Embracing Saami Culture with the Help of Literature

In November 2009, on Universal Children’s Day, a group of Inari Saami teachers, parents and children travelled to the capital to meet Finnish politicians including President Halonen. The purpose was to campaign for more school books in Inari Saami language. An official complaint about the situation was presented to the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman. The situation has gradually improved since but there is still a severe lack of culturally appropriate learning materials for Inari Saami speaking children.

Anarâškielâ Servi ry (Inari Saami Language Association) was established in 1986 by Veikko Aikio, Ilmari Mattus and Matti Morottaja. The Inari Saami language nest was later established because there was a genuine concern the Inari Saami language might disappear and be lost forever. At first learning materials for Inari Saami speaking children were so scarce, the language nest staff had to translate books from different cultures by glueing the new text on books to cover the original story. One might wonder why Northern Saami books were not used as there was already a decent selection of children’s literature available. For an outsider it may be hard to understand that these are two different although closely related languages. The idea would be similar to suggesting to Estonians to start learning Finnish, a bigger language, instead of their own language.

There are more books and materials to choose from in Northern Saami because there are approximately 30,000 Northern Saami speakers. It is the majority Saami language spoken in Finland but also a language spoken in Norway and Sweden, so resources are not limited to Finland alone. There are still only approximately 450 Inari Saami speakers, along with Skolt Saami, it’s still a minority’s minority language amongst Saami speaking people. All three languages are represented in the local school in Inari. I wanted to help with making learning materials for Inari Saami children because my children attended the language nest. The language nest is a total immersion language nursery, where the core work for language revitalisation is done. Below is a link to a documentary telling about the language nest and the language revitalisation work of Anarâškielâ Servi ry. After leaving the language nest the children usually progress to the Piäju, similar to the language nest but for older preschool children. From there the children can progress to school, where they can continue their education in Inari Saami language. As more children progress from the language nest, the number of Inari Saami speaking people has increased since the making of this video: Reborn (YouTube).

I have been cooperating with Anarâškielâ Servi ry to publish bilingual Inari Saami/English children’s books to help the learning materials situation. I write the stories in English, illustrate the books and then they are translated into Inari Saami by Petter Morottaja, the son of one of the main people in the revitalisation work here in Inari. My wife is also Inari Saami and a folklorist, so she is able to help me with the stories. First of all I wrote and illustrated a book for older children called “The Forgetful Squirrel” and was then asked to make books for younger children. The main character of the original book, an Inari Saami boy called Sammeli, was the inspiration for the series of books which tell of him and his adventures in the “Eight Seasons of Lapland”. The books are in Inari Saami to provide much needed materials for the children learning Inari Saami in the language nests and local school. This way there are culturally appropriate learning materials for Inari Saami speaking children, that also offer them the opportunity to learn English. Tourists who speak English can purchase the books from Sámi Duodji, Siida museum, Hotel Kultahovi in Inari and other places including Arktikum in Rovaniemi and online from Anarâškielâ servi ry.

This way they can learn about the local language and culture, and the revenue can help to fund further books and learning materials for the future.

When I was asked to write this blog, I read about the philosophy behind
Culture for All and was proud to contribute to something so worthwhile. I thought about a seminar for the project “Toward a More Inclusive and Comprehensive Finnish Literature” I was invited to attend, hosted by the Finnish Literature Society (SKS). The seminar led to an anthology “Opening Boundaries: Toward Finnish Heterolinational Literatures”, in which I was very happy to be included. It’s wonderful that there is a concerted effort being made to foster and promote the inclusion of immigrants in Finland and to celebrate their contribution to Finnish society. People have different talents, whether they are writers or artists or make a positive contribution to the wealth of the country in some other way. Similarly Finnish people living in other countries can take their ideology and talents with them to a new country, where they have the chance to make a positive contribution to their new environment, whilst sharing and promoting knowledge of their home country. In the acknowledgements, editor Mehdi Ghasemi wrote “Without their invaluable support, the implementation of the project and the publication of this book would not have been possible.”

There is an African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child.” Without the persistence and endeavour of countless people working for Anarâškielâ Servi ry in the language nest or Piäju, school teachers or kind people providing grants for Inari Saami literature, there would be even less learning opportunities than presently. Chances are the Inari Saami language would have disappeared like other forgotten Saami languages. Even if you just took the time to read this blog, you made a contribution. One more person understands the need for Inari Saami speaking children to have learning materials in their own language.

Lonottâllâm – Sharing, Autumn story (PDF)

The children, who have attended the language nest, Piäju and school in their own language, have now started to make their own contribution to Inari Saami culture. Some have written articles for the digital magazine Loostâš, Wikipedia articles and translated books from other languages into Inari Saami to increase the volume of literature available. Reading about different cultures is a very good way to learn and increase understanding and appreciation of those cultures. If Finnish people had an opportunity to read Inari Saami literature in Finnish, they would have a chance to learn about a language and culture indigenous to Finland, adding to the collective wealth of the country. In the same way that Finnish literature and books from writers of other countries have added to the wealth of Inari Saami literature, Inari Saami children should have the chance to see themselves represented in Finnish culture and shown in a positive light. Usually Saami children only see themselves in adverts encouraging tourism to Lapland. They grow up seeing Saami people shown often unfairly and inaccurately, sometimes even disparagingly, on postcards or comedy programmes from which negative stereotypes can endure for decades.

