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 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.


Book look: Image of Sápmi

L’image du Sápmi – Études comparées (Image of Sápmi - Comparative studies)

Kajsa Andersson editor, Humanistica Oerebroensia. Artes et linguae 15

(Humanistic Studies at Örebro University 2009)

While there are 18 articles in French and 10 in English, we will focus on one: "Seventeenth-Century Images of the True North, Lapland and the Sami" by Rune Blix Hagen, associate professor at The Department of History of the University of Troms . It is based on a book Voyage des pais septentrionaux which was published in Paris in 1671. The following excerpts start on page 139:

In late August, 1671, a book entitled Voyage des pais septentnonaux was published in Paris; its literal translation means "Journey to the Lands under the Seven Plow-Oxen (or under the Plough [i.e. Big Dipper])". The North had been called the septentrionale region since ancient times in Europe. Based upon an expedition that the Frenchman Pierre Martin De La Martini re, from Rouen, had undertaken the previous year his 1671 travel narrative would become one of the most famous from the far north. The book was apparently a great success; it was often reedited and translated into several languages. The narrative is certainly unequaled in its drama and suspense. La Martini re was the first Frenchman traveling to the northern latitudes, and his trip paved the way for later and famous scientific expeditions to the high north by the French. According to the 1671 report, he penetrated into a region devoted to all kinds of wildness and bestiality. His attempts to portray foreign lifestyles and his encounters with the extreme Other illustrate how the north was typically depicted in the early modern era. For centuries the far north was traditionally considered to be the realm of strong, evil magic and demonic forces. His travel narrative is one of the first of many marking the rise of the fashion for the North at the end of the seventeenth century.

The company of travelers came into face-to-face interaction with the Sami in the area close to Nesseby "which seem'd to us to be very Wild". The strangers astonished the local inhabitants. It was maybe because the Sami met men who were "less barbarous than themselves", La Martini re tried to explain. With spirits and tobacco the travelers bought benevolence and conveyance by reindeer, the last of which led them "thro' all Lapland, both Danish, Swedish and Muscovite". The Sami spoke to their reindeer as if they were human, and the animals ran so quickly "...that we thought we were drawn by so many Devils". Then they were frequent witnesses to "the Ceremony of muttering in the Ears of the Beasts". The French visitor noticed that "these Barbarians" became wilder and increasingly more vulgar as they progressed toward the interior. In the middle of Lapland "we heard terrible Howlings and Cryings, but saw nothing". After having crossed large parts of Lapland, they arrived back in Varanger 21 May 1670. The Sami were given more liquor and tobacco to avoid having the ships cursed by their contrary winds, and to cheer them up. These people were unreliable. They could quickly enslave by their speech and spellbind their victims at a glance. The liquor helped the Sami to raise a fair wind for La Martini re's company away from Varanger Fjord. On 26 May, the vessels anchored at Vard 's sterv gen, which was called "the chief Town of the Government of Danish Lapland". The captain of Vard hus Fortress boarded the ship and was warmly welcomed.

The Frenchman made drawings of a man and a woman who were returned to Copenhagen, to be exhibited as exotic creatures from the wilds of the far north. The kidnapping caused a lot of commotion: "...when they found they could not escape us, they set up a hideous Howling, the most horrid Noise that I ever I heard in my Life". The traveler-narrator suggests, too, that "of all the Creatures I ever saw, of the Race of Man, the most unlike the Image of that Creature." As we have seen, they kidnapped four natives on the request of the Danish king.

The Sami missionary, Knud Leem (1696-1774), who published a monumental work called Beskrivelse over Finmarkens Lapper (A Depiction of Finnmark's Lapps), in 1767, wanted to correct many of the misconceptions that he found in La Martini re's book. Large parts of his introduction were aimed at discrediting the Frenchman's views. Leem was particularly annoyed knowing that La Martini re's depiction of the Sami had been incorporated in encyclopedias and other reference material of the 18th-century. La Martini re "finds joy in letting his imagination run riot" wrote Leem, who also meant that any contention of northerners having conjured magical winds was offensive. Item by item, Leem refuted the Frenchman's portrayals of the Sami. "I have lived as a missionary with the Sami for several years, but I have never heard or seen such things as those which he has on his northern voyage", Leem wrote. Regarding the story about devils disguised as cats, Leem dryly replied that the Sami nomads did not own cats. He also disputed the notion of moral laxity among Sami women when he wrote "I can truthfully attest to never having heard an obscene word from any Lapp, arid illegitimate children have not been born for years". The Frenchman was more interested in entertaining – than imparting reliable and useful knowledge of northern Scandinavia, according to both Leem and Schefferus.

