Standing Rock

standingrocktriopicwithflagLast November, I traveled to Standing Rock with my son and a friend, bringing a letter of solidarity from Sámi-Americans and a station wagon stuffed with donated cold weather supplies. We planned to stay a week, make supply runs to Bismark, and help serve Thanksgiving Dinner in the camp, which had grown to 2,000 people (it would swell to 10,000 in December). My son and I would also make a side trip to East Rainy Butte, where my Swedish-Sàmi grandfather once ran a cattle ranch. The drive from Seattle to Cannonball was 19 hours through some of the most beautiful country on earth.

Letter of Solidarity (pdf)

At the entrance to Oceti Sakowin, two solemn young men serving as sentries asked if we were visiting or staying. When we explained our mission, they smiled and said warmly, “welcome home.”  A stately parade of flags snapped in the wind we entered camp, described as the largest gathering of Indigenous tribes ever recorded. Tears sprang to my eyes at the thought, and for the duration of our visit, would never be far away.

“Do you know the professor?” asked the sentry at the media tent, where anyone who wished to take photos had to apply for a pass. “He’s Sàmi.” To my surprise, not once did I need to explain the Sàmi at camp, thanks to Sara Gaup, Sofia Jannok and many others who had visited earlier. (Sámi advocacy would prove instrumental in persuading Norwegian and Swedish banks to divest from the pipeline.)

“Perhaps,” I said, wondering who the professor might be.

Inside the tent, in beautiful gakti and fur hat, was a man who smiled as he scanned our solidarity letter, recognizing some of the names. He introduced himself as Øyvind Ravna, a visiting law professor from Trømso. We saw each other again at the sacred fire a few times, but it was via Facebook that I learned Øyvind spent the awful night of November 20 on the bridge, documenting the abuse of peaceful water protectors via water cannons, teargas, and explosives — while I was holed up with my group at the nearby casino hotel, offering refuge, showers, and snacks to the injured.

One of the injured was a medic from Seattle named Victory, who consented to an interview by iPhone.

I encourage you to read Øyvind’s excellent first-hand account and legal analysis.

Sofia Jannok and Sámi Solidarity

I’m honored to publish this guest post by my cousin Linsey, whose big heart shines through her writing. We met earlier this year through a DNA match, and I was able to share the suppressed history of our immigrant forebears in Swedish Lapland, whose suffering and resiliency gave rise to our own lives. I hope you’ll read to the end, and leave a comment. — Julie

Guest post written by Linsey Schad with photos by Jeff Schad Imagery

Earlier this summer I had the most amazing pleasure of seeing Sámi artist and musician Sofia Jannok speak and perform while she was here in Minnesota. To say that it was an incredible experience cuts it short. To say that it was eye-opening and emotionally charged is getting a little bit closer. To say that it was a crazy-intense-spiritual reawakening? Well, that hits the nail square on the head! It was absolutely inspiring to see a woman today so fully living her essence and purpose in the stewardship of her people, her land, its resources, and herself. She is a protector of our Mother Earth. We need more people like her.

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I went into the three days with Sofia wanting to connect more to my own Sámi roots and ancestry. The first event I attended was a panel discussion on Indigenous issues at Gustavus Adolphus College, where she was this year’s Artist in Residence. Going in, I was familiar with how the Sámi people have been treated throughout history, but as I listened and learned, I found myself increasingly aware of just how much injustice is actually taking place TODAY, and what the Sámi people are dealing with right now, as we speak, where our ancestors came from. My heart still hurts remembering Sofia say in tears that she just wants to live and to know her people will remain, not to have to raise her fist to fight, or even to have to take part in panels, but to just be allowed to live free the way she and her people know is right for them. She spoke not about the past but about vandalism, mistreatment, and many suicides that are occurring RIGHT NOW.

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Photo credit: Jeff Schad Imagery

 

“Everything is told as if we were not here. My mission, my purpose, my message as an artist is not to cry over lost times, lost land, and lost rights but getting everyone to get it: we are still here!” Sofia Jannok

The next two nights were absolutely magical seeing Sofia perform, first at Gustavus and then at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis. Words cannot describe the pure energy and emotion that comes through her music. It was more than music; it was a meditation, a prayer, and a healing balm for my soul. I can only hope that it was this powerful for others. Hearing it live was like hearing the Earth herself sing! Regardless of language, the feelings and energy that comes through are universal. I was also struck by the integrity Sofia displayed in choosing to share the concert at Gustavus with Lyz Jaakola, an Ojibwe-Anishinaabe musician, expressing the importance for the local Indigenous voice to be heard too. This was such an exemplary, selfless action, and all too rare in a world where no one wants to share the spotlight. She fully embodies what a role model today should be. How we all should be.

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After the magnitude of these events settled in and I began to write this blog post, I felt that just relaying my own experience was not enough. The seriousness of the Sámi peoples current issues hit me hard and I began researching. I reached out to Sofia with some questions and she kindly responded. The main question: how can those of us here who find out we have Sámi ancestry, actively give help to the Sámi people living today? Here is what I learned (naturally these are my personal reactions to information received from Sofia).

