August in Sámerica

At 01:19, you can hear Sandra Ericksen Eira joiked by Hans Ole Eira, Sámi Grand Prix winner (introduced by singer and actor Mikkel Gaup)

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.

August Events

6 pm, Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Sámi Parliament Member Sandra Andersen Eira, Leif Erickson Lodge, Ballard

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.

6 pm, Friday, August 13, 2021

Sámi Dreams, Photo Exhibit Reception, Nordia House, Portland

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.

2:30 pm, Tuesday, August 17, 2021

A Night of Poetry From Fulbright Poets to Romania, Burkina Faso, and Finland

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.

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

Linneaus, Punk’d

Carl von Linné, 1707-1778 by Roslin Alexander

I am inclined to believe that Linneaus was made fun of . . .

It is a well known fact that informants might get tired of the anthropologist’s endless and sometimes in their eyes nonsensical, questions. They then can tell the unhappy researcher what comes to their mind to satisfy him and to amuse themselves. I am inclined to believe that Linnaeus, too, was made fun of, without him being aware of it. After having been in Tjåmotis on his way back to Luleå, he describes, among many other things, the way the Sami kill a reindeer. He then mentions all the useful slaughter products the animal supplies them with. In the end we read: “Everyone throws the testicles away. The penis serves to make a thong to draw the sledges.

Though no comment is given on this, either in the general text commentaries or in the ethnological commentary on Linnaeus’ diary published in 2003, I have my suspicions that Linnaeus here was fooled. Although he told Roberg that he had travelled by sledge, no traces of it are found in the diary. The harness for drawing sledges he saw himself and described, when he was in Lycksele, had a leather thong. Motraye, who did travel by sledge and describes both sledge and harness, never mentions such a thing, talking only about “a trace”/”un trait”. From a publication of Knud Leem from 1767 we know that this thong was made of a strap of cow skin or seal skin, well greased to make it supple.

Nellejet Zorgdrager in Linnaeus as Ethnographer of Sami Culture, TijdSchrift voor Skandinavistiek vol. 29 (2008)

Jukkasjärvi Sámi family with sledge and reindeer, photo by unknown, Almquist & Cöster postcard 1949. Swedish Heritage Board. Public Domain

Sámi Dreams

Photo by Randall Hyman of Ana Maria Eira and her reindeer

If you live in or near Portland, Oregon, don’t miss Randall Hyman’s “talking” photo exhibit called Sámi Dreams, September through November, 2021 at the Nordia House, 8800 SW Oleson Road.

This stunning collection of portraits and interviews includes audio by the portrait subjects. It’s as if they are in the same room with you. The photographer and curator Randall Hyman is an accomplished observer of the Arctic, with four decades covering natural history and travel topics for Smithsonian, National Geographic, Discover, American History, The Atlantic, Science, Wildlife Conservation, et al.

As a 2013 Fulbright Scholar in Norway and guest of the Norwegian Polar Institute, Hyman covered field science, resource development and climate change in the Arctic for a number of organizations and publications. In 2015, he was the distinguished Josephine Patterson Albright Fellow of the Alicia Patterson Foundation, expanding on his coverage of Arctic climate change. He continues to focus on Arctic topics and lecture on polar climate change across the United States and Europe.

The exhibit was most recently in Minneapolis. I hope our National Nordic Museum will consider hosting it next; it deserves a wide audience.

Bearaš, family

In 2019, following a wonderful reception to my “roots talk” (and singing of the Sámi Sova Lavlla) at the Leif Erickson Lodge, the Board of Directors voted unanimously to install a Sámi flag in the hall. To my knowledge this Sons of Norway Lodge is the third Nordic institution in Seattle to display our flag, after the Swedish Club, which has flown one above their portico for many years, and the National Nordic Museum, which includes several in its displays, such as the one below.

If all goes according to plan, a Sámi flag will be installed when Sandra Eira speaks at the Leif Erickson on August 4, 2021.

Display at National Nordic Museum, Seattle

If the walls could speak, I might ask them about my relative Anna Moen from Narvik, Norway. According to relatives, Anna was one of the lodge’s first female members (it opened to men in 1903 and to women in 1927). A Ballard resident, she was also a member of the Daughters of Norway and Nordlandslaget Nordlyset, whose archives are now at Pacific Lutheran University. (Perhaps a student would be interested in searching them for Sámi references.)

Below is a poem I wrote about Anna for last year’s POPO project, using an entirely optional formula of starting each new poem with the last line of one received.

Making a new home,
Anna from Narvik
never knew her áhkku’s
birthname or the kin
left behind in Sweden
Erasure being the point.
So two blood cousins
crossing Market Street
In 1947, could spy
the replica of a smile.
Become suddenly bereft.
Rootless Anna,
Orphan Clara!
Allow me to stop you
On this Duwamish deerpath
and join your tiny hands
Meet, dear foremothers
This is our birthright:
Bearaš, family.

If you like to write and receive short poems (and support the USPS) sign up for this year’s project.

Save the Date!

I’m delighted to share the news that Sandra Andersen Eira of Russenes, Finnmark will be visiting the USA this summer.

Among her events will be a presentation on

Wednesday, August 4, 2021
Leif Erickson Lodge in Seattle
Time TBA. Probably 6:30 pm.

Sandra just concluded her term as representative of the Sámi parliament on the Norwegian side. She is a sea captain, fisherwoman, world traveler, mom, and subject of an upcoming documentary about women in fishing. Watch the trailer here.

Kudos to the Leif Erickson for welcoming Indigenous Norwegians!

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

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.