Laura Ricketts is a master crafter and teacher who has made a study of Sámi knitting patterns on her travels to Sápmi. I had the pleasure of taking one of her classes at the Nordic Museum’s annual knitting conference a few years ago. She generously agreed to give a talk for us Sámi diaspora a few days later, at the Swedish Club, bringing samples of mittens that were simply stunning.
The uptick in Covid cases in Washington state means most of us are back to donning masks indoors, avoiding crowds, and washing our hands extra long. Just when we were getting out and about! It doesn’t have to be this way. Please persuade your friends and relatives to consult their doctors about vaccines, not social media, and then boost their immunity (and yours) by thanking them and staying in touch. Community boosts immunity!
Our ancestors lost so many of their loved ones to smallpox, pertussis, cholera, tuberculosis, influenza, you name it. I made a list based on death records for my own family and it was hearbreaking. So many children! Let’s do all we can to protect our most vulnerable.
Some of the events are online only. Follow Seattle Sámi on Facebook for the most current info.
Sandra will help install the lodge’s Sámi flag, talk about her role in the Sámidiggi, work as a sea captain, and whatever else she would like to share. There will be time for Q&A (maybe we can persuade her to tell how her home town inspired the film Ofelaš/Pathfinder.) A relief to some of you, we will NOT be singing the anthem together (thanks, Covid). We will listen instead. But, there will be cake! Free. In person only. No need to register. Questions? Email JoAn Rudo at the Lodge.
The exhibit is excellent, and no doubt the talk by photographer Randall Hyman & curator Max Stevenson will be fascinating. Hyman has been around the world as a Nat Geo photog. That said, it’s unfortunate the only Sámi included are two dimensional. We can all help our Nordic institutions adhere to the principle of “nothing about us without us” by flexing our memberships. (Join up to speak up!) Free. Online (registration required) and in person.
Two friends active in the Sámerican community are among the Fulbright poets sharing their work. Both did their Fulbrights in Finland, and both are extraordinarily talented. Tim Frandy is also the father of a charming toddler, professor of folklore, and translator of Inari Sámi Folklore, the first polyvocal anthology of Sámi oral tradition ever published in English. Cheryl Fish is professor of English, an essayist (from whose work about Sámi artistic response to resource extraction I learned the term “elegiac ecojustice”) and poet whose recent book, The Sauna is Full of Maids, romps through Finnish sauna culture and friendship. Free. Online only (register at link).
Do you want to share an event? Feel free to contact me here.
“We steal from out descendants because we’ve forgotten our ancestors” is increasingly heard in discussions of climate collapse and adaptation. The myth of the bootstrapping, solitary individual has been a destructive one.
Five years ago, my dream of walking in my ancestors’ footsteps came true when my cousin Jeanette and I travelled through Sápmi. This video was taken around midnight, in my grandfather’s home village of Tärendö. (“Tear-in-two,” Mom called it. What I thought was Freudian for heartbreak turned out to be close to the local Meänkieli dialect.)
Grandpa was the last of his family to leave in 1903, so we didn’t expect to find any relatives in Tärendö. All ties to America came from other villages, where the family scattered long ago, so we were surprised when our hosts, Inge and Lasse (referred by a mutual friend) not only recognized our family surnames but shared a few of them.
Inge said, Heinonen? We are related, then!
Lasse drew a chart that showed how our great-grandfathers were cousins. Both men had changed their Sámi surnames to Swedish, hoping, perhaps, to keep old traumas from our shading our futures. (If only!)
Lasse gave me some papers from the Swedish government granting him permission to herd reindeer and own his earmark. When I tried to give them back, he said no, you take them. I’ve thought a lot about those papers, and the rights by which the state assumed its authority, and Lasse’s wry smile. So much to unpack.
But I want to tell you about this bridge. When it was under construction in 1938, they began by installing the arches. Before the roadway was laid down, an old lady from the village decided to cross. She was seen climbing up one of the arches, her tiny form doubled over, making progress one step after another. She clambered all the way up and over, and down the other side.
Maybe she was eager to see a friend on the other side?
“Now the kids do it for fun,” said Inge. Or maybe it was Lasse who told that story.
And maybe my leg was being pulled, in true Sámi fashion. But I prefer to think that the story is true, that the old lady was a relative — and that I inherited her pluck.
“Traveler, there is no path, but what you make by walking.”
As the first major city in the USA to achieve an 80 percent vaccination rate, Seattle is hosting a “Welcome Back” celebration with concerts and shopping incentives (and free vaccines) this weekend. The national vaccination rate is 48.6%, recently surpassed by Canada’s 50%.
