Photo: A view from the first printed map of the Nordic countries, designed by Olaus Magnus and published in Venice in 1539. Carta Marina by Olaus Magnus / Northern Lights Road. University Library in Tromsø – 1999. (public domain)
The articles in the media concerning the Sami people – usually states this «Norwegians/Swedish/Finnish/Russia dont know anything about/dont support Sami people». And yes, that is true, but unfortunately the colonization has been moving forward and we have come to the point where the article «We Samis dont know who we are» is just as relevant.
The colonization prosess has come so far that very few of the Sami people are living a «Sami life» – a life that has the sami values, goals and lifestyle intact.
The reason for this is of course the colonization – that everything shamanistic and sami was illegal and the enforcement of houses, usage of non-sami names, Scandinavian/Finnish language, education systems, restrictions by law, paternalism and the way of life in general.
The result is that a big majority of all the Samis who are brought up today are living a western lifestyle – not a Sami lifestyle. Their life is excatly the same as anyone else in western Europe. If you look at a Sami family and a non-sami family in Europe, their life is pretty much the same. Exept a few things that they do in their spare time and on special occasions differentiates the Sami people from the rest of the world… One example is joiking, and another the few of us who are reindeerherders.
But what does it mean to be a sami?
The worldview of the Samis is shamanistic. But far from all sami people know what shamanism is. Some might be living in a shamanistic worldview, but not be aware of it – because the world «shamanism» is connected to something illegal and bad, and is never used. Also, on the other hand, many Samis today have the christian view of what shamanism is. Either because they are christians, or because this is what they have learned (from christians).
Unfortunately we have come to the point where the last generations of those who have lived according to the original Sami values and lifestyles will be gone in a few decades maximum.
To be honest – does anyone know what it means to be sami anymore? We say that it is many things – because nowadays it is. We say it is possible to have the western values and still be Sami.
Also read: Not ONE culture but many.
There are a few Samis still alive who have lived and grown up like the Samis used to for centuries. Grown up in a lávvu or pethut, for example, and live the life according to «laws of nature» not necesserily the laws of the government.
They dont know who we are
Originally everything in nature had bigger impact and power over people because it was more about survival those days, and nature was the guide. The snow conditions during the winter would be the most important factor, today the most important factor are the governments regulations.
For example, long ago, after a sequence of good years for the reindeer, a bad year comes. After a few good years the amount of reindeer have increased and could lead to overpopulation of reindeer, and that could affect the amount of lichen for many years in the future. The naturals cycle is then that once in a while a «bad» year comes. The snow starts melting in the beginning of the winter, and then freezes creating a icecap over the lichen, so that the reindeer cannot reach it. A lot of reindeer will then die, but the result of that is that overpopulation of reindeer is avoided. In other words, the «bad year» is natures way to balance the population of reindeer to avoid overgrazing.
What happens now that reindeerherders apply for government funding to feed reindeer with hay and pellets during «bad” years. If a big part of their reindeer die, then many herders cannot survive in the business of reindeerherding anymore. This has lead to overgrazing in some areas. So nowadays we are not concerned about a «bad year», but rather if we get funding from the government. It used to be all about foreseeening and adapting to nature, but now it is about foreseeing and adapting to the governments.
It used to be the climatic changes that was of the most concern of people, but now it is not the most important thing anymore. Because the government and the laws have given us other concerns. The building of mines where the reindeer graze, if there will be windmills in the grazing areas, a new highway cutting off migration paths, ski-resorts and so on…
Now the governments have taken over the power factor, and forcing us into their way of thinking.
Instead of the «nature laws» the laws of the government apply.
And the fact is – it is not possible to live the original Sami way – because the law does not make room for it. The laws in Norway do not include that kind of lifestyle.
We know many Norwegians/Swedish/Finnish who also would want to live in a way that is more close to nature and and live by nature, grow own vegetables and live on hunting and fishing. In Norway we have heard of a new political party who wants to make this kind of lifestyle legal in Norway. We know of Canada, Alaska, Greenland, and Siberia, and in some tropical areas where this kind of lifestyle is possible by law.