There is still a chronic shortage of culturally appropriate learning materials for Inari Saami speaking children, and funding for Anaraskiela Servi ry is a constant struggle. If bilingual Finnish/Inari Saami literature was included in the school curriculum, there would be sufficient funding for books, and both Finnish and Inari Saami children would benefit.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child covers essential rights regarding social welfare including political, social, economic and cultural rights. It states that children should have the right to develop to the fullest. Inari Saami speaking children should have the right to learning materials in their own language in their indigenous country, and Finland should give them this opportunity.

A quote from American philosopher William James says: “Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” It’s very easy though to lose motivation when you don’t feel valued or appreciated. We are all to some extent products of our environment, and when Inari Saami speaking children aren’t represented and made to feel they matter, they are at an immediate disadvantage and consequently may not accomplish their potential.

Finland is often applauded for having one of the most progressive education systems in the world. Supporting Inari Saami language revitalisation and the indigenous children of its country, would give Inari Saami children a voice and a chance to add to the narrative of Finland.


Lee D Rodgers

Lee Rodgers is originally from Manchester, where he worked as an artist before attending university in Manchester and Helsinki. He lives in Inari with his Inari Saami wife and family. He has been cooperating with Anarâškielâ Servi ry, The Inari Saami Language Association to help with Inari Saami language revitalisation. Lee Rodgers has written a series of bilingual Inari Saami/English books based on the adventures of a young Inari Saami boy called Sammeli in the “8 Seasons of Lapland”. For more information please contact rodgerslee9@gmail.com or www.anaraskielaservi.fi.

Kirjastoissa tarvitaan kielten ja kulttuurien osaajia

(in English below)

Suomessa on yhä enemmän perheitä, jotka ovat monikielisiä. Suomessa on yhä enemmän lapsia, jotka kasvavat monikielisessä ympäristössä.

Yli 400 000 Suomessa asuvaa ihmistä puhuu äidinkielenään jotain muuta kuin suomea, ruotsia tai saamea. Suurimmat kieliryhmät ovat venäjä, viro, arabia, englanti ja somali.

Tilastokeskuksen tilastoissa puhutaan vieraskielisen väestön määrästä, joka on kasvanut voimakkaasti. Vielä 2000-luvun alussa vieraskielisiä asui Suomessa reilut satatuhatta, nyt määrä on yli kolminkertainen.

Olen miettinyt kirjastojen mahdollisuuksia palvella monikielisiä ja vieraskielisiä yhteisöjä. Asia nousi ajankohtaiseksi viime marraskuussa, kun valmistelin keskustelua teemasta suomalais-ruotsalaisen kulttuurikeskus Hanasaaren kulttuuripolitiikan päivään.

Kirjastojen työntekijöistä vain noin prosentti puhuu äidinkielenään jotain muuta kuin suomea tai ruotsia. Tämä hätkähdyttävän pieni luku tuli esiin kirjastoalan järjestöjen tekemässä kyselytutkimuksessa.

Miksi kirjastoissa on töissä niin vähän vieraskielisiä? Pitääkö olla huolissaan kirjastojen kyvystä palvella monikielisiä yhteisöjä?

Oma mututuntumani on, että kovin on vaikeaa työllistyä kirjastoon, jos ei hallitse täydellisesti suomen kieltä.

Eräs kirjastoalan oppilaitos järjesti joitakin vuosia sitten muuntokoulutuksen korkeakoulutetuille maahanmuuttajille. Muuntokoulutuksen piti pätevöittää kirjastoalan työtehtäviin. Heistä hyvin harva loppujen lopuksi työllistyi kirjastoon.

Kulttuuriala ja myös kirjastoala näkee itsensä mielellään moninaisena ja kaikille avoimena. Alan työntekijöitä yhdistävät tasa-arvon ja yhdenvertaisuuden ihanteet.

Niin kauan kuin työntekijöiden edustama maailma on hyvin kaukana yhteiskunnassa vallitsevasta väestörakenteesta, emme voi puhua moninaisuuden toteutumisesta.

On tärkeää, että eri ammateissa toimii erilaisia ihmisiä. Lukuisat tutkimukset kertovat, että eri-ikäisistä, eri sukupuolta olevista, erilaisista taustoista koostuvien ihmisten tiimit pääsevät usein parhaaseen lopputulokseen ja niiden kyky ongelmanratkaisuun on huomattavasti parempi kuin keskenään samanlaisten ryhmien.

Asiaan on herätty. Opetus- ja kulttuuriministeriö julkaisi juuri Kulttuuripolitiikka, maahanmuuttajat ja kulttuurisen moninaisuuden edistäminen -työryhmän loppuraportin. Sen mukaan ”väestön moninaistuminen on otettava — huomioon kaikessa taide- ja kulttuuripoliittisessa suunnittelussa ja päätöksenteossa.”

