501(c)(3) status, doubled membership, hosted a Mari Boine concert, produced a cultural festival (NaNu NW). I wrote four successful grants for Sámi programming and offered monthly virtual Book Talks when Covid kept us isolated. It was a busy term.
I look forward to blogging again and working on design, writing, and editing projects.
If you have feedback or questions, please contact me. I’d love to chat!
Ollu giitu (many thanks) for reading.