We dont know who we are anymore
So we Samis complain and complain about that the colonistis dont understand us, we complain to them, and expect them to do something about it.
Well, it is a bit absurd, because the nature of colonization is to NOT preserve that what is colonized… BUT yes, the Norwegian government has tried to give us some support – in a colonist way, that is. And unfortunately that probably colonized us even more…
They have given us the Sami Parliament that has no power, (latest proof of that is this case; Repparfjorden), but it has money to give to the Samis who play by the governments rules. Make fancy art, make festivals and seminars, and gatherings, and make beautiful duodji, movies and music that are made to the criteria of those who made the rules.
Yes, finally the Sami music has found its place in the society, through many TV-shows, Eurovision Song contest, and talent-shows. But I cannot help to think like this:
By giving us all this acceptance now, is this their way of saying:
«Finally you Samis have understood what is valuable for our society. Finally you are making music we can listen too! Finally you are making art we can look at and understand, and relate too.»
…because its made by the generation of Samis who grew up in and followed the colonizers structure (education, jobs, clothing style etc), values of life and so on…
If this is the truth, and not only a fear I have, that what the Norwegian government has given us as compensation for all our oppression, has resulted in even more colonization.
Because now we are in their game for full. A lot of Samis are so colonized they dont even know it themselves. We are playing the game of the colonist. Following their rules as if they where our own. Because that is the only way we stand a chance. We cannot win in a game that someone else has made if we dont play it…
And some Samis prefer to be that way. Some of them work in the Sami Parliament. Fronting the values of the colonists to the Sami people.
They dont know who they are
All this scared me when I started digging in the history of the Sami people.
I wanted to find out who we really where (and what a small percentage of us still are), and I started lookin back to the time when the norse and Sami culture where living side by side. When we had things in common, and did trading with each other. There was a time when the Scandinavians and the Sami had things in common and had more or less respect for each other. But those days ended when the Norsemen got Christianised… One example is that laws where constituted prohibiting the Norse population to seek out Sami shamans.
If we look at history of the Norway, this is what happened: They where living their norse lifestyles, with the values and culture that it contained. This lifestyle had alot in common with the Sami culture. The worldview and values where very much the same. After the Christianity had taken over the Nordic countries the norse culture got washed away more and more, and now there is no-one living that lifestyle anymore. This breaks my heart. Scandinavians are all living a western lifestyle, but in special occasions, in their spare time, on festivals and so on, some of them like to dress up as norsemen and do some viking activities at festivals and gatherings. They play with swords, bow and arrow, dress up, and play viking games, and look at viking pictures and remember them with pride.
I remember looking at a video from a viking festival, thinking: “What if this was the Sami culture? OUR culture. What if this was us on a festival trying to remember something from our forgotten culture and lifestyle. What if it was us there dressing up in gákti like a curiousity, being overexcited by seeing a reindeer and trying to throw a lasso for the first time in their lives as a 20 year old at a festival, and learning a few words of Sami language and the god-symbols….”
And the I realized… What happened to the Norse is exactly the same as what is happening to the Sami! Just a few hundred years later… It has already started. Already the national day of the Sami people is becoming a niche «festival» where we dress up as Samis and do Sami activities, and then the next day we go back to living in our western society. We celebrate in a way that our society think is appropriate, and suits their funding options. Yes, this is better than nothing, but when I think of what it could have been instead, I feel sad. We could live a sami lifestyle ever day, and be Samis in every way, not just the ways that the government accepts, and lets us be. And we could celebrate in a more Sami way… The governments have given us restrictions of what is and what is not accepted of the Sami culture. And the worldview is one of the things that clash with the western values, and therefore makes everything else impossible to implement according to Sami tradition.
