Indigenous peoples are custodians of some of the most biologically diverse territories in the world. They are also responsible for a great deal of the world’s linguistic and cultural diversity, and their traditional knowledge has been and continues to be an invaluable resource that benefits all of mankind.” Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations (from the foreword to the State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, 2009)
A map illustrating the region of Sápmi in Europe

The Sámi are the indigenous people of the Nordic region of Europe. Sámis live in Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia, in a region broadly known as Sápmi. There are approximately 40,000 Sámis living in Norway, with the largest communities found in far northern Norway in the county of Finnmark. The Sámi population in Norway is about double that found in Sweden, and more than four times that found in Finland or Russia.

The Sámi were not recognized as a people in Norway until the 1980s, and since then have had to fight to receive cultural, land, and water rights, with the land and water rights still undetermined. Norway declared the Sámi language to be on equal standing with Norwegian in 1990, and Sámi is now recognized as an official language in several districts in Norway, including the Tysfjord district, which the Earthducation team will visit. The Sámi also now have their own parliament in Norway, established in 1989 and headquartered in Karasjok, in Finnmark.

The Sámi flag

There are nine living Sámi languages, of which the largest six have independent written forms. The three with no written standard have only few, mainly elderly, speakers left. The Sámi in Norway have three different languages: Northern Sámi, Lule Sámi, and Southern Sámi, listed in order of the largest population of speakers.

 

The Lule Sámi Community

One of the communities that the Earthducation team will be visiting is Drag, in the Tysfjord district, which is home to a large Lule Sámi population. The Lule Sámi community comprises about half of the approximately 2,000 residents in the Tysfjord district.

Árran, a Lule Sami cultural and education center located in Drag, in the Tysfjord district.

The school in Drag serves about 100 students in grades 1 through 10, along with a special program for grades 11-13 that provides largely online learning for students at risk of dropping out of school. Students in grades 11-13 otherwise attend school in a nearby town. The school in Drag is unique in a number of ways, primarily for its merging of Sámi and Norwegian language and culture. It is the only school in the district that offers Lule Sámi language classes. It serves both Sámi and Norwegian locals, and serves as a model for other schools around the country.

Árran (translated as “fireplace”) is a Lule Sámi cultural and education center in Drag. It is a beautiful center, built in 1994, that houses a small museum, a Sámi radio station, some members of the Sámi Parliament, and a Sámi kindergarten, along with videoconferencing facilities from which staff at the center provide Lule Sámi language distance education programs to high school students.

Lars Andreassen, Director of Árran

The Earthducation team visited Árran and met with the director there, Lars Andreassen. Lars talked about the Sámi connection to the land, the importance of extended family, the decisions that the Sámi elders were forced to make with regard to Sámi language and culture and the impact those decisions had on future generations, and the role that Árran is hoping to play in Sámi education and culture.

One personal story Lars recounted was particularly informative about some of the challenges Sámi families have faced. You can listen to the full story by clicking the link below, or read a partial transcript of the story below.

Listen to Lars Andreassen Talk about Generational Changes

 

“My father was born and was brought up inside the fjord. They had a little farm with some sheep and a cow and they made some fisheries . . . I was born in ’67 and I got the last of those years with that kind of life form with me. But that changed in the ’70s and ’80s, a lot of those farms were shut down, nowadays there’s almost no fishermen left, almost nobody has sheep left . . . and [the families] were moved out of the fjord. . . .

The life form in itself has changed dramatically . . . you went from a kind of agricultural to postmodernism in just one generation . . . it’s quite dramatic, not negative always, but dramatic. I don’t think we haven’t yet coped with that shock, we’re still trying to figure out what to do, and it’s most obvious with the language. So somehow the language stayed behind in the fjords when we moved out and tried to become modern.

“And you can imagine how difficult it must be for those generations which are now from the 60s to the 70s, there are those who took the choices, the choices not to speak Sámi to their kids, to move out of the fjords, trying to get an education, [now] experiencing their kids’ generation, that is my generation, who are protesting against those choices they made, and saying why did you do it? Ok we understand, but still we want some changes today, a lot of those from that generation want to go back, you say, we want the language back. It’s not dead, it’s not dead, it’s quite alive, but we want it to be more used, we want it to be more alive. . . .”

Connection to the Land

Tysfjorden, the fjord about which Lars Andreassen is speaking. Photo by Peter Adermark.

The fjord is very important to the Sámi people, and Lars spoke often about the significance of going “into the fjord,” where they fish and hunt, and where families often have small cabins, accessible only by boat. In discussing the significance of the fjord, Lars talked about a current struggle that is going on where the Norwegian government is attempting to establish a national park in this fjord. Lars discussed one of the reasons that the Sámi people in the area are opposed to this plan.

 

Listen to Lars Andreassen Discuss the Sami Connection to the Land

 

When we go into the fjord, we are going home. . . . If the state makes a national park, in itself it could be a good idea. The problem is then we are going into a national park, not home anymore. Those subtle nuances like what a name is is extremely important because it’s all about identity, it’s all about feeling rooted, connected with the landscape. If you lose the rights to make a definition of the landscape, you also lose yourself somehow through that process. For us, that’s a kind of environmentalism, not to lose the connection to the land.

Additional Resources

We Are the Sámi – Fact Sheets and Videos A comprehensive collection of fact sheets and videos about all aspects of Sámi life and culture, published by Gáldu – Resource Centre for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Sámi School History A series of books, portions of which are published in English online, that include personal narratives about Sámi experiences with education and schooling during the twentieth century.

Sámediggi Samitinget A website maintained by the Sámi Parliament of Norway, with information about the history and function of the parliament and some general history of the Sámi people as well.

Reindeer Blog

International Center for Reindeer Husbandry

For current statistics related to the Sámi living in Norway, see Statistics Norway