  • There is a HUGE lack of knowledge about the Sámi. The children are not taught about them, the universities don’t speak of them, and most of the population know very little about them. The dominant powers there have singled them out to be exploitatively erased because of a need for their resources and their land and because of this their story is seldom told. When there is no open knowledge about a culture it breeds racism. I have been shocked to see this blatant racism portrayed in contemporary fiction from the region and I can only imagine this representation is close to the truth. It’s sad to find such a dark side to Sweden, considering it’s supposed to be the most democratic nation in the world.
  • The Sámi people are not being honored respectfully and equally. Racism and systematic oppression set the stage for objectification and exoticification. As this happens a detrimental loop of exploitation begins and the sacred pieces of Sámi culture, their clothing, jewelry, music, buildings, and traditions have been hijacked and turned into commodities. They have been stolen for tourism or novelty and are used rather than revered. For centuries the Sámi have been made to be “tourist attractions” and Sofia explained that this is still very much reality today. True honoring of a culture comes not from a place of ego or economy but from genuine humanistic compassion. Instead of using their clothing or customs, we can learn their real story, who they are and ask them in what ways they’d like to be honored.
  • The politics and mining are destroying the land forever. Due to the rich resources Sápmi contains and the large amounts of money they translates into, the mining industry is allowed to continue expanding and destroying the beautiful native grazing lands forever. I was amazed to learn that the entire town of Kiruna is moving in order to accommodate the mines expansion there. This is an area the Sámi have all ready been forced to move away from for generations and the same company has two more mines planned in the near area. Another is planned for Laver and the Sámi community there is asking for help. Recently a wind power park opened up making the grazing land there inaccessible. Across the entire region these things are happening and this is all done despite protesting and without their permission. The dominant powers are methodically destroying their land for money and disallowing this ancient culture from continuing it’s way of life. In my reality, that constitutes a crime against humanity and a rape of our beautiful planet. This is everyone’s problem.
  • The Sámi people need to be able to share their point of view. Just like here in the US, the media is skewed in Sweden and fails to give appropriate voice to the region’s indigenous population. Sofia expressed that social media and music are ways for her to get the untold story out, completely uncensored. She shared some websites that are also working to operate from a true Sámi perspective:

www.samer.se
www.sr.se/sameradion
www.saminuorra.org
 www.sametinget.se

We can follow and support Sofia Jannok and her Árvas Foundation: www.sofiajannok.com facebook.com/sofiajannok
www.youtube.com/user/sofiajannok
www.instagram.com/sofiajannok
www.arvasfoundation.com

And follow amazing photography and stories from:
www.instagram.com/cjutsi
www.instagram.com/annamariafjellstrom

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So, how does this translate for us North Americans with Sàmi heritage ? I’m not exactly sure yet but there are many ways we can act, both collectively as a community and individually. Armed with knowledge, we can effectively shape how we honor, relate to, and relay the story of our ancestors while finding ways to lend support in protecting the land, way of life and culture. Maybe we can assist those who are finding ways to bring Sámi art and music here. Maybe we can search for new methods to get their stories out and told in a true way so they are no longer the only ones to carry it. We can follow and support Sámi people online and positively connect through direct interactions. We can work to help our planet Earth, the environment, the endangered Arctic region, and climate change in general. We can learn about and help our local Indigenous communities, remembering just how we came to occupy this land. We can teach our children to actively listen to others and with empathy.

If we REALLY put ourselves in another’s shoes, trying to understand them not from our own perspective but from THEIRS, only compassion and love can remain. All of these things will help.

What do you think?

— Linsey

A Big Bloody Hole With a Backhoe

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Sofia Jannock (left) and Lovisa Negga (right)

“Someone will make a big bloody hole with a backhoe in what we love, which is forever beyond repair. I get so angry.” Lovisa Negga

Two powerful Sámi artists are raising their voices against the mining near Jokkmokk.

On Friday, Lovisa Negga will take to the stage in Stockholm and dedicate Mihá Ja Gievrra, which means Proud and Strong, to the protest. The song (the title track to her new album) is sung in Lule Sámi, my ancestral tongue, which I find (not surprisingly) very beautiful. Negga says it is “a peaceful struggle song” that can “strengthen me and other people when things feel a bit hopeless.”

You whisper loudly
Everybody hears it
Shout it out, you are proud and strong
Whisper loudly
Let everybody know
Speak from your heart, proud and strong

The world is still generous
The power is heartless
You feel insignificant but will last forever
The one who dares say something
Will defend the mute
So use your voice, and free us all

Sofia Jannock’s new music video for her song Áhpi-Wide as Oceans includes images from the protests in Kallak interspersed with images from the Alta demonstrations of the 70’s and 80’s.

“The events in Kallak becomes a symbol of the exploitation of Sápmi . . . I wanted to get  the historical picture. These are issues that affect people personally, in everyday life, so it feels good to take them everywhere. Not just on the news pages.”

Read more in this article for SVT  (in Swedish). If you haven’t already, please sign the STOP MINING IN JOKKMOKK petition here.

