One of the most rewarding aspects of expanding awareness of Sámi culture is helping friends refine English versions of their Sámi texts.
Ville is a joy to work with.
In addition to his resonant voice and righteous saxophone, he is blessed with a wry poetic sensibility. I love his humor. On this song, he collaborated with several phenomenal artists: Hildá Länsman (joik, vocals), Jan Ole Kristensen (guitar), Svein Schultz (bass), and Gunnar Augland (drums).
A thought: if it’s true that art can help subvert our dominant, destructive paradigm of endless economic growth, maybe there is also a case to be made for translating art. Particularly poetry from indigenous languages.
Poetic language, like holistic epistemologies, is often elusive, elliptical, prismatic, labile, contextual, and subversive. It resists a single meaning. At its most powerful it welcomes and expands the ego, the lonely individual, connecting one to all, and all to life.
Below, a new music video and links to help you celebrate all month long. Enjoy!
Arctic Highways. This Facebook live event includes remarks by the Ambassador of Sweden to the United States, Karin Olofsdotter, a special presentation of the exhibition “Arctic Highways,” interviews with the artists, and performances (Sara Ajnnak) from City Hall in Stockholm, Sweden. 3 pm, February 6, free.
Älven min vän(The River My Friend) film, streaming online February 10, 2 pm PST, free. A portrait of the lives of four Sámi women and their relationship to the Lule River in Sweden. The film shows the consequences of the forced resettlement of Sámi people who were displaced from their land because of the construction of river dams and were alienated from their indigenous culture and way of life (such as reindeer husbandry, clothing, language, food and music). At the same time, the film shows the deep relationship between the women and the river. Register for this free event and receive a link to the movie. Then join the Zoom event to meet the director Hannah Ambühl.
Nordiska’s Book Club: Black FoxThursday, February 24, 6 pm PT, free. Port Townsend author Barbara Sjoholm’s book Black Fox: A Life of Emilie Demant Hatt, Artist and Ethnographer is the subject of this month’s book club by the Nordiska shop in Poulsbo. Though not Sámi herself, Emilie Demant Hatt became closely acquainted with a variety of Sámi cultures during her travels in Sápmi in the early 1900s. Free.
Indigenous Police/Koftepolitiet | Egil Pedersen | Norway | 2021 | 12 minutes Koftepolitiet is a Sámi short film told with humor and political sting. It is an identity satire about how people, both the Sámi and the majority population, consciously and unconsciously define what is the “right” way to be Sámi.
Svonni vs the Swedish Tax Agency/ Svonni vs Skatteverket | Maria Fredriksson | Sweden/Sapmi | 5 minutes A Sámi woman tries to convince the Swedish Tax Agency that she has the right to make a tax deduction for the purchase of a dog. Why can’t the Swedish authorities understand that Rikke is a herding tool and not a pet? A humorous short documentary about cultural clashes and the struggle to practice Sámi culture in today’s Sweden.
AntiphonyBook Discussion, online February 26, 3 pm PT, Free) The Swedish American Museum in Chicago, Illinois, hosts a book club that reads a wide range of books from the Nordic countries. Antiphony by Laila Stien (translated from the Norwegian by John Weinstock) is a novel about a woman who goes to Northern Norway and becomes acquainted with three generations of Sámi women.
If you have roots in northern Sweden, don’t miss this lovely Sámi Day program. The trusting, upturned faces of the children, filmed at the Sámeskola in Gällivare, brought tears to my eyes and a familiar mix of joy and grief. Some of their ancestors and mine undoubtedly attended “lappskola” together in the village, in a darker age (it ran from 1756 to 1912). The priest Lars Solomon Engelmark complained in 1804 that my morfars farfar Erkki (who was somewhere between the ages of 6 and 11) was “mindre beskedlig i sitt uppträdande,” poorly behaved. A generation later, the priest Lars Levi Laestadius recorded the expense of educating Erkki’s child: “5 riksdaler.” The family soon moved to Tärendö, where my grandfather was born. If like me you can’t parse the Swedish subtitles, skip to 23:24 for a greeting from the Sámediggi (the handsome guy in black is my cousin Frederik Österling), then stay tuned for the singer Astrid Lindstrand Tuorda (who some of you will remember from NaNu 2019 in Seattle, when she and her dad Tor joiked so powerfully at the campfire). Her rendition of the Sámi anthem is simple, soft, and pure, like snow falling on Dundret. Enjoy. The light is returning.
As it did last year, the museum will collaborate with the Scandinavia House in New York to present the festival virtually.
While I truly miss the experience of watching films together with friends, virtual festivals are Covid safe and convenient for working people.
Other films to be screened include Giitu giitu/Thank You Lord, a visual short film about “the Laestadian trance” by filmmaker Elle Sofe Sara. I’m intrigued, being familiar with liikutuksia (“movement”), the repentance ritual still practiced in the Old Apostolic Lutherans and other Laestadians.
Suodji/Shelter is a darkly comic film by Marja Helander (whose lovely Birds in The Earth is currently looping in the Finnish Landscapes exhibit). During the 1918 Flu Pandemic in Utsjoki, the Helander’s relative Ovllá-Ivvár decided to fool Death and take his fate into his own hands — what if one tried to do that now?
The full program will be announced and tickets released at the end of September.
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.
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 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.