We Stopped Forgetting

Following is a book review by John Xavier, chair of the Sami Siida of North America:

In 1974, Sami writer and cultural leader Alf Isak Keskitalo published what has probably become his most important article, "Research as an Inter-Ethnic Relation," (latest reprint in 1994, in Arctic Centre Reports.)  Keskitalo addressed several issues on cultural and social research crossovers, a sort of questioning of insider-outsider exchanges.  He discussed issues which echo today, including that of research by non-Sami on Sami topics.  Keskitalo wrote of the Sami in the Nordic regions of the Arctic, Sapmi, as a trans-border people whose lives are carried on across political lines.  Other recent authors, including Kao Kalia Yang in The Latecomer:  A Hmong Family Memoir (2008), have developed similar themes of the state of trans-border (and transplanted) peoples.

Now comes Ellen Marie Jensen, with her intriguing new work, We Stopped Forgetting:  Stories from Sami Americans, as an outgrowth of sorts from the long-standing Keskitalo debate, and Yang' s dedication to writing about things that are meaningful.  Jensen, with dual U.S.-Norwegian citizenship, lives most of each year in Sapmi, teaches English there, and draws on her experience as a Sami American, and conducts research in Sapmi and the U.S. on Sami Americans.  Jensen has assembled a book which opens doors to readers seeking some basic understanding of the history of the Sami Americans.  She has one foot on each side of the Atlantic and revels in the process of self-discovery among her primary ethnic identity group, the Sami Americans.  At the same time, Jensen has drawn substantially on her Master's thesis at the University of Tromso, providing a solid academic foundation for her book.

Jensen explains in her Foreword that "...life stories reverse the process of assimilation through memory because assimilation depends greatly on forgetting."  She explores various aspects of ethnic and cultural awareness, starting with her own family and others (including a brief mention my own Xavier family), as well as the subjects of her Master's thesis.

Drawing heavily on many sources, Jensen summarizes the long reach of Sami immigration to the U.S. and furnishes readable chapters which are generously illustrated, with photos, reproduction of artworks, and maps.  Jensen's chosen stories are not at all limited to the main five research chapters of her Master's thesis.  I found it particularly endearing as a Sami American activist that much of her photo documentation draws on contemporary people and current efforts, such as those of the Lantto family, to illustrate her points.  Yet, Jensen gives proper credit to the early Sami American leaders of the 1990s, that is, those leaders whose efforts are now evident in the full flower of the several Sami American organizations that have grown up.

Jensen gives due attention in print and photo to such Sami American giants as Rudy and Sally Johnson, Mel Olsen, Faith Fjeld, descendants of the early Sami reindeer pioneers in Alaska and Canada, and others.  In giving proper credit, Jensen includes much more than the Norwegian roots of Sami America.  Examples include plenty of interviews and information on the Swedish aspects – Jensen recognizes the artistic and gifted Seaberg family; likewise, Jensen offers insight into the Finnish side of things, featuring, for example, publisher and cultural director, Jim Kurtti.  Jensen also points to some future topics for study, including the growing role of social media in the process of inter-ethnic relations.

There is much to like about Jensen’s book, and little to dislike.  For her future publishing efforts, Sami Canadians will want more attention, and a future project might include a printed or web-based compilation of articles from the two main Sami American periodicals, Baiki and Arran.  These two periodicals have furnished, despite appearing on a less-than-regular basis, valuable insight into the development of the Sami American communities.  For the electronic media enthusiast, a compilation of websites and Facebook pages might be of interest.  With these very minimal points just made, this reader concludes that for anyone interested in Sami America, this book is to be recommended without any reservations.

How to order according to Debbie at Ingebretsen's

The cost of the book is $30.  Our shipping cost is based on the amount of purchase and would therefore be $7.50, for a total of $37.50, unless we are shipping within Minnesota in which case there would also be tax.  Since the book isn't up on our website currently, the best way to order would be to call us...800 279 9333 (ask for the mail order department).  We'll be happy to take your order over the phone. Our store hours are 9:00 to 5:30 Monday through Friday and 9:00 to 5:00 Saturday (that's central time).



Lake Lillian Sami Pioneers

by Mona Nelson
from #18 Spring 2000

Árran is a joy to read. It always makes me smile! By the way, it would be nice to hear more from “The Sage” again—that homespun wisdom, spirituality or whatever, that many of us heard from the old folks years ago, but weren’t attentive enough to recognize and appreciate at the time. Perhaps it was that same sage—I don't recall and it doesn't really matter—who once told me that being Sami is “in your heart” as much or more than in the mind.

