Black Butterflies

We don’t watch shows together often but we make exceptions for holidays — and when someone is ailing. Last week as a birthday treat we watched Paddington Bear 2, which was absurdly fun, and so like our quirky youngest to suggest.

Last night I used my convalescence to cajole both husband and son (his sister is back at college) to watch a show together. I chose this compelling short documentary about the “Green Revolution” and Gállok.

It was important for me to share with our son that, at his age in the 1660s, our ancestor Olaf Thomassen Fannj (whose name may be a variant of “fanahit,” stretched, or “fadnu,” a flute made from the stem of angelica), was a slave. He was conscripted by the Swedish state to work in a silver mine in Gällivare, to haul ore with his reindeer.

The conditions were dreadful and the penalties severe (e.g., repeated submerging in a frozen lake). The road to the mine was, they say, lined with bones for a long time.

One source says:

To avoid forced labor, many Sami moved away, and when the government’s tax collector came to Kaitum in 1667, he wrote that “all had escaped,” and that there was no tax to collect. At the same time, in neighboring Sirkas, there were only nine taxpayers left. As a comparison, in 1643 Sirkas and Kaitum, which by that time were treated as one unit in the tax records, had had about seventy registered taxpayers. In 1667, the Sami population in the whole of Lule lappmark had decreased drastically and by then only fifty-five people were registered in the tax record.

According to Hultblad there were almost 200 taxpayers a decade earlier. The stress that the mines evidently brought on the Sami population was not in line with the government’s intention for interior northern Sweden, and policies had to be revised. From 1670, the number of people registered in the tax records slowly and steadily increased again, but it was not until after the tax reform in 1695 that the increase gathered real momentum.”

At 13:53, when Sara began to sing Sámi eatnam, I imagined Olaf — a young man with wind-whipped cheeks — loading his sledge with rocks, then stopping, suddenly alert, listening.

He is a slave in a Swedish colony, and a soldier is approaching, snapping a length of rope. But he has heard a sweet voice from the future.

Happy Returns

Does the “unhealthy” air index in Seattle make me miss the clean breezes of Finnmark?

Very much, indeed. The silver lining to confinement is the progress I am making on my inbox. Before I left in August, I received some happy news from Barbara Sjoholm. Her new book, From Lapland to Sápmi: Collecting and Returning Sámi Craft and Culture, will be published in early spring! If you are in Seattle, you can join her for a book talk at the Nordic Museum.

2023 University of Minnnesota Press

An important contribution to Sámi stories of loss, recovery, and the struggle for equality, as well as the right to manage one’s own cultural heritage on one’s own terms. As Barbara Sjoholm charts the transformation of Lapland to Sápmi in objects, joiks, and storytelling, Sámi voices emerge to share essential aspects of their history. As we say in Sápmi, ‘Čálli giehta ollá guhkás—A writing hand reaches far.’” —Káren Elle Gaup, coeditor of Bååstede: The Return of Sámi Cultural Heritage

I thought about the book often during my trip, first while in Venice for the Biennale, because the cover artist Brita Marahkat-Labba is exhibiting there, then in Karasjok, as I meditated on the excellent exhibit at the RidduDuottar museum, which includes the drum that was seized from Anders Poulsen in 1692, and recently surrendered by Denmark. And again in Oslo, where the new documentary about Brita was screening. (If you have a VPN, you can watch it on SVT.)

Drum by duojár Fredrik Prost, Karasjok 2022

A few other notable repatriations this year:

To date. only four of the 70+ drums authenticated as Sámi have been returned from museums and private collections. One was found in Rome recently, mislabeled as Inuit. Two others, located after a long search in Marseilles, are on loan for exhibits at the Áttje Museum in Jokkmokk (where my newfound cousin Tia — check out her Patreon — is enjoying her own epic returning) snd the East Asia museum in Stockholm.

Other notable returns this year include:

Chief Sitting Bull’s leggings and a lock of hair (stolen from his corpse) after a DNA test identified a more appropriate heir than the Smithsonian.

Patrice Lumumba’s gold tooth — after a photographer interviewing the descendant of his torturer/assassin said (rough translation) “WTAF?”

A Maaso Kova and other unethically obtained artifacts — to the Yacqui tribe from the Etnografika Museet in Stockholm.

Speaking of Sweden, dare I hope that the artifacts pillaged from my ancestral Unna Saiva return to Sápmi in my lifetime? Before I am no longer able to return myself?

It helps to find the humor:

https://m.youtube.com/watch?fbclid=IwAR1Wt2NJdElwUDVz1t_0QV82OXXp9vPXmlMIHQA4Qi5ttyFX_VfxUycphSw&v=x73PkUvArJY&feature=youtu.be&fs=e&s=cl

Uses of Enchantment

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.

Bring on the revolution!

Only connect

Kalix River (svensk: Kalix älv, meänkieli: Kainhuunväylä; davvisámigiella: Gáláseatnu), July, 2016

“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.

Lasse’s book with our ancestors’ names. July, 2016

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.”

“Only connect.”

Bridge over the Kalix, July 2016

Language revival (Happy Meänmaa Day!)

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. But on 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.



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

Returning to My Roots

This blog has been quiet for a while as I worked on other projects, but it seems like a good time to share what I’ve learned on my roots adventure.

After having my DNA tested and helping to launch Pacific Sámi Searvi, I worked to gather all the information available about my family’s history from FamilyTreeDNA.com, Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com, geni.com, and other resources, including census records and newspaper archives.

Last April, I shared the fruits of this research with my parents on a visit, but they were not terribly interested. My mother is certain some of the names in my files are incorrect, and she is deeply suspicious of the internet, as well she should be. It is true that there are errors in the online trees, and now some of them are my fault (I am quick to correct them, of course, when brought to my attention).

On that visit to my parents, a cousin stopped in for coffee. I peppered her with questions, but she just laughed and suggested I call her brother. He in turn gave me the phone number of a 91-year old relative living in Oregon. Was I getting the run-around, I wondered. The notorious Scandinavian reserve runs strong in our family.

But “Auntie,” as she asked me to call her, was delighted to receive my call, and invited me over. She was anything but reserved, spry, bright as a tack, and so exuberant in her generosity that we stayed up past 11 pm going through photograph albums. What a treasure trove. I came home with audio (she was happy to be recorded), photographs of her photographs, and colorful stories about her childhood in North Dakota. Her mother Hilda was my grandfather’s little sister, and to my surprise, preceded him in immigrating from Sweden. An elder sister had arrived even earlier, followed by their father Erik and a brother John (the men returned to Sweden).

On the wall of her “plunder room,” Auntie has a large photograph of Erik, my great-grandfather, in an oval frame under not-entirely-transparent glass. I could not stop staring at it. Why did he return to Sweden? What inspired (or required) his daughters to emigrate? What about my grandfather? Continue reading