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.

A Special Syttende Mai this Friday

Dr. Berg, Grand MarshalThere will be notable Sámi presence in Seattle’s Syttende Mai parade this Friday, with a Sámi scholar for a Grand Marshal, and first-time-ever participation by Pacific Sámi Searvi, representing Sámi descendants and culture in the Pacific Northwest.

This year’s Grand Marshal is Sámi scholar Bård Berg, who teaches history and philosophy at the University of Tromsø. Berg lived in Seattle for a year while he was a Fulbright scholar at University of Washington’s Department of Scandinavian Studies, doing research on the immigration of Sámi people to the Pacific Northwest.

Syttende Mai is the celebration of Norway’s Constitution, signed May 17, 1814. Norway’s Sámi Act of 1987 provided the legal basis for Sámi participation in the government, and in 1988, Article 110a officially ended assimilation policies, stating, “It is the responsibility of the authorities of the State to create conditions enabling the Sámi people to preserve and develop its language, culture and way of life.” A year later, the first Sámi parliament convened in Norway, and in 1992, Norway passed the Sámi Language Act, making Sámi an official languages counties with large Sámi populations, namely five municipalities in Finnmark County and one municipality in Troms County. An estimated 20,000 Sami in Norway speak Sámi.

Throughout the day there are events to delight adults and children, including a luncheon at Leif Erickson Lodge, fjord horses at the Nordic Heritage Museum (where admission is free all day), and musical acts at Bergen Place. The parade, which starts at 6 pm, draws thousands of observers and includes over 100 marching bands, drill teams, community groups,  and classic cars.

Seattle’s Syttende Mai celebration is the third largest (behind Osoo and Bergen, Norway) and has been celebrated here since 1898, before Washington was even a state.

Check out the official site for more information.

Want to walk with us?  RSVP on Facebook or just look for the Sámi flag during check-in at Adams Elementary (28th and 62nd NW) and introduce yourself. The parade starts at 6 pm.

Think sun, for children of the sun.

No Dead Ends: Labyrinths in Sápmi & Elsewhere

IMG_6156I’m taking a fascinating free, online class through the University of Toronto called Aboriginal Worldviews and Education. One of our first assignments was to write about a “meaningful place.” It was hard to settle on one, as there are so many within shouting distance, but I decided to write about a remote stone labyrinth where (in which?) I have walked in contemplation and more recently, in grief. The labyrinth is located on an island north of Seattle, a place that I came to know through two friends who lived there, a married couple who became, over the years, like surrogate parents (he shared my Finnish and Sámi heritage, she my passion for books and lost causes). Last year they passed away within a few months of each other, and were buried in the cemetery near the labyrinth, behind a storybook white-steepled church.

When I visit, I park my bike near the church and walk through the woods to the labyrinth under a canopy of Douglas fir and maple trees.  In the distance there is the sound of the surf, and rain or shine, you can smell the salty air. It’s a beautiful place.

The tradition I learned on the island was to bring a pebble to leave in the middle of the labyrinth. For the bereaved, or at least for me, this is a helpful ritual of laying down one’s burden of grief before returning to the everyday.

Unlike a maze, the circles of a labyrinth contain only one path, with no dead ends. The way in is the way out, and the simple act of concentrating on your next step is calming. I prefer to walk alone, although walking with others requires you to synchronize your pace, so that no one is lingering or rushing, and that too is meditative.

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PSS Supports Idle No More

SamiSearviIDM

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

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

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

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

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

PSS member and PLU Professor Troy Storfjell answered:

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

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

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Tolkien and the Secret Story of the Elvish Language

Cate Blanchett, Elf Queen

Many are familiar with Norse myth elements in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” series. “The Hobbit,” the most recent in the film series, is now in theaters, and as with the other LOTR films, features Elvish, a language created by Tolkien, who was an accomplished linguist in addition to being an author.

My friend Kari Turi, who is of Sàmi heritage and happens to speak both Finnish and Welsh, was astounded when, on viewing the films, he understood the Elvish. What a thrill that must have been!

Listen to Elvish being spoken by Tolkien himself and find your name in Elvish here. (Mine is Nienna Carnesîr.)

Have you seen the movies or read the books? Do you know of other Sàmi connections?

Ancient Origins of Yule

Recently I was asked to create a small exhibit at the Swedish Cultural Center to illustrate the ancient origins of Scandinavian Christmas traditions. Below are the tidbits I pulled together (only a few of which made it into the display). The objects in the display, owned by the Center, include beautiful weavings and Yule decorations such as a Julbok, a cheese press marked with an “x” to keep away evil, and a Christmas porridge bowl.

Update: There is a fascinating account of Christmas traditions in Sàpmi here, and an exploration along of pagan Yule traditions from a Norwegian perspective here.

Are any of these surprising to you? Do you have any corrections or additions? Please let me know in the comments.

Date of Christmas
For the church’s first three centuries, Christmas wasn’t in December—or on the calendar at all. December 25th already hosted two other festivals: natalis solis invicti (the Roman “birth of the unconquered sun”), and the birthday of Mithras, the “Sun of Righteousness.” The winter solstice, another celebration of the sun, fell within a few days. Roman church leaders decided to take advantage of the popularity of this season when they chose the date to celebrate Christ’s birth, an event that probably occurred in the month of September.

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