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.

An Evening of Yoik and Friendship

Beautiful gakti.

Visiting the Pacific Northwest from Norway last week were members of the Gaup family, who  met with our group in Tacoma after performing at Chief Leschi School. It was a magical evening of stories, yoik, and new friendships.

The youngest Gaup, Risten, is a recording artist who recently performed with her sisters at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

Risten Anine Kvernmo Gaup

Risten’s father Ánte Mikkel, the reknowned yoiker, just won the Norwegian Sámi Parliament’s Sámi Language Motivation Prize for 2013 (for his work as an author, yoiker, and teacher). A engaging performer, he taught us about the history of yoik and demonstrated its variability. He even took requests, recalling various yoiks for the fox, for example. With a rapt audience and seemingly tireless performers, we could have spent the whole evening there.

Ante Mikkel Gaup

Yoik cannot be defined; it must be experienced, but this explanation helps:

For the singer, the yoik is a way to process and release emotions. It is a release and a cleansing where one can express emotions inexpressible in words. A yoik creates a telepathic link to the story or person it features. Many men have won a wife for themselves by using the yoik.

There is no way to experience the power of the yoik except to listen to it. Its natural character and the voices of the natural elements do not become apparent until the listener has thrown himself upon the winds.

The yoik has survived through the centuries. It has renewed itself and changed its meaning, but it is still indispensible for the Sámi people. To consider the power of the yoik, we need only consider how eagerly outsiders have tried to destroy it. Whether this has been due to fear or to a lust for power remains a mystery. (Ursula Länsman)

Renee listening to a fox joik.

Continue reading