Come on, people. Get vaccinated. Do it for the kids who can’t.
Seattle may have fewer vaccine skeptics and Covid deniers than some but we also have cruise ships in the harbor and long queues at SeaTac. Air travel has already exceeded pre-pandemic rates. The parks are packed. And the restaurants! Having grown used to the six-foot rule, anything less while I am eating is a bit unnerving.
Last month, my wanderlust hit hard, and I took a wonderful mini-vacation at Ravensong’s Roost in Mazama, where my Sámerican friend Carolyn has a cabin and a hiker’s hut. I got to watch her in action as a trail angel for young people hiking the PCT, and it was impressive. She knows more about how to stay alive in the woods than I knew there was to know. I collected pine needles for a basket. Having never done it before, I am learning a little with each failed attempt. (Pictured is Attempt #5. Maybe the twine is not ideal?)
I was really hoping to return to Carolyn’s this month, get some writing done, go for swims and hikes. Then came the weird weather, heat, lightning, fires. Highway 20 closed. The Cedar Creek fire grew and grew, and then hopped over the ridge to the valley floor. Have I been obsessively checking the satellite map? Yes, I have. The fire may or may not have taken the Roost by now; the lag time is several hours. I need to stop checking.
Please, let it rain.
I’ll try to satisfy my wanderlust vicariously. My heart hurts, thinking that I may never go back.
If you’ve spent any time in Seattle’s Nordic community, you will recognize many people (and horses) in this lovely video. Although gávttiid (plural form of gákti, North Sámi for traditional Sámi clothing) are not bunads or costumes, and differ significantly in origin and purpose, it’s great that Christine included themand noted their location. Most gávtiid in the video are worn by Sámi visitors; some worn by locals may need a pass akin to the “Ballard bunad,” which I’m told is the concession given by bunad police to nonconforming ensembles.
Bunads were inspired by 19th century Romanticism and Nationalism. Wearing beautifully crafted folk dress demonstrated pride in Norway’s independence, in one’s own region, and in the common citizen as a “nation builder.” Paradoxically these same urges stigmatized the gákti, which was associated with work not leisure, ethnic pride not national pride, and obstacles to nation building.
The proto-gákti — tunic, pants, shoes, and shoebands — originated centuries before as workwear, made of fur and leather. Increased trade brought wool, silk, silver, etc. initiating the variations we see today.
My hunch is that the gákti was feared as powerfully pagan, like the drum and joik (Sámi vocal music tradition) which the church had already banned. Like other duodji (craft), gákti design embodies a worldview that locates people in relation to one another and the cosmos, not the nation.
Every gákti — cut, color, pattern, embellishments — speaks volumes. An informed observer, even from a distance over a snowfield, may be able to ascertain an approaching person’s home area, gender, marital status, age, family, and even where they are headed.
Unlike the drum and joik, gákti remained in continuous use in some places, although for many families it is a broken tradition and not easy to restore. Certain elements were banned as sinful, e.g.: the ládjoghpir (a tall curving headdress thought to house the Devil), the color yellow (said to represent Beaivi, the goddess), and risku (brooches encouraging excess pride).
If you’d like to learn more about gákti, be sure to follow @astudesign on Instagram. Anna Stina Svakko is a master duojár (artisan) and born teacher whose talks highlight the many joyful aspects of her craft.
I am inclined to believe that Linneaus was made fun of . . .
It is a well known fact that informants might get tired of the anthropologist’s endless and sometimes in their eyes nonsensical, questions. They then can tell the unhappy researcher what comes to their mind to satisfy him and to amuse themselves. I am inclined to believe that Linnaeus, too, was made fun of, without him being aware of it. After having been in Tjåmotis on his way back to Luleå, he describes, among many other things, the way the Sami kill a reindeer. He then mentions all the useful slaughter products the animal supplies them with. In the end we read: “Everyone throws the testicles away. The penis serves to make a thong to draw the sledges.
Though no comment is given on this, either in the general text commentaries or in the ethnological commentary on Linnaeus’ diary published in 2003, I have my suspicions that Linnaeus here was fooled. Although he told Roberg that he had travelled by sledge, no traces of it are found in the diary. The harness for drawing sledges he saw himself and described, when he was in Lycksele, had a leather thong. Motraye, who did travel by sledge and describes both sledge and harness, never mentions such a thing, talking only about “a trace”/”un trait”. From a publication of Knud Leem from 1767 we know that this thong was made of a strap of cow skin or seal skin, well greased to make it supple.