Many of us from the Northern Norwegian-American community at Lake Lillian carried this “Saminess” in our hearts, without realizing it and despite our grandparents or parents who tried their darndest to make sure we would not. It is sad to think of the Sami-Kven heritage so carefully hidden, or downright rejected, by the immigrants and their children, but so exciting now for those of us who are rediscovering, recognizing, and remembering.

Ole and Maria Solomonson, Lake Lillian

This couple, Ole and Maria Solomonson, also emigrated from the Ullsfjord area of Troms. They were “Finner, forstaar Norsk,” Sami people who spoke Norwegian, according to the 1865 census of their parish in Norway. Like Ole and Kristine Pedersen, this childless couple opened their home to needy children, and even adults. Youngsters from the community, now seniors, say they remember Ellen Maria “making a fuss” over them when they visited. Their house still stands on the north shore of Lake Lillian, now occupied now by descendants of one of their adopted daughters.

The northern Minnesota community, called “Lake Lillian” in this story, is a rural area, actually comprised of parts of several townships. It should not be confused with the village of Lake Lillian, which did not exist until 1923. The village and most of the township of Lake Lillian were as much, or more, Swedish-American, and not part of the northern Norwegian community. In fact, my uncle once told me that County Road 8, an unofficial boundary between the Norwegian and Swedish settlers, was referred to as the “Mason-Dixon Line.” The earliest settlers of the Lake Lillian area were fisher-farmers from around Balsfjord in Troms, Norway, not far from the city of Tromsø on the coast. Their homeland had previously been “settled” by ethnic Finns (ed. referred to as Kven in Norway, whereas Finn refers to Sami) and southern Norwegians, who added farming to the fishing and reindeer-herding economy of the indigenous Sami. The first group came to America by sailing ship, and after a short stay at St. Peter, Minnesota, found their way to Lake Lillian in 1864. Most of them were dissenters from the state church of Norway.

They settled in the townships of East Lake Lillian, Fahlun, and Lake Elizabeth, in Kandiyohi County, Minnesota. Letters and remittances were sent, and a small but steady stream of Kven-Norwegian-Sami immigrants came to the area, from the 1860s into the early 1900s. They came from Balsfjord, Sørfjord, and other communities, and for the same reasons as most other immigrants: economic opportunity, religious freedom, and social equality. The latter must have been especially important to the Kvens and Sami, oppressed and “Norwegianized” in Troms, and in America they shed their Old Country ethnic identities and made claims to being, not only Americans, but “100% Norwegian” Americans. To be called a Finn or a Lapp, at Lake Lillian, was definitely an insult!

There was always a recognition of our northern Norwegian heritage at Lake Lillian. We ate northern Norwegian lefse, with primost and brown sugar, never potato lefse like the southern Norwegians and Swedes. We heard about “fish hunger.” Some of us saw our elders dig into a boiled carp with relish (head and all!), and you could get “salt herring,” rather than just the pickled stuff, at the Lake Lillian store. We children heard strange tales about some of the old-timers who could put a hex on people. Living close to nature was like a religion to many of our old friends and relatives.

But we were always told, of course, that we were “100% Norwegian” and our slanted eyes and dark skin just came from being northern Norwegian, maybe something like Eskimos, but never anything like Finns or Lapps. It was only much later that I heard that northern Norwegian lefse was also called Lappland lefse, that a hex was a gand, (ed. Haugen’s Norwegian English dictionary defines gand as “Lapp magic, sorcery, and gandfinn as “Lappish shaman”) and that one of the local Norwegian Lutheran churches, named Tromso Lutheran after the old country community, was called the “Finn Church” (Sami church).

Church at Lake Lillian, Minnesota

Tromso Lutheran Free Church was formed in 1885, and construction of the church was started the same year. This photo, taken at the church in Lake Lillian Township, dates from the late 1890s. Many of the first members of this congregation were Sami. Ole and Ellen Maria Solomonson were the first to sign the original charter.

Most of the first Lake Lillian pioneers were dissenters from the state church in Norway. They also formed Norwegian Baptist and Methodist congregations, but research has not revealed Laestadianism in the community. The first immigrants to arrive, in the 1860s, were led by a lay minister, the Rev. Johan A. Bomsta, a follower of Gustav Lammers and the Apostolic Free Church in Norway.

Listening more carefully, and asking more, I heard that Grandpa Peterson, long dead now, had said he came from some ”wild Indians” in Norway. During his childhood, he had to attend a boarding school. The bits and pieces were all coming together, and a fascinating ”new” heritage was unveiled.

