Returning to My Roots

Erik Vilhelm Lindberg

The mysterious Erik

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

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My Lucky Sámi?


Following is a book review by my friend Xavi, chair of the Sámi Siida of North America (SSNA), an artist, history buff, and all-around swell person. I met Xavi at the 2012 Siidastallan, the bi-annual gathering of Sámi-Americans. In addition to a love of all things Sámi and French, it seems Xavi and I both have Gold Rush relatives. As I have no family in Seattle, where I’ve lived since graduating college, I was surprised to learn recently of family ties not only to Seattle and the Sámi Reindeer Project, which continue with my distant DNA-cousin Lloyd’s reindeer in the Northwest Territories, but according to geni.com, to one of the “Three Lucky Swedes,” Jafet Lindeberg.

Jafet Lindberg reportedly founded Nome, struck gold, ran with masked vigilantes, and was portrayed by John Wayne in the movie The Spoilers. If geni.com can be trusted, he is related to “my” Lindbergs of Norbotten, who have Sámi ancestry, and it seems, boatloads of entrepreneurial pep.

Many thanks to Xavi for his review, and to the Solbakks for translating these valuable letters. I’ve ordered the book and can’t wait to read it.

1873 – 1962

Book Review

by John Edward Xavier

Sami Reindeer Herders in Alaska: Letters from America 1901-1937

A hundred and twenty years ago there began the American Reindeer Project in Alaska, probably the most heroic and yet profoundly human Sámi involvement in North American history. In the ever-growing body of work recounting that history, a valuable book has now been contributed by Sámi authors and editors Aage Solbakk and John Trygve Solbakk along with their Sámi publisher ČálliidLágádus. The Solbakks’ work comes to North America now in Sámi Reindeer Herders in Alaska, as a translation of the original 2009 Sámi language publication under the title Sámit balvalusas Alaskas. This welcome English language version, solidly translated by Kaijja Anttonen, opens new doors to yet another view of a landmark in Sámi North American history, the Reindeer Project.

Now, well over a hundred years later, there remains considerable interest in this entire era (1894-1930s), and so the Solbakks publish in that context as well as that of today’s increasingly active North American Sámi communities. Those communities and other North American audiences continue to be attracted to the many tales of reindeer herder families who became gold miners, many of whom moved to the Pacific Northwest where their descendants can be found today. That colorful era of 1894 to the 1930s has persisted as a topic revisited and reinterpreted by film-makers, novelists, and many researchers, who continue to use varied approaches, for which a couple of prominent examples come to mind.

Among those contemporary projects, there is the long-standing exhibit, “The Sámi Reindeer People of Alaska,” soon to re-open in Hibbing, Minnesota. This exhibit, the fruit of long-time Sámi-American activists Faith Fjeld and Nathan Muus, currently features exhibit booklet illustration and layout by Marlene Wisuri. Secondly, there are sources in social media, including a Facebook page “Friends of Sheldon Jackson Museum.” The Sitka, Alaska museum and its Facebook page feature Jackson’s work with the Sámi. Further and earlier accounts of this fascinating topic derive from a group of credible sources such as Vorrren, Niemi, the Lomens, Sámi-American periodicals Arran and Báiki; andNorwegian American Studies  of the Norwegian American Historical Association (NAHA). This last group is referenced in the Solbakks’ work, in yet another vindication of Alf Isak Keskitalo’s landmark essay, “Research as an inter-ethnic activity,” (latest reprint in 1994, in Arctic Centre Reports), where he discussed the merits and implications of research as a starting or launching point for cross-cultural relations.

So, then, what have the Solbakks done that justifies yet another publication on the Sámi role in Alaska (and Canada)? The answer is simple: they have opened new doors by offering a fresh and close-up look at the Sámi experience through the letters of those Sámi reindeer herders (in English translation). This collection of letters is the first of its kind to see print in a book-length English-language collection with commentary. Those many letters, intensely personal and yet insightful, were written by the fully literate Sámi, and sent from North America over a three-decade span for publication in the Sámi-language newspaper Nuorttanaste, in Sápmi. This compilation by the Solbakks is in the long-standing tradition of America Letters from North American Nordic emigrants to the homelands of Europe. Given the long period of time covered in their book and the number of letters involved in their selections from the old files of Nuorttanaste, the Solbakks were obligated to pick and choose.

