A Sámi centennial

2017 marks 100 years since these indigenous peoples’ first congress

Photo: Public Domain
Sámi activist and politician Elsa Laula Renberg circa 1916.

Charlotte Bryan
The Foreigner

Held in the Methodist Church in Trondheim, the first Sámi Congress in 1917 marked the first time Sámi people from Norway and Sweden would work together to discuss common affairs. The first Sámi congress was led by Elsa Laula Renberg (1877-1931).

Elsa had traveled across all of Sápmi—the territory that spans the Arctic Circle over Northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia—and gave lectures discussing Sámi issues, gaining respect from people everywhere she went. Highly valued in the communities, she was just 53 years old when she passed due to tuberculosis.

Today, Sámi National Day celebrations range from far and wide across Sápmi. Many gather to mark the day every February 6. First confirmed at 1992’s Sámi Conference in Helsinki, the following year’s official first Sámi National Day was also celebrated as the International Year of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

Some 70,000 Sámi live in Norway, 25,000 in Sweden, 7,000 in Finland, and 3,000 in Russia. There are also some 30,000 descendants of Sámi people in North America.

In connection with this year’s celebration, the South Sámi book and culture bus, organized for children by Nordland County, was in Trondheim. There were various on board presentations including lectures, songs, readings, and yoiks (traditional songs). HM King Harald V opened the celebrations.

Northern Norway’s Tromsø, which hosted reindeer sprint races prior to Sámi National Day, saw the animals reach speeds of up to 60 kilometers per hour (some 37 mph). And the Sámi Week in Tromsø contained events such as the Norwegian Championship in Lasso Throwing, films at Fokus Aurora Cinema, and activities at Tromsø library.

Overseas, Sweden’s Jokkmokk, Northern Europe’s largest winter festival for over 400 years, provided Sámi culture in the form of handicrafts and Sámi bread between February 2 and 4. Winter food treats such as smoked trout, jams, and berries from Norrbotten (a province in northernmost Sweden) were available, as were elk and reindeer meats. There was also wintery fun such as the traditional reindeer race, helicopter tours, and dog sledding.

The Sámi parliament of the Kola Peninsula, where most of Russia’s Sámi live today, organized activities in Murmansk between February 4 and 6. There were several seminars and discussions, a Sámi theatre performance, and a program focusing on Sámi culture, language, and the way Sámi youth and children relate to their culture.

The celebrations and other events are far from over, however. Finland’s Giellagas Institute for Sámi studies at the University of Oulu is hosting a seminar about different layers and interpretations of a Sámi landscape. Subjects that guest speakers will cover include tourist ideas about the Sámi landscape and various methods used to document Sámi history.

Back in Norway, the Jubilee Committee, Tråante 2017, held street celebrations in Trondheim’s town square through February 8, with Sámi foods, handcrafts, and concerts.

Moreover, members of the Sámi Council, who now meet every fourth year, attended a conference at the Scandic Lerkendal Hotel in Trondheim between February 9 and 11.

The first Sámi Conference took place in the small town of Jokkmokk in Sweden’s Norrbotten County in 1953 to appoint a working group that would put together the Sámi Council. And the second Sámi Conference in Norway’s Karasjok, three years later, saw the rise of the established Nordic Sámi Council. Their work is aimed at transcending national borders.

There are currently a total of 72 delegates, with 18 from each country. The quadrennial conferences provide opportunities for representatives to be appointed and resolutions to issues to be brought to the table. Languages spoken include Sámi, English, and Russian, reflecting its internationality.

This article was originally published on The Foreigner. To subscribe to The Foreigner, visit theforeigner.no.

It also appeared in the Feb. 24, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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