It is exciting and fulfilling to learn about and share this Saminess, like coming home again. An old family photo now tells a whole new story, lots more interesting than the older story. These aren’t just my relatives; their images and lives are reflections of an ethnic heritage rejected but now reclaimed.

Mona Nelson became aware of the Siida years ago when she was asked to help confirm a story about “six families” who spoke lappisk (Nor: Sami language) at Lake Lillian. After writing this, she also completed a thesis using Lake Lillian as a case study, about Sami and Kven immigrant history. A native of Big Kandiyohi Lake in Fahlun Township, Nelson, now deceased, was the director of the Kandiyohi County Historical Society at Willmar, Minnesota.



Sami Day

We are starting out our move from previous web space to this blog with the Sámi soga lávlla for Sami day.

You may hear it in North Sami, as performed by Dimitri Joavku, on this link.

Words by Isak Saba, music by Arne Sørli
English translation from Sami and Norwegian by Arden Johnson.

The North Sami lyrics, music, and sound files of Sámi soga lávlla are copyright the Saami Council.

Sámi soga lávlla

(North Sami)

Guhkkin davvin Dávggáid vuolde
sabmá suolggai Sámieanan.
Duottar leabbá duoddar duohkin,
jávri seabbá jávrri lahka.
C(ohkat c(ilggin, c(orut c(earuin
allanaddet almmi vuostái.
Šávvet jogat, šuvvet vuovddit,
cáhket ceakko stállenjárggat
máraideaddji mearaide.

Dálvit dáppe buolašbiekkat,
muohtaborggat meariheamit.
Sámisohka sieluin mielain
eahccá datte eatnamiiddis:
Mátkála ii mánuheabit,
gi??odeaddji guovssahasat, -
ruoškkas, ruovggas ro?uin gullo,
juhca jávrriin, jalgadasain,
geresskálla má?iid miel.

Ja go geassibeaivváš gollut
mehciid, mearaid, mearragáttiid,
golli siste guollebivdit
suilot mearain, suilot jávrriin.
Gollin c(uvget c(áhcelottit,
silban šovvot sámieanut,
šelgot c(uoimmit, šle?got áirrut,
luitet olbmát lávllodemiin
geavg?áid, guoikkaid, goatniliid.

Sámieatnan sohkagoddi –
dat lea gierdan doddjokeahttá
goddi c(u?iid, garrogávppiid,
viehkes vearre-vearroválddiid.
Dearvva dutnje, sitkes sohka!
Dearvva dutnje, ráfi ruohtas!
Eai leat doarut dorrojuvvon,
eai leat vieljain varat vardán
sámi siivo soga sis.

Máttarádját mis leat dovle
vuoitán vearredahkkiid badjel.
Vuostálastot, vieljat, miige
sitkatvuo?ain soardiideamet!
Beaivvi bártniid nana nálli!
Eai du vuoitte vašálac(c(at,
jos fal gáhttet gollegielat,
muittát máttarmáttuid sáni:
Sámieatnan sámiide!

Sami people's song


North under the Great Bear
Sápmi shines,
Ridge upon ridge,
lake stretching into lake.
Rocky cliffs, craggy peaks
point to the sky.
Streams laugh, woods whisper
precipice drops steely point
descends to stormy sea.

Frost bites hard in winter,
blizzards chased by crazy winds.
But we Sami love this
with all our heart.
Moonlight helps a traveler,
soaring borealis adds to joy.
Hoof steps, reindeer voices
in the brush-
over lake and tundra the sled glides

When summer sun shines gold
on wood, on sea, on shore,
fishing boats glisten,
rocking wavy seas.
Sea birds sail a glittering harbor,
on silver streams-
steersmen yoiking.
Oars are shining,
boat poles flashing
from pools to rapids to falls.

Sápmi blood, oh Sami -
survivors of the
killing bands, cheating merchants,
wicked taxmen.
Hail, resilient Sami!
Hail, the root and branch
of peace!
No wars flared
and spilled the blood
of Sápmi's clan.

Our ancestors withstood
cruel aggression in old days.
Family members, again we must
combat oppression!
Children of the Sun!
No one subdues us
if we keep our golden language,
and hold our
elders' words of wisdom:
Sápmi for the Sami.



Spoons with reach

On February 4th, 2011 Swedish/Norwegian astronaut Christer Fugelsang presented a silver salt spoon to Ingrid Inga, President of the Swedish Sami Parliament. The silver spoon, made by Per Henrik Påve of Lannavaara, accompanied Christer on his August 6th, 2009 Discovery mission.