The Solbakks have picked and chosen well, including letters of prominent Sámi historical figures such as Samuel Balto and Johan S. Tornensis. In those chosen letters, and the many photographs, furthermore, the reader will also see many other names that echo over the centuries of Sámi history, including (alphabetically) Boyne, Eira, Gaup, Haetta, Klemetsen, Sara, and others.

The Solbakks have gone beyond a skeletal history of a succession of letters; they correctly felt moved to flesh out what could have been a mere compilation, truly skeletal in nature. The Solbakks applied professional and cultural skills and nonetheless did so in an accessible way. This work includes a substantial introduction; personal research in both Sápmi and North America for new material, especially photographs aplenty and personal interviews; commentaries on photos and topics to carry the narrative; recognition of Canadian aspects of this era; and a generous willingness to draw on letters by a cross-section of the families in question.

Indeed, the letters are the stars of the show here. This was how the Sámi kept in touch, in letters were penned by herders, wives, gold miners, businessmen, spiritually conflicted individuals, and storm victims. And indeed, the Sámi kept in touch, in what is the ever-fascinating “long reach” of this numerically small group, retaining contacts not only with the homelands through Nuorttanaste and personal letters but also with Sámi in the United States itself. The Solbakks thus confirm once more the connectivity of the Sámi, with relationships we know of from other sources as well.

As for one case of the long reach and connectivity of the Sámi, it has long been on the record that several of the first wave of Sámi had made enormous sums of money as gold miners (in the millions in today’s purchasing power, about a ratio of 100 to 1, where ten thousand dollars then=one million now). Counted as the most successful of those early gold miners was a Sámi herder who organized the first legal mining district in Nome: Johan S. Tornensis. Once he became wealthy, having removed in one year alone about $50,000 in gold, he and others similarly fixed traveled around both to the Sámi homelands and the United States itself.

One poignant letter in the Solbakks’ book involves the mass destruction of property in a great storm in the Unalakleet area in 1915, as recounted in a letter by Nils Persen Bals. Sámi icon Samuel Balto pours out a moving narrative of his historical, emotional, and spiritual experiences. Other letters include references to World War I and the Great Influenza that followed in 1919, as well as the expected keeping-in-touch mentions of births, weddings, deaths, dedication to hard work–and the waxing and waning of fortunes related to reindeer and gold. All of this recounting is through the letters, the stars of the show, carrying the historical narrative along. This book– in making available all of these narrative letters–once more illustrates the crucial role played by ethnic-based publisers, in this case ČálliidLágádus – ForfatternesForlag – Authors’Publisher.

Beyond the merit of any particular family stories and photographs, the Solbakks have offered up a work of considerable accomplishment in its perspective on history, a work that is approachable, and more than that. This book should be included in any personal or institutional library in the areas of Sámi or broader indigenous or emigrant studies, and would also supplement US, Canadian, and Alaskan history studies in general.  An improved next edition of Sami Reindeer Herders in Alaska would profit from inclusion of more legible maps, as well as the addition of brief bibliographic and index supplements. Nonetheless, this is a book that does what its authors set out to do, letting the letters be the stars of the show, and so it is a book destined for a solid position in Sámi and Sámi North American studies. This work is clearly appropriate for both personal and academic interests.

***

The Power of Joik

This video was posted today on Facebook, and despite my inability to understand the Swedish in it, the joik (at 2:40) knocked me out with its emotional power. This guy clearly has talent. He also has a cultural identity that should make the most hardcore essentialist reconsider what it means to be Sàmi. The comments below the post include:

Jon Henrik Fjällgren on Sweden’s Got Talent joiking his friend Daniel, who died four years ago.