We talk of development. Yes, we samis have to develop too, as everyone else in the world. We cannot stay the same forever. We cannot go back and live like we used to. This I agree with, because it goes against life itself. Against nature. But what are we developing FROM? That is what I dont see… I dont see development – I see shifting the path entirely. I see us becoming more and more like the colonists wants us to be – and all in the name of development. If we are to develop we have to have our base. And that is what is missing now. Because being Sami is so many things, we have lost our base, our core values, our common ground. And this is where the colonists have succeeded, because we can never stand together if we cannot agree between ourselves. When we dont know what we stand for, our values, and what we can contribute to the world with.
Also read: How can we contribute?
Our colonizers are colonized!
The Christianization of Norway and Europe was a long-term process, and it took place mainly from the top of the hirearchy down. That is, the elite became Christians first.
In Norway, the introduction of Christianity is linked to the three Christian kings, Håkon Adalsteins fostere (about 935–960), Olav Tryggvason (around 995–1000) and Olav Haraldsson (1015–1028). It was the latter who made Christianity the country’s official religion around 1020.
The reason for the king’s desire and effort was that Christianity could be used to legitimize the royal sovereignty. The prevailing notion in Europe in the 900th and 1000s was that the king should be the head of the church. The new religion could therefore be used to defeat resistance from local chiefs and weaken their power. In those days there where local chiefs spread throughout the land.
The new religion could also be used to create a religious community where the king took the top position. He became the leader of the Church and country. The kingdom was God’s form of government. Thus, the church should support and fight for it.
In short: the smart thing to do for a king, was to make the country christian. Because according to the church the king was appointed by God, and was thus always right, and the people where obligated by religious reasons to support the king/state (if they didnt want to go to hell).
The the old culture and religion of the Nordic people survived after 1020, but in hiding. However it was now a dying culture and religion, and the society was now ruled by another culture and religion favoring a small elite. The common people where no longer allowed to empower themself with the aid of nature spirits. The people where now property of the church and state. An example of this, is that the church sometime during the middle age banned the use of psychedelics, like for example certain mushrooms, sometimes used in shamanic work. In other words, a human being was no longer in charge of his/her own body! It was now government property. This was the beginning of the narcotics politics of today.
The last record of any gathering connected to the old Norse religion in Norway is from the 13th century. So we can say that its about a thousand years ago since the Norse culture got the death sentence. And what remains of it today?
Well, there are as mentioned, viking festivals where people dress up and «play» vikings, and there are organizations and gathering for people who have a «special interest» in norse culture.
The colonization prosess started in the south of Scandinavia and continued towards the north. The south of Scandinavia where the norsemen mainly lived was therefore Christianised centuries before the missionaries reached Sápmi.
Today it is about 400-500 years ago since the colonization of Sápmi begun. And where are we now?
A minority of us still lives on reindeer herding or in combination with hunting and fishing. Very few of us live life a life where shamanism and nature is the guide, or different from the rest of Europe – and more like the old way of living as a Sami.
This is our prophecy: If we keep «developing» more now like we have, we will end up like the norse culture within a few decades. That being Sami is more of a hobby, a curiosity for the special interested. In best case we use gákti on national days and special occasions, still speak some Sami, and have Sami festivals with reindeer, flags, clothing and other Sami activities customized to western living/events.
Who are the REAL victims?
A political war has been going on with the government for over a 100 years now. We have been trying to get back our rights through politics… Because the disgreement between the Sami and the governments is not purely a political problem, it is a societal problem. This war goes deeper than Sami politics.
The ones who are colonizing us are colonized as well! The Norse culture has been washed out already. The norse culture is almost gone entirely. And here we are, asking them for aid – for THEM to help US to recover what was lost. And while we are taking the role of the victim, who is the REAL victim here? THEY are the ones who could ask us for help to recover their culture. WE can help THEM in finding back to their own lost culture….
It is maybe too late for the norse, but it is still not too late for the Sami people, we still have a few people amongst us who know how it was to be Sami before we all go westernized. And they can still try to show us what it means to be Sami!