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Thread: Swedish Girl from Lappland Seeks to Preserve her Heritage

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    Thumbs Down Swedish Girl from Lappland Seeks to Preserve her Heritage

    UNESCO in action culture: Anna's quest
    An 18 year-old Swede from Lapland, fights to save her culture and her language, one of the most threatened in Europe.




    Rensjon, a village lying under the snow in the region of Kiruna, northern Sweden: a television crew from Discovery Channel is filming a short documentary about the Saami. Outside, the temperature is –33°C, freezing both people and movie cameras. Only Anna, 18 years old, is in her element. Pouring all her teenage energy into defending her “difference,” this young Swedish woman is the star of the hour.

    “The first thing I’ll pass on to my children? The Saami language.” Anna doesn’t bat an eyelid before answering. On the surface, she is a teenager like any other: her life revolves around snowboarding, her boyfriend and the American pop-rock group Foo Fighters. But deep down, she feels that she has something else, that many of her school friends don’t.

    “It’s a feeling that grows with time. The more the years go by, the more I feel like speaking Saami and following my uncle and his reindeer into the mountains. Living close to nature gives you incredible strength.” For Anna, being Saami is a bonus, a passport for a life that breaks with the ordinary. “I have my Swedish life, like everyone else, and an extra life as well.”

    Anna lives with her parents in Gällivare, a mining town located north of the Arctic circle. “I’m lucky, because my parents always told me where I came from and sent me to a Saami school.” Along with Swedish and English, she learnt to read and write in her mother tongue, which her mother and grandmother only know how to speak. She also discovered how to yoik, the art of singing traditional melodies with modulations evoking the wind, which once carried performers into a trance. For several years now, she has sung in public at Saami festivals.

    PROUD OF HER HERITAGE

    Often, on weekends, Anna travels 80 kilometres to visit her maternal grandmother Ellen Maria, who lives in Rensjon. With this feisty 77-year old, Anna learns how to make traditional objects in reindeer skin or multicoloured threads. She loves listening to her grandmother’s stories about the past, recounted without nostalgia but with a definite sense of pride: a nomadic childhood governed by the rhythm of reindeer herding, the death of her own mother when she was barely three, her role as the family head that she assumed early on to support her father, brother and little sister, the harsh winter of 1935-36 when all the reindeer starved to death, the trading of “milk against meat” with Finns settled in the region, and finally, the move to a more sedentary lifestyle, access to modernity and basic comforts. “Saami life has changed so much,” says Anna, “I don’t want this memory to die.”

    Not that the two women would ever turn the clock back. Like her friends, Anna is not attracted to traditional occupations such as reindeer breeding, which employs less than 15 percent the Saami in Sweden: too tough and not lucrative enough, she says. Unless they own more than 400 animals, reindeer herders have a below average living standard and must round off their months by working in the mining industry or in the tourism business.

    But Anna is sure of one thing. She will continue living in Sápmi (previously known as Lapland) and defend her language and the rights of her small minority. Today, Sweden counts some 15,000 to 20,000 Saami, accounting for less than 0.25 per cent of the country’s population. Even in their own region, where temperatures can drop to –50°C, they only represent between five to ten per cent of inhabitants. The others are mostly miners from the southern part of the country lured by opportunities in important iron ore deposits.

    Traditionally a people of hunters and fishermen, the Saami became nomadic herdsman towards the end of the Middle Ages. They lived through dark hours from the 16th to the mid-20th century: their lifestyle and customs came under attack and their traditional territory split between several States (see box below). Colonization, taxes, Christian missionaries and the persecution of traditional Shamans, forced labour in the mines, the prohibition to use their language and express their culture, racism and economic decline pushed the majority to assimilate into the dominant and prosperous Swedish society.

    According to estimates, more than half the Saami in Sweden cannot speak their own language and 90 percent can’t write it. Many young people know nothing about their past or are ashamed of it, says Anna. “Some don’t even know they are Saami or hide it. My boyfriend, for example. When I met him five years ago, no one had ever told him that he had Saami ancestors.” Today, however, a growing number of his friends are starting to accept their origins.

    Anna will continue speaking up for her culture and “rights.” “As soon as I’m allowed, I will vote in the Sametinget (Sweden’s Saami parliament),” she asserts, regretting that two thirds of the Saami don’t take this opportunity. This parliament, which has an advisory capacity to the government according to its president Lars Anders Baer, was set up in Kiruna in 1993, several years after those in Norway and Finland. It is the result of the birth, after World War Two, of a Saami movement, which gained strength in the 1970s, echoing the affirmation of other indigenous peoples around the world.