Fjellgren, who is 26 years old, was told since his youth that he came from a small indigenous tribe in Columbia . . . he was adopted by a Sàmi family and has since grown up in Mittådalsfjällen. As a little boy he helped his father with the reindeer and as soon as he left school, he has worked actively as a reindeer herder.

In another version on Youtube, a poem is included:

Are you still walking with me, my dear friend,
Though I no longer see you?
Are you still here on earth,
As you are still in my heart?
I continue to lie here and brood,
It is desolately quiet around me.
Tears burst out and fall,
In memory of you.

An angel that was forgotten here,
Has now received his wings.
Where are you flying to now, my angel?
Where are you flying to now?

Are you flying through the pearly gates?
Or to the ends of the earth?
Are you flying beside me?
Or am I alone now?

Wherever are you now, my friend.
Wherever the road leads you.
Promise me you’ll wait there,
Until I meet you.

I hope you’re happy now.
As I was with you.
And the pain you have suffered,
I hope is forgotten.

Float freely, my dear friend.
You are free now.
And until we meet again,
Farewell, my angel.

The joik is a unique form of cultural expression for the Sàmi people in Sápmi. This type of song can be deeply personal or spiritual in nature, often dedicated to a human being, an animal, or a landscape as a personal signature. Improvisation is not unusual. Each joik is meant to reflect a person or place. The Sàmi verb for presenting a joik is a transitive verb, which is often interpreted as indicating that a joik is not a song about the person or place, but that the joiker is attempting to evoke or depict that person or place through song – one joiks their friend, not about their friend (similarly to how one doesn’t paint or depict about a flower, but depicts the flower itself). –Wikipedia

Celebrate Sámi Day

Celebrated every February 6 since 1993, Sámi National Day (Sámi Álbmotbeaivi) commemorates the first international, pan-Sámi organizational meeting held in Trondheim in 1917, considered the beginning of the Sámi rights movement.

It will be celebrated locally from 4 pm to 8 pm this coming Thursday at Pacific Lutheran University’s Scandinavian Cultural Center in Tacoma. (See link for directions.)

Sámi National Day (Sámi Álbmotbeaivi)
Thursday, February 6, 2014

Scandinavian Cultural Center, PLU, Tacoma

4 pm Opening and Anthem
4:30 pm Exhibit Tour
5 pm Concert by Risten Anine Gaup
6:15 pm Sámi Documentaries

The celebration will open with welcoming remarks and the singing of the Sámi national anthem, followed by a guided tour of the new Sámi exhibit and time for refreshments and socializing. The talented Sámi joiker Risten Anine Gaup (above) will perform around 5 p.m. Two short documentaries will be screened beginning around 6:15 pm, followed by a short discussion.

Props to PLU professor Troy Storfjell and the Scandinavian Cultural Center for arranging the celebration. I plan to be there and hope it is well-attended!

Here is a taste of Sámi music and art for those unable to attend. For many outside Scandinavia, their first time hearing joik, the long suppressed folk music of the Sami, was when Nils-Aslak Valkeapää (1943-2001) performed at the 1994 Lilyhammer Olympics. His friend the Sámi scholar Harald Gaski said “it is in the totality of his expression that you understand Nils-Aslak best.” Listen to his haunting joik from “The Sun, My Father” here as you contemplate the paintings below.

In describing Valkeapää’s poetry (the man was a creative force!), Gaski mentions parallels to Chief Seattle’s apocryphal but famous speech of 1854 in which he asks rhetorically: “How can you sell or buy the air? If we do not own its freshness and the glimmer in the water, how then can the White man buy it from us?”

It’s a question that haunts, given the continued ravaging of resources in the name of profit, in Sapmi and everywhere. But there is hope. The indigenous worldview or cosmology that prioritizes beauty, balance, and harmony over individualism, competition, and materialism never went away and still offers a future on this planet. I love the abstract tension in these two paintings by Valkeapää and the way they suggest both the power of nature and lightness in which the people and animals appear on the land.

Lihkku Sámi Álbmotbeivviin (Happy Sámi National Day!), wherever you find yourself.