Photo: Marie Enoksson
Swedish Sami Parliament press release, 2/4/11

At a recent Sami-American get-together in French Lake, Minnesota, Anne Tormanen from Cokato, Minnesota shared a family heirloom.

My Grannie, Amanda Hanno Nelson, always had one of these little spoons in her sugar bowl. (She was married to my grandfather, A. W. Nelson, a great grandson to Lars Levi Laestadius.) Even when I was a child, she would so often speak of the people of Lapland with such pride and dignity. Of course, at that time I didn't know anything about Lapland or the Sami people. I do assume that her connection with Lapland was through her husband and his family roots in northern Sweden. I remember seeing other objects from Lapland that she had in her home - bright red ones. Oh, how I have regretted not asking her questions to learn what she knew about my family heritage. My Mother also had one of the two spoons in her kitchen. I assume they came from the relatives from northern Sweden.

I feel very fortunate to have these little spoons as a precious keepsake.

My Grannie drinking her coffee from the saucer (and I'll bet she had a sugar cube in her mouth!)

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Juoiganmátki (Yoik Journey)

Thomas Marainen is from Vuolit Sohpar (Nedre Soppero) on the Swedish side.

He has published works of poetry and children's books, lyrics to over a hundred Sami popular songs, translated works of literature into Sami, and headed the Sami Writer's Association. He is an accomplished duojar (crafts maker) and duodji teacher. He has also become a skilled yoiker, and participated in the Sami Grand Prix, performing in 2003, 2008 and in 2010. An activist, Duomma is the recipient of the Biret Elle Memorial Prize, given every four years to the person who best embodies and carries forward traditional Sami culture.

Of the 19 yoiks on Yoik Journey, 10 are by Duomma and the rest traditional with one folk dance. From the liner notes:
The ethos and value of yoik has always been a precious part of Sami life. For a long time I have wanted to record my yoik tradition in order to preserve it for future generations.

Produced/recorded/mixed/mastered by Bernt Mikkel Haglund of Rieban Records.

Sample and purchase tracks from the album here. Watch a video of Duomma yoiking at the Sami Grand Prix last year (he is the second performer).

The latest Árran has a piece on his flute (PDF part 3, page 5) and a photo of him marching for Sami land rights at the Jokkmokk market with Sami American activists Kurt Seaberg and Elle Márja/Ellen Marie Jensen (PDF part 3, page 9).

More on the Marainens
Duomma's poetry
A family duodji site



Sami in America's Employ, a book by Nils Evald Biti

Samer i amerikansk tjeneste (Sami in America's Employ) by Nils Evald Biti. Self published.

Nils is a local historian in Deatnu/Tana. Now retired, he was a seaman for 20 years and a custodian in a local college. He is also a talented photographer and has on several occasions written for Árran. It was reported in Ságat that 85% of this material has never appeared in Norwegian before.

From the forward: Much of the source material was sent by our second cousin Elaine Hepner from Redmond Oregon: innumerable old photographs, books, diaries, postcards, and copies of letters sent from Alaska by Samuel Balto to Dr. Fridtjof Nansen (the arctic explorer who invited him on his expedition). Elaine Hepner is the oldest living descendant of the Balto-Biti clan in America who still remembers grandmother Marth Persen Biti-Balto. Elaine has been a frequent contributor of historical articles to the Sami-American publication Árran.

From the introduction: Until the summer of 1998 our family was completely unaware that Marith Persen Biti’s family had become numerous, mostly in Washington and the West Coast. In 1998, 20 years after the first attempt by descendants to find their roots in Finnmark, Ellen Balto Stenberg’s daughter, Elaine Hepner, and her husband Ed, were invited to the little town of Sirma in Deatnu by Berit Øyfrid Hansen. The invitation was made during the 100th anniversary celebration of the Sami “emigration” to the US, when many Sami families were reunited. When they visited in 1999 it became apparent that Elaine had many exciting and unpublished stories. All her stories could be forgotten and lost forever. This gave me the idea for a book. A few days later I mentioned my plans for a book to Elaine and Ed over dinner, she immediately jumped in and said “Nels - go ahead!”

From the text: The Sami, in their colorful gákti, naturally attracted a great deal of attention wherever they went. The gákti could vary from wool, tanned reindeer skin, and untanned peaskas. The brightly colored trim, together with the long knives, added to the effect, especially for the younger ones.