Another Frenchman, the comte Georges-Louis Leclerq de Button (1707-1788) could profit from the travel writing of La Martini re in his impressive 44 volume encyclopedia Historic Naturelle (published in 1749-88), hailed as one of the enlightenment's most highly esteemed works. In the volume containing the natural history of man, we can find a section called Of the Varieties of the Human Species. This section begins with Button's account of the peoples of the very far north: These people not only resemble each other in deformity, in smallness of stature, and in the colour of their eyes and hair, but also in the dispositions and manners: They are all equally gross, superstitious, and stupid. The Danish Laplanders have a large black cat, to which they communicate their secrets, and consult in all their important affairs; such as, whether this day should be

employed in hunting or fishing. Among the Swedish Laplanders, a drum is kept in every family for the purpose of consulting the devil; and, though they are a robust and nimble people, such is their pusillanimity, that they never could be persuaded to face a field of battle. Gustaphus Adolphus endeavored to embody a regiment of Laplanders; but he was obliged to relinquish the project.

Three other papers in the book outlined the careers of three painters of the Sami:

Painting 1 (above top): "Ill Sami" painted by Anna Nordlander (1843-1879)

Painting 2 (above middle): "The Duke of Orléans receiving hospitality in a tent of the Lapps – Louis-Phillipe at the North Cape, Autumn 1795" painted in 1841 by François August Biard.

Painting 3 (above right): "Sami Mother with her Child" painted in 1908 by Juhoo Kustaa Kyyhkynen. 1908 exhibit reviewed in Helsingin Sanomat: "In the paintings there are the Sami moving from one place to another, the Sami the little ugly human beasts at whom we here in southern Finland can sometimes look for payment." Reviewed also in Huvudstadsbladet (Helsinki): "Northern lights, red sunsets and ancient Sami people, which travel on the tundra covered with snow, are so strange that they spoil the whole artistic enjoyment."


A case for Sápmi's Clouseau

Looking for a lilac lavvu conjuring pink elephants

Dressed in a pink gákti of her own design, Anne Berit Anti had fun during the high energy weekend Midnightrock Festival in Leavnnja/Lakselv (along with 7,500 others). That was, until thieves struck right under the festival's nose, and her lavvu suddenly disappeared!

"Saturday at nine o'clock it was gone
only the poles were left,” explains the exasperated owner. The lavvu had already been her home for several days at the festival campground.

This is not just any lavvu, but one that she designed and had sewn by lavvu specialist Chris Pesklo in Minnesota, USA. "I wanted a lilac lavvu with pink edges and a pink door
a festival lavvu."

That her gákti and the lavvu were made to match has not made the loss any easier. "The thieves have not only stolen a piece of canvas, but an entire festival home," she emphasized.

The mystery increases since "Nobody saw anything. My sister was inside the car just before, but didn't notice anything," says Anne Berit, “But they’ve taken the wrong lavvu
they can't put it up anywhere because there is only one like it in the entire world."

She adds that it was not made for mountain living, but only as a festival shelter. The lavvu was not the less expensive since the cost included a few hundred dollars extra baggage fee on the plane.

"I've cast a spell on the thieves. They will find pink elephants trampling them and spraying them with its trunk in the lavvu if it is not returned," she warned.

Anne Berit wants tips from anyone not color blind. She contacted both the music festival organizers and the police, but no one reported a left behind lavvu, and has now officially reported the theft.

Otherwise, Midnightrock was lots of fun," she murmurs in consolation.

Ságat July 13, 2010|

Árran note:

When visiting Sami America, Anne Berit, along with her fellow news manager Katri Somby, attended the WEWIN (Women Empowering Women for Indian Nations) conference and camped at another festival of sorts, the Leech Lake traditional powwow in Northern Minnesota.


Árran now published digitally

From now on, Árran will be published in pdf files on the Internet. No further subscriptions will be necessary. Those of you who have paid in the last two years without receiving four issues, if you still would like to receive a paper copy of the latest issue, you may contact Árran.

Here is issue 54/55, a double issue for 2009/2010. You will have to come back here after part one to access the links for parts two and three.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3


Reindeer luck

When princess Märtha Louise visited Finnmark seven years ago the Eira family gave her a white reindeer as a gift. They are among the largest reindeer owners in Finnmark and are featured in an eight-part docu-series on Norwegian TV beginning in February. The reindeer was named Star on the Forehead. Märtha Louise received her in 2001, but since that time it has become six animals – soon an entire herd. Ole Mathis comments “In her flock there are four females, one young and three a bit older. We expect a calf from the young one next year. She may be four reindeer richer next year, and at this rate could become one of the largest owners in Finnmark,” adding “All of my reindeer receive the royal treatment.”
Sami Radio

Watch the series in the NRK archives. In Sami and Norwegian, but worth checking out for
Sápmi photography .