Longish Thoughts on Sámi Shorts

Lloyd Binder’s reindeer. Photo from Canadian Reindeer.

When Stina Cowan of the Nordic Heritage Museum asked if I would introduce the Sámi short films at SIFF’s 2014 Nordic Lights Film Festival, I didn’t hesitate. Two years ago, it was a SIFF screening of the documentary Suddenly Sámi that seeded the formation of Pacific Sámi Searvi and my personal journey of discovery. Since that time, there have been significant events for Sámi culture in our region, including a large duodji exhibit bringing artifacts and lecturers from the Ajtte Museum, the first local celebration of Sámi Day at Tacoma’s PLU, the first Sámi Grand Marshal and Sámi flag in Ballard’s Syttende Mai parade, the first “official” Sámi-American participation in Astoria’s Scandinavian Festival, and the first English translation of Emilie Demant-Hatt’s “With the Lapps in the High Mountains,” by local author and translator Barbara Sjoholm. Searvi members also rallied on behalf of Idle No More and Gallok.

It was exciting enough to have four Sámi-related films at SIFF; I did not expect a personal connection. Imagine my surprise on learning that the reindeer in Tundra Cowboy are my DNA cousin Lloyd Binder’s. While I haven’t met him in person (FamilyTreeDNA linked us), he was kind enough to answer my questions when I contacted him online.

Both Lloyd and his reindeer are descendants of the Yukon Relief Expedition of 1898, which brought Sámi herders and reindeer from Sápmi through Seattle up to Alaska. His maternal grandfather Mikkel Pulk joined the expedition in its second year, and in the 1930s, Mikkel and his wife Anna were recruited by the Canadian government to teach herding to the Inuits. The Pulks remained as herders for over 30 years. Their daughter Ellen, married Lloyd’s father, Otto, an Inuvialuit from Coppermine, N.W.T., now known as Kugluktuk (Otto also owned a herd for several years in the 1940s). Lloyd earned an economics degree from the University of Calgary and served as director of economic development and tourism for the Inuvik region before turning to herding. It’s in his blood.

Like his employee Henrik Seva (the subject of Tundra Cowboy), Lloyd is a man of dry wit. When I asked how he keeps the reindeer from mixing with the indigenous caribou, he responded: “vigilance.”

It is possible that I am also related to Henrik, as he and my grandfather were both born in Pajala Municipality in northern Sweden. The Sámi gene pool is small, even though, like the offspring of the Yukon Relief Expedition, it is dispersed over vast distances.

On the morning of the screening, the sun painted the sky pink and gold, and I feared that few people would show up for a Saturday matinee. SIFF attracts devoted cinephiles, but in Seattle, a rain-free January weekend must be taken seriously. There was standing room only in the theater, however; the shorts had a large and very appreciative audience.

Marja Bål Nango in Halvt ditt og halvt datt (Half of This, Half of That)

Of the three student works by Sámi filmmaker Marja Bål Nango, Halvt ditt og halvt datt (Half of This, Half of That) initially concerned me for its apparent equivalency (using a split screen) of a Sami gakti with a Norwegian bunad, both of which Nango is shown putting on and taking off. I wanted to protest: they aren’t the same! (e.g., the gakti is everyday wear while the bunad is a costume, for special occasions). Nango no doubt intended to provoke that response, as she deftly segués to more complex issues of self-identity. With a stark white background and tight focus on their youthful faces, she interviews several peers about self-identity, and you can watch their emotions shift as they struggle for words. It is powerfully intimate. While it features Norwegian citizens, the film has universal scope; asking if language is essential to identity and what it means to be “half of this, half of that” or “part” anything. I found myself thinking several times of the exhibit about race at the Pacific Science Center. This short would make an excellent addition to it.

Scene from Juletrollet

Nango’s second film, Juletrollet (The Christmas Troll), depicts a Sàmi girl envious of her Norwegian playmate’s Christmas tree. The playmate is curious about Sàmi customs, but whether her questions are benign or condescending isn’t clear. Verging on melodrama, the story is redeemed by a final scene in which the friends perch outside in the dark, singing to the stars. Nango’s characters finds serenity in a holiday that promises more than it delivers.