...During their stay in Saint Paul, Minnesota the Sami went sightseeing by themselves. For hours they walked about the town admiring all the new sights. Eventually they lost their bearings. Near a large building which turned out to be city hall, they asked for directions. Someone quickly determined that they were Norwegian speaking, and went to find governor Knute Nelson. Nelson was friendliness personified, and had them at once well taken care of.

Upon their departure a few days later, governor Nelson came to the Great Northern Railway station to wish them a good journey. While leaving the train he shook hands with one of the Sami, leading a boy with the expedition to exclaim “Do you know the king of Minnesota too?” The Sami had been traveling for a month and were overwhelmed with all their new impressions. There had been little sleep, and more than enough to take in.

...When they got off the train in Kalispell, Montana they saw Indians riding out of town. A little later the Indians returned, increased in numbers. They were armed, walking on foot, and surrounding the train station. Among them was a chief on horseback wearing his war regalia. Everyone was quiet and serious. The Indians were clearly intrigued, seeing the Sami in their colorful outfits. The long Sami knives also caught their interest, hanging from their large impressive belts. Finally the chief asks the Sami which tribe they belong to.
The Sami for their part just looked back
curiously and with equanimity. They too wondered which tribe the Indians belonged to. After observing the Sami carefully for a few minutes, the Indians turned and left the station, no doubt neither the wiser.

The Inuits were eager and quick learners. Their ingrained hunting and trapping instincts were not immediately translatable into the reindeer project’s plans. During an instruction out with the herd, a Sami expressed what it is like to be a reindeer owner: “You are not there for the reindeer, the reindeer is there for you. Your job is to follow the animal, not try to make the animal follow you. The reindeer is more important than you. It is not dependent on you. It you shot down all of them with those modern rifles, what would you live on over the winter without reindeer?” The Inuits responded every situation with a big smile.

Window shopping on Water Street, Port Townsend, WA 1898

...Preparing leather for clothing and sewing clothes were skills where the Inuit were just as good at as the Sami, if not better.

...Cooperation between Sami and Inuit quickly developed into mutual friendship. It wasn’t long before the smiling Inuit gave the Sami an unusual nickname. The Sami were called “playing card people,” because the four winds hat and the boots with turned up toes closely resembled that of the joker.

Usually they were able to keep the wolves at a distance. Wolf attacks stressed the reindeer, and made them uncooperative, and difficult to lead. The scent of predators made them uneasy, and little progress was made whatever they tried. At nightfall Anders Bær would yoik by the big campfire, and that seemed to keep the wolves at some tolerable distance.

Christmas drew near and they needed new provisions which were mostly gone and they wondered if there was anything to buy. They themselves were underway with reindeer bulls to help with the food crisis in the Klondike area. They would at least try to get something since they had long ago run out of both sugar, tea and other things.

One of the men, (probably Redmyer, since was the best at speaking English) traveled to Dawson City with three bulls and two sleds, to see what he could find. On the way back to the camp, the animals pulled the meager provisions in an easy tempo. The monotonous sound from the sled as it glided over the frost covered snow, and the sound from the animals hooves led to the driver to doze off.

The lead reindeer immediately noticed the free reins, and turned suddenly towards the forest. Driver awakened suddenly when the sled overturned, and he found himself lying halfway down in the path. The bulls set for towards the woods with the sleds in tow. With sleepy eyes he could barely make out which direction they took. He spent the rest of the day on foot before arriving at camp where he humbly recounted what happened.

When dawn came, they went to look for the escapees. They found two of the animals with the provisions intact. Then suddenly they saw a pack of wolves who were hunting the third animal which was pulling the empty sled. The panic stricken snorting reindeer heard the bells of his mates from the camp and abruptly turned in their direction with the wolves following.

The herders in the camp saw what was about to happen and started shooting at the wolves. They were out of range for shotguns but the noise from the shots were enough to scare them away before they could attack. The frightened reindeer was captured and calmed down. The reindeer was standing with shaking legs and head hanging down. From its mouth poured gasps of warm breath which condensed in the frost, and surrounded the reindeer in a cloud of white and chilly steam.

After resting a few days, they proceeded to Dawson City. There there were received and celebrated as heroes by the Scandinavian colony. The Sami and their substantial reindeer bulls of course objects of much attention and wonder. Many gold miners came from far away to see the unusual Sami who had come all the way from Scandinavia with
their reindeer.


Sami Spirit Calendar rides again

Kurt has new art! This is a fun way to connect with Samiland.

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