Nellejet Zorgdrager in Linnaeus as Ethnographer of Sami Culture, TijdSchrift voor Skandinavistiek vol. 29 (2008)
I heard a lot of Finnish growing up, in church and at gatherings, and whenever Grandma talked to her Finnish friends. I can still say Good Girl, Bad Boy, Poopy Pants, Milk, Bread, Oatmeal, Scarf, God’s Peace, Forgive Me, Thank You, and What? At least I thought they were Finnish words. Now I’m not so sure. Since Grandma’s people were from Övertorneaå, they are more likely Meänkieli, or Tornedalen Finnish. Some of her ancestors spoke North Sámi and there are many loan words between the languages. I suspect any person with roots in the Torne valley is similarly mixed, although it seems in Sweden one is expected to choose which ancestors to acknowledge. That’s another tragic effect of colonialism, pitting people against one another.
Meänkieli is now one of the five minority languages of Sweden, largely due to the efforts of Bengt Pohjanen, prolific author, translator, agitator, and Orthodox priest. In 2016, after corresponding by email for several years, I met Bengt and his gracious wife Monika at their home for a memorable dinner (those Tornedalen potatoes!). He gave me this wonderful Meanmäa flag, which now flies from our porch on July 15th.
If I had a hundred lifetimes, I would devote myself to learning all of my ancestral languages.
All of them are minority languages: meänkieli, julevsámigiella (Lule Sámi), davvisámigella (North Sámi), karjalaižet (Karelian), suominkieli (Finnish), and walon, or whatever French the Walloons spoke in the 18th century.
It probably bears little relationship to the French I studied in college, which is still rudimentary despite marrying a fluent speaker. I studied Italian for a few months before our honeymoon, and Swedish before my big ancestral tour, but little was retained. Most recently I took a North Sámi class, and it was more challenging than all the others combined. It will take a lot of effort and even more courage to reclaim it.
In a radio interview last year, I introduced myself in North Sámi, which I usually do when giving talks in our community. Buton Sámi radio? What was I thinking? Please edit this, I begged immediately afterward. I’m going to look like an idiot. My interviewer (the very genial and professional Tobias Poggats) assured me all was fine, and I decided that my distress was, in fact, good stress. To speak the words my ancestors were punished for speaking is a triumph. They are cheering me on. Good stress. (I’ve pasted the transcript below).
Of the many good reasons to preserve languages, the individual benefits are usually emphasized (the continuity of language in minority communities has been linked, for example, to better health and fewer suicides). But there are universal benefits:
Just as ecosystems provide a wealth of services for humanity – some known, others unacknowledged or yet to be discovered – languages, too, are ripe with possibility. They contain an accumulated body of knowledge . . . geography, zoology, mathematics, navigation, astronomy, pharmacology, botany, meteorology and more. In the case of Cherokee, that language was born of thousands of years spent inhabiting the southern Appalachia Mountains. Cherokee words exist for every last berry, stem, frond, and toadstool in the region, and those names also convey what kind of properties that object might have – whether it’s edible, poisonous, or has some medicinal value. — David Harrison, When Languages Die
Here is a rough translation of my interview.
Sami association in the USA is revitalizing Sámi culture
mu namma lea Julie Whitehorn ja mon lean davvi-minnesotas eret . . . (my name is Julie Whitehorn and I am from Minnesota . . . )
That’s how Sámi cultural revitalization on the other side of the ocean can sound. The Sámi association Pacific Sámi Searvvi in the USA has about a hundred members and the head of the association Julie Whitehorn tells us who she is and that she’s learning Sámi through the internet:
. . . this is me trying to learn Sámi online via the computer. It's difficult because in Seattle we don't have any language resources, but we want to change that.
The association she leads wants to revitalize the Sámi culture for Sámi in America.
Sámis have been traveling across borders for a long time. There are stories and pictures of Sámi who have crossed the Atlantic to America during recent centuries. Julie is a descendant of Sámi from Gällivare / Jokkmokk. When she was young she was a part of the Laestadian church in America, and she often heard about the place where Laestadius came from. As an adult she visited and wondered why her relatives left such a beautiful place.
There's a lot of healing that can happen. I have met so many people who discovered their roots as adults, who feel that they are taking back something that was stolen from them. Because it was stolen, from all of us.
Julie Whitehorn says that some are still questioning their Sámi identity while other are wanting to live a Sámi life where they are. She says the association would like to have more contact with Sámi and create connections between Sámi in different countries.
. . . seamme mearra, eara gatti, and I apologize if that's not entirely correct, but I mean to say same sea, different shore.