Still from “Before She Came, After He Left”

My favorite of her three shorts, Før Hun Kom, Etter Han Dro (Before She Came and After He Left), was filmed in an impossibly beautiful fjord. The winter chill is palpable; noses drip, boots crunch. After the tragic death of a boyhood friend (who may have also been a lover), a young father is tormented by grief, and his fiance is confused and concerned. Inner landscapes are revealed in flashbacks and small gestures, and the visual lyricism carries multiple layers of meaning, like the work of Akiri Kurosawa. I hope it gets a wide audience. (Check out Nango’s most recent collaboration, Indestructible.)

Amazing flying machine from “Tundra Cowboy”

With a faster pace and frank documentary style, Tundra Cowboy saturates each of its 18 minutes; the story of Henrik Seva unfolds energetically and economically. The blood and guts of reindeer slaughter are candid without becoming grotesque, the wide pans of the reindeer are thrilling but stop short of cliché, and a convivial springtime calf-marking in Sweden provides nuanced and colorful contrast to Henrik’s monochromatic, solitary life on the tundra. The heart of this story is Henrik’s motivations, which are rooted in loss and quietly heartbreaking. One of my favorite moments is when the camera rests on Henrik’s face as he stops speaking, and then stays there, allowing the viewer to meet him in the still space he treasures. A thoroughly enjoyable, multi-dimensional film. (The 18-minute short is available to rent or buy here.)

After the screening, several audience members approached with questions about the Sàmi, the shorts, and the searvi. As there was no time for a Q&A session (the theater needed to be cleared for the next film), I promised to write this post and include links as well notes from my phone conversation with Tundra Cowboy’s producer and director, Marc Winkler. If I am able to chat with Marja Bål Nango, I’ll post again.

Marc is a Canadian journalist for CBC who lives in Yellowknife, N.W.T. with his wife and two daughters. Tundra Cowboy is his first documentary. Prior to meeting Henrik Seva in Inuvik in 2002, he had never heard of the Sàmi.

Left to right: Cinematographer Luke Eberl, Henrik Seva, Director Marc Winkler

What inspired you to make the movie?

My fascination with living in isolation like that, and knowing Henrik. He seemed like such a grounded person and I thought it might have something to do with having so much time for his thoughts. I wanted to talk to him about that. Although he uses a lot of technology, his pace, his everyday life is very different.

Do you think his groundedness is due to that?

Slightly. He does have a lot of time to mull over things, and time to explore his relationship with his reindeer. That is what he loves, caring for reindeer; I found that connection fascinating. He sings to the reindeer — and there are all these Sami traditions (connected to herding). The fact that he would travel all the way to Canada to maintain that connection . . . that says something! His grandfather, a herder, is his hero. He found a way to recreate his grandfather’s connection to reindeer.

Doesn’t he get lonely?

Sometimes he wants to see people and he does go to the town every 10 days for “R & R.” He was recently married, since the filming. He’s not a hermit!

How was it to film there?

It was really cold, minus 40 outside, with huge winds all the time. The camera batteries kept freezing. But it was beautiful! The tundra is a magical place and so peaceful. Henrik was patient with us, although he was busy herding. We were glad he took so much time.

Did he joik for you?

Yes, it was a very important thing for him to do. He was pretty shy about it, but he gave us the little example in the movie. For me it illustrates the beautiful connection he has with the reindeer. It is a love song, and it has the practical benefit of making the reindeer used to his voice.

What was left on the cutting room floor that you wish you could have included?

So much! The film was as long as an hour, and I got it down to 18 minutes. I wanted it to be subtle and focused. There are so many other elements that I tried to puzzle in there, such as the way colonization affected the Sami culture. Like the residential schools here (in Canada), there were government schools in northern Sweden. Henrik was sent to one, and he was punished for speaking Sami. He was not allowed to eat the food he was accustomed to. Reindeer herders were looked own on. He underwent ten years of assimilation, and it was a struggle for him; he felt divided over who he was and whether his culture was worthy or not. It is such a worthwhile project to explore . . . but that is another movie.