You can find previous releases of Negga’s music here and Jannok’s music here (Amazon).

Another remarkable voice is Maxida Märak with the Downhill Bluegrass Band. Here she is with a cover of Steve Earle’s The Mountain:

Solidarity with Gállok

IMG_9997KallokOn August 12th, several of us gathered at the Swedish Club in Seattle for dinner and a photoshoot to demonstrate solidarity with Kamp Kallak, the group protesting the mining project in northern Sweden. Kallak is the Swedish word for the area; in Sámi it is Gállok. The mine site is near Jokkmokk, famous for its annual wintermarket, a 400+-year old tradition that has a special place in my heart, as my eighth great-grandfather Igor Ivanoff (1620-1680) is said to have traded at the first market.

Our special guest from Jokkmokk was May-Britt Öhman, resplendent in her Lule Sámi gakti at left. A dam safety researcher, May-Britt was in Seattle for a conference and gave us the nitty-gritty on the situation in Gállok, particularly the risk to the Lule River dams and water safety in the entire watershed. She encouraged our advocacy. Later we dined at a seafood restaurant on the waterfront, pounding tiny crustaceans with tiny hammers, feeling far away from the barricades yet nonetheless, united in passion.

Please sign the STOP MINING IN JOKKMOKK petition here.

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PSS Supports Idle No More

SamiSearviIDM

From left to right: Kjirsten Winters, Lynn Gleason, Sara Linde, Ivan Winters, Julie Whitehorn, Maia Whitehorn, Kai Johnson, Renee Timmer, Espen Storfjell, Troy Storfjell. Photo by James Winters.

After a discussion, web poll, and call-out to members, some of us gathered in Tacoma today to show support for Idle No More. Soon after, the photo above was posted on Facebook with our statement:

We, the members of Pacific Sámi Searvi (Sámi Americans in the Pacific Northwest) stand together with our Sámi brothers and sisters in solidarity with the Idle No More movement.

Within three hours, the photo was “liked” over 900 times and shared over 200 times. Wow.

Among the Facebook comments was a not-unexpected question: What is a Sami?

PSS member and PLU Professor Troy Storfjell answered:

“The Sámi are the Indigenous people of northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola Peninsula of Russia, sometimes referred to as ‘Lapps’ or ‘Laplanders.’ There are 9 Sámi languages. Although reindeer herding is the most well-known Sámi livelihood, fishing, hunting and small-scale farming and sheep-raising are also traditional ways of life. Sámi participated in the co-founding of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples in the 1970s, and participate in a number of global Indigenous forums and organizations today.”

Indigenous and non-indigenous people around the world are uniting to support the goals of Idle No More. The Sámi Parliament issued a statement of support on January 11th, as reported here earlier, joining a river of other voices. Why the surge of international support?

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Sámi Solidarity with “Idle No More”

Today, Sámi Parliament President Egil Olli expressed solidarity with Idle No More, the ongoing protest movement originating among the Aboriginal peoples in Canada and comprising the First Nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples, and their non-Aboriginal supporters in Canada and internationally.

“I want from Sámediggi side to express our support and sympathy to the indigenous struggle in Canada. In particular, I wish to express my concern for the health of Chief Theresa Spence of the Attawapiskat nation, which now close to a month, went on hunger strike in protest against the narrow social and economic plight of Canada’s indigenous people live. I see it as natural that this will be one of the topics I will take up when I meet Canada’s Minister of Health in the Arctic Council 20 January.”

Yesterday the Church of Norway, including the Sámi Church Council, expressed solidarity.

The movement was launched in October, 2012 by four women (Nina Wilson, Sylvia McAdam, Jessica Gordon, and Sheelah McLean). On December 11, 2012, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence began a fast, requesting a face-to-face meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Governor General Stephen Johnston (the Queen’s representative) to discuss broken treaties and protection of natural resources.

While Stephen Harper has agreed to meet with Chief Spence, Stephen Johnston has denied her request.

Meanwhile, protests, drum circles, and fasts continue around the world in support of the movement. An interactive map of Idle No More events can be found here.

Learn more about Idle No More at this informative blog by Toronto journalist and Sami-American Krystalline Kraus (who many of us had the pleasure of meeting in Minnesota last summer at the 2012 Siidastallan).

Sàmi Healer Faces Prison After Receiving Cactus in Mail

Urbi “Jungle” Svonni of Giron

This is a compelling article about a Sàmi healer who is facing jail time in Sweden after receiving (an entirely legal) cactus plant in the mail.

Indigenous Healer Faces Prison After Receiving Cactus in Mail | Alternet.

Just as the Swedish government hunted, and often put to death, the so-called ‘witches’ that practiced their age-old natural healing methods when they took over Sapmi, they now want to crush any resurgence of indigenous practices. This case is also part of a broader worldwide movement to suppress plant medicines and traditional healing techniques. Some people believe these techniques often perform better than the products of the multi-billion-dollar pharmaceutical industry, which spends millions donating to political election campaigns across the globe.

You can sign a petition protesting the Swedish government’s actions here.