    In recent years, Mr Baer admits, Sweden’s Saami people have scored points on the cultural front, even if he feels the government does not invest enough money in promoting the language. Today, Saami children have the right to be educated in their mother tongue, although few follow this route. The most motivated attend the six bilingual schools in Sápmi’s cities. According to the European research network Mercator, the number of students in these schools rose from 115 in 1994/95 to 170 in 2000/01. Some 180 children spread across other schools in the country benefit from an “integrated Saami education” as part of the general curriculum. Other children take Saami as an option. If they wish, they can continue in high school and university.

    LAND RIGHTS

    The environment is slowly changing. National school curricula are starting to speak about the history of minorities in the country. Some media are introducing Saami programmes, albeit in small doses. On the legislative front, Stockholm ratified the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages in February 2000. At the same time, a new law was adopted on the right to use Saami before administrative authorities and in court, a decisive step in the recognition of the Saami minority.

    The looming question of land rights remains. Unlike Norway, Sweden has not ratified the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 169 concerning indigenous and tribal peoples. According to this text, these people must have the “rights of ownership and possession” of their traditional lands and be able to “participate in the benefits” of activities stemming from the exploitation of natural resources. For Anna’s father, Anders, survival depends on this: without economic autonomy that would notably enable his people to develop and modernize reindeer husbandry, Saami culture is condemned to disappear. “If you no longer need 400 words to describe the quality of snow or hundreds of others to designate different parts of the reindeer, you no longer need the language,” he says. “If our traditions die, our language will die.”

    Meanwhile, his daughter continues to sing. And the future will tell whether her yoik is a swan’s song to Saami culture or an ode to the Sun god of a reborn people.



    Photo N° 1 © UNESCO/Sophie Boukhari: Anna, 18, her grandmother Ellen Maria, 77, and her mother Irénée, 48 (above): Saami and proud to be.

    Photo N° 2 © Michael Friedel/Rapho, Paris: A wedding at Kautokeino in Norwegian Sápmi (below). The bridal couple have just said “jua” (yes).

    Read
    • Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger of Disappearing, UNESCO Publishing, first edition 1996; second edition 2001.
    • Arctic Languages, An Awakening, UNESCO Publishing, 1990.
    • World Culture Report, UNESCO Publishing, 1998.


    Straddling borders
    Some 60,000 to 100,000 Saami (also written Sámi), an indigenous people formerly known as Lapps, live dispersed across four countries: Finland, Norway, Sweden and Russia. Their territory came under the Swedish crown in the early 16th century before being divided between Sweden, Russia and Denmark a century later. In 1996, part of Sweden’s Laponian area, where a nomadic lifestyle marked by the seasonal rhythm of reindeer herding prevails, was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. “We are the only wild white people in the world,” jokes an ironic Lars Anders Baer, president of Sweden’s Saami Parliament, underlining that “the majority, 40,000 to 70,000 people, live on Norwegian territory.” It is estimated that 15,000 to 20,000 Saami live in Sweden, around 5,000 in Finland and 2,000 in the Kola Peninsula (Russia).

    The Saami language is generally classified in the Finno-Ugrian family, bearing similarities to the languages of the Baltic Sea like Finnish and Estonian. But there are in fact several Saami tongues, often bearing no resemblance with each other. Spelling can also vary from one language to the other.

    The UNESCO Atlas of Languages in Danger lists 11 Saami languages, of which one is “extinct” (Kemi Saami), four are “nearly extinct” (Pite Saami, Ume Saami, Ter Saami and Akkala Saami), five are “seriously endangered” (Inari Saami, Skolt Saami, Kildin Saami, Lule Saami and South Saami). Only one is listed in the simply “endangered” category: North Saami, spoken by 80 to 90 percent of the Saami who still speak their language – about 30,000 people – living in the four countries concerned.

    Lars Anders Baer asserts that an effort “to harmonize linguistic policies adopted in the four concerned countries” is necessary to save the Saami language. But in doing so, there is a risk of killing variants that are currently spoken by no more than a few hundred, or even a few dozen people.


    [Source: UNESCO]

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    Nice article. I personally think Sámi languages happen to be sóme of the most beautiful languages in the world.
    "Lännen älymystö on surullista kyllä epäonnistunut tehtävässään puolustaa läntisiä arvoja, kuten rationalismia, sosiaalista moniarvoisuutta, ihmisoikeuksia, laillisuutta, edustuksellista valtiovaltaa, individualismia (siinä mielessä, että jokainen yksilö on tärkeä, eikä ketään tulisi uhrata jonkin utopistisen kollektiivisen päämäärän hyväksi), ilmaisunvapautta, uskonnonvapautta ja vapautta olla uskomatta, vähemmistön oikeuksia ja niin edelleen. Sen sijaan nk. islam-asiantuntijoista lännen yliopistoissa, medioissa, kirkoissa ja jopa valtion virastoissa on tullut islamin uskonpuolustajia. He ovat omalta osaltaan vastuussa sellaisen intellektuaalisen terrorismin ilmapiirin luomisesta, jossa kaikkinainen islamin kritiikki julistetaan fasismiksi, rasismiksi tai orientalismiksi. He ovat omalta osaltaan vastuussa yleisön tuudittamisesta siihen uskomukseen, että islamin uhka on vain myytti... Velvollisuutemme on puolustaa vapaamielisen demokratian arvoja."
    — Ibn Warraq
    http://skender.be/supportdenmark/Sup...rkSmall2EN.png