Also, the whole land and environment issues in Northern Sweden, the forestry and mining projects that are pushing herding into smaller and smaller places. If things keep going like this, it will not be a viable livelihood. In the 1920’s, the government was going to take away their rights to hunt, fish, and herd. Henrik’s grandfather made a deal with the king that they would herd but not fish and hunt. Others could fish and hunt, but not herd. So not all Sami are treated equally.

What are you working on now?

I just had a new daughter so I’m taking a break right now, but some any ideas have come up from doing this. Many different ideas, but nothing solid yet.

Marc and I talked a while longer about the Sàmi and the environmental issues that threaten reindeer herding — forestry, mining, and mineral extraction. I hope his success with this first documentary inspires many more.

Dressing In and Out

stoorstalkaUpdate: The exhibit will now travel to the Swedish-American Museum in Chicago, opening in January, 2014.

As luck would have it, I didn’t make it to see Dressing Swedish: From to Hazelius to Salander, the traveling exhibition from the Swedish Embassy in DC, until the final day (final hour, even) of its stay in Seattle. Which is too bad, as it was more interesting and diverse than I expected, and thoughtfully presented. Kudos to the curators, Dr. Charlotte Hylten-Cavallius and Lizette Graden of the Nordic Heritage Museum, and to the Multicultural Society of Tumba, Sweden, which supported the project.

Included among the many gorgeous Swedish folk costumes was one with a “Muslim” headscarf and several Sami items, including a child’s gakti from Karesuando and a modern outfit from Stoorstalka (“design by Samis for Sami people, and equally cool souls”).

It is interesting to muse on the fact that, while many cultures (in warm climates) have gone without clothing, none have gone without decoration. Tattoos and body piercings are older than the loom, and jewelry is universal. It is fascinating to explore the history of artistic expression in clothing.

In curious contrast to the intricate embroidery and colors in the exhibit, my own inherited Swedish-Sami subculture of Laestadianism is ascetic, shunning self-adornment and art itself. Its founder Lars Levi Laestadius, a botanist turned priest and then revivalist, encouraged his followers to dress modestly, and over time, this was codified into nuanced prohibitions on jewelry, neckties, cosmetics, open-toed shoes, and even the color red. In some Laestadian circles, women and girls still wear head scarves. Many clues to the class, marital status, and personality of the individual are telegraphed through clothing choices.

Torjer Olsen, research fellow in History of Religion at the University of Tromsø suggests that the use of clothes as symbols may be particularly important for groups like the Laestadian communities, where it is difficult for women to communicate verbally because they are considered to be subordinate and not allowed to speak in public.

The skirt remains a gender specific garment heavy with symbolism. Olsen claims that the girls’ skirts, especially short ones, are a play with symbols. With skirts they can both dress “in” (as part of the congregation) and “out” (in line with the majority society). This way the girls communicate both their loyalty to and distance from the congregation.”

I mused on this as I admired the Stoorstalka “party skirt” (top photo), which borrows from tradional Sami gakti, but being made of synthetic fabric instead of wool or silk, is washable and less expensive. Being neither too short nor too long, I can imagine a trendy Laestadian wearing it (and a rebellious one rolling up the waistband to make it shorter). There is a ruffle of tulle peeking out underneath, though. That could get a girl in trouble with the standards enforcers.

samibag

Some of the displays came with artist statements.

Fia Kaddik, Photographer and craftswoman, Jokkmokk.
This bag symbolizes the threat to our mountain areas . . . the red ribbon in the middle represents Mother Earth, who is beginning to burn herself out as a result of all the mining that is taking place in our mountain areas.

Lena Viltok, Craftswoman and designer, Jokkmokk
In addition to being decorative, the silver also reflects Sami folklore about silver protecting against evil. In the olden days, the evil could be Stallu (the Giant) or other evil forces that wanted to destroy the Sami. Today the evil forces are all the exploitative developments that reduce the reindeer pasturelands and make it increasingly impossible for us to live our lives. This is happening to me now with the mineral prospecting that is taking place in the area where the reindeer graze and breed, and where our son must find his future livelihood. But we struggle on and hope that the silver will protect us. This is why I have called the bag “lellet” (to live).

Way to represent, Fia and Lena. I found myself wanting to touch your duodji in solidarity, but it was suspended in a bowl above grasping hands. Probably a good thing.

snusmarkIn the next room was a display case with three pairs of Denim Demon jeans, all painstakingly preweathered (you can even see the round imprint from a can of snus). A placard announced: ” . . .as our clothing is designed with the Sami in mind, it needs to be durable and hard-wearing to withstand the rigors of reindeer herding and living in harsh conditions. We gave seven pairs of jeans to seven Sami who wore them for six months without washing them.”

Voi, voi. I’m assuming they were bachelors. I have mixed feelings about this kind of marketing, and would love to be persuaded that the owners are not exploiting the Sami in the same way Ralph Lauren exploits Native Americans. (Update: the owners are Sami and the jeans are made in China.)

In elegant contrast to smelly jeans were the felted wool birch coats designed by Minnesotan Lauri Jacobi. I admire her work and would happily wear one of her coats if they weren’t so expensive. An American of northern Swedish ancestry, Jacobi’s are beautiful, made of natural materials, and useful, which incidentally are three of the requirements for authentic duodji (Sami handicrafts). I couldn’t resist purchasing a pair of “pine needle blanket” fleece mittens in gakti-inspired colors. (The gift shop clerk asked if they were oven mitts!) They will remind each time I wear them of my mixed and colorful heritage. Maybe I’ll knit a cable to attach them, as my mother did for our mittens as kids, for threading through our cloat sleeves.

In the final room was a hybrid costume from David Norman, whose grandfather was from Dalarna, Sweden. His statement explains that he worked in a Native American community in Tacoma, and his students made his regalia so he could dance at powwows, an incredible honor that moved him to reciprocate (an example of the respectful exchange encouraged in this essay).

“In the Native culture it is proper and encouraged to add your own story to the Native regalia. Weaving together two

cultures has been a way to honor both and add a Swedish touch to my Native dress. It creates opportunity for me to relate my own story to the Native culture in which I now participate.”

nativeamericanswedish

I liked Mr. Norman’s story and regalia, but found it curious that the tribe (the Puyallup?), was not named, an omission that does not seem to honor Native custom, but perhaps there are reasons not obvious to me.

A Facebook friend recently posted photos of her mother’s wedding and her own, in which they are both wearing a Swedish wedding crown that has been handed down for generations. I find that lovely.

Sadly, for so many of us, the items that carried our ancestors’ cultures have disappeared. It is up to each of us to reclaim and refashion what we can.

The Quiet Struggle: Shame and Pride

Many thanks to Kai Turi for the translation of this Norwegian documentary episode. Watch and read along.

“Here live the Sami. We are alive and kicking!”

But it has taken many years to get here. The Sami are connected with the somewhat murky, ugly and shameful. Sami children were sent to boarding schools to be Norwegian.

Boarding schools were in many ways child abuse in the public sector.

Sami people have waged a silent battle, but not without resistance.

“It was pretty awful to find out maybe we were Sami, we just had negative opinions about the Sami when we were growing up. It was not a nice thing. I was embarrassed and did not want to know. I wish that I had received this information earlier. It took a long time before I dared to figure this out.”

Susann grew up here in Manndalen in a regular, Norwegian family. But one day she got a lesson at school that would change her life.

“All students in the class wrote down the name of the farmstead they came from. Then we saw that 90% of all the names we had written, were Sami…Up there you Ordamielli. Over there you have Rouhtu. Down there you have Ribet, Suddasluohka, Gáiskeriidi…Most places in the village had a Sami name. And it had to mean something. I was curious and began to find out more.”

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