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    Quote Originally Posted by Wiseman
    Nice article. I personally think Sámi languages happen to be sóme of the most beautiful languages in the world.
    I think so too It sounds somewhat softer than Finnish.

    I haven't seen this documentary about the Saami girl because I haven't had a discovery channel for 6 months. But before that, there were this ad about her on Discovery. I also liked a similar ad about a Scottish girl who speaks Gaelic and dances.

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    Stig NHF
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    70 000 Lapps in Norway? hahaha.....more like 20 000.

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    The woman in the red shirt in picture # 1 looks extremely Mongoloid.

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    It's "okay" for her to do that because she counts as a minority in sweden, she's a same/Lapp. If a 18 year old boy or girl from another part of sweden tried to do the exakt same thing, he or she would be "a racist".

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    Stig NHF
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kepler
    The woman in the red shirt in picture # 1 looks extremely Mongoloid.
    Well, they are a mongoloid people

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    Quote Originally Posted by Skåne!
    It's "okay" for her to do that because she counts as a minority in sweden, she's a same/Lapp. If a 18 year old boy or girl from another part of sweden tried to do the exakt same thing, he or she would be "a racist".
    Well the Swedish culture and language are hardly on the brink of extinction. But yes, point taken.
    "Lännen älymystö on surullista kyllä epäonnistunut tehtävässään puolustaa läntisiä arvoja, kuten rationalismia, sosiaalista moniarvoisuutta, ihmisoikeuksia, laillisuutta, edustuksellista valtiovaltaa, individualismia (siinä mielessä, että jokainen yksilö on tärkeä, eikä ketään tulisi uhrata jonkin utopistisen kollektiivisen päämäärän hyväksi), ilmaisunvapautta, uskonnonvapautta ja vapautta olla uskomatta, vähemmistön oikeuksia ja niin edelleen. Sen sijaan nk. islam-asiantuntijoista lännen yliopistoissa, medioissa, kirkoissa ja jopa valtion virastoissa on tullut islamin uskonpuolustajia. He ovat omalta osaltaan vastuussa sellaisen intellektuaalisen terrorismin ilmapiirin luomisesta, jossa kaikkinainen islamin kritiikki julistetaan fasismiksi, rasismiksi tai orientalismiksi. He ovat omalta osaltaan vastuussa yleisön tuudittamisesta siihen uskomukseen, että islamin uhka on vain myytti... Velvollisuutemme on puolustaa vapaamielisen demokratian arvoja."
    — Ibn Warraq
    http://skender.be/supportdenmark/Sup...rkSmall2EN.png

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    Stig NHF
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wiseman
    Well the Swedish culture and language are hardly on the brink of extinction. But yes, point taken.
    Well, I think every Swede on this board simply being here would prove you wrong there.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Stig NHF
    Well, I think every Swede on this board simply being here would prove you wrong there.
    How exactly?
    "Lännen älymystö on surullista kyllä epäonnistunut tehtävässään puolustaa läntisiä arvoja, kuten rationalismia, sosiaalista moniarvoisuutta, ihmisoikeuksia, laillisuutta, edustuksellista valtiovaltaa, individualismia (siinä mielessä, että jokainen yksilö on tärkeä, eikä ketään tulisi uhrata jonkin utopistisen kollektiivisen päämäärän hyväksi), ilmaisunvapautta, uskonnonvapautta ja vapautta olla uskomatta, vähemmistön oikeuksia ja niin edelleen. Sen sijaan nk. islam-asiantuntijoista lännen yliopistoissa, medioissa, kirkoissa ja jopa valtion virastoissa on tullut islamin uskonpuolustajia. He ovat omalta osaltaan vastuussa sellaisen intellektuaalisen terrorismin ilmapiirin luomisesta, jossa kaikkinainen islamin kritiikki julistetaan fasismiksi, rasismiksi tai orientalismiksi. He ovat omalta osaltaan vastuussa yleisön tuudittamisesta siihen uskomukseen, että islamin uhka on vain myytti... Velvollisuutemme on puolustaa vapaamielisen demokratian arvoja."
    — Ibn Warraq
    http://skender.be/supportdenmark/Sup...rkSmall2EN.png

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