Raportti esittää myös haasteen: ”taide- ja kulttuuriorganisaatioiden pitää tunnistaa syrjivät rakenteet ja rekrytointikäytännöt ja tunnustaa niiden eriasteinen olemassaolo omassa toiminnassaan.”

Käytännössä tämä tarkoittaa, että taide- ja kulttuurilaitoksiin, myös kirjastoihin, pitää palkata kaiken tasoisiin tehtäviin lisää monikielisiä ihmisiä ja lisää maahanmuuttajia.

Mitkä ovat kirjastoalan ”syrjivät rakenteet ja rekrytointikäytännöt”? En tiedä, mutta veikkaan, että yksi liittyy koviin kielivaatimuksiin.

Kirjasto on paljon muutakin kuin kirjat. Se on palvelu, joka tarjoaa sivistystä ja osaamista kaikille yhteisössä. Hyvän kirjastotyöntekijän edellytys ei voi olla täydellinen kielitaito.

Libraries are in need of language and culture experts

Finland is home to an increasing number of multilingual families. Finland also has an increasing number of children who are growing up in a multilingual environment.

More than 400,000 people living in Finland speak a language other than Finnish, Swedish or Sami as their native language. The largest language groups are Russian, Estonian, Arabic, English and Somali.

The statistics of Statistics Finland show the number of foreign-language speakers, which has grown strongly. At the beginning of the 2000s, a little more than one hundred thousand foreign-language speakers lived in Finland; the number has now more than tripled.

Lately, I have been thinking about our libraries’ ability to serve multilingual and foreign-language communities. The issue became topical last November when I was preparing a discussion on the topic for Swedish-Finnish Cultural Centre Hanaholmen’s Cultural Politics Dialogue Day.

Only about one per cent of all library staff speak a language other than Finnish or Swedish as their native language. This strikingly low figure came up in a survey carried out by library organisations.

Why are there so few foreign-language speakers working in libraries? Should we be concerned about our libraries’ ability to serve multilingual communities?

My personal feeling is that it is very difficult to get a job in a library if your command of Finnish is anything short of perfect.

Some years ago, a library institute organised conversion training for highly-educated immigrants. The conversion training was supposed to qualify the immigrants for work in libraries. In the end, very few of them were employed in a library.

The culture sector, much like the included library sector, likes to view itself as a diverse sector that is open to all. Employees in the sector share ideals of equality and non-discrimination.

However, as long as the world represented by these employees is a far cry from the demographic structure of our society, we cannot say that we have achieved diversity.

It is important that there are different kinds of people operating in different professions. Numerous studies show that teams of people of varying ages, genders and backgrounds often achieve the best results and have a much better problem-solving ability than uniform groups.

Decision-makers have become aware of this issue. The Ministry of Education and Culture recently published the final report of the working group on Cultural Policy, Immigrants and Promotion of Cultural Diversity. It states that “the diverse demographic structures must be reflected in all artistic and cultural-politic planning and decision-making”.

The report also poses a challenge: ”Artistic and cultural organisations must identify discriminatory structures and recruitment practices and recognise their varying degrees of existence in their own activities.”

In practice, this means that artistic and cultural institutions, including libraries, must employ more multilingual people and more immigrants for jobs at all levels.

What are the “discriminatory structures and recruitment practices” in the library sector? I do not know, but I am guessing one of them has to do with stringent language requirements.

The library is much more than just books. It is a service that provides education and knowledge for everyone in the community. Flawless language skills must not be a prerequisite for working in a library.

Kirjoittaja / Author

Rauha Maarno
Kirjoittaja on Suomen Kirjastoseuran toiminnanjohtaja.

The author is the Executive Director at Finnish Library Association.

Learning for Integration: multilingual language cafés, language-specific playgroups for kids, language expert services etc.

Learning for Integration ry promotes the learning of languages and cultural sensitivity of migrant, immigrant and refugee children and youth in Finland and other Nordic countries. It aims to facilitate the new members’ integration into the new culture and the development of a multicultural society. It also supports Swedish learning in Finland.

Learning for integration organizes activities such as the popular language cafés in more than 10 languages, Story time circles, playgroups for kids in different languages and craft and theatre groups. It also offers expert services including workshops for teachers, specific learning materials and affordable but high quality editing, proofreading and translations to NGOs and other organizations working mainly for public good in Finnish, English, French, Russian, Swedish and other languages according to demand.

The multilingual work team of Learning for integration is presented at their website.

NolitchX, Nordic Literatures in Change and Exchange

Nolitch XNordic Literatures in Change and Exchange, is a literature project (2017) with the objective of creating networks of immigrant language writers in the Nordic region. This initiative is a Nordic collaboration between associations, groups and individual writers from Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Sweden. NolitchX has support from Nordic Culture FundNordic Culture Point and Malmö Stad.

Nordens Hus bibliotek, Reykjavik, Iceland

The Nordic House Library (Nordens Hus bibliotek, Reykjavik, Iceland) provides literature (books and ebooks) and films in 7 Nordic languages for children and adults. The library also hosts events like storytelling sessions  or Meet the Author -interviews in Nordic languages and with Nordic authors.

Reading by listening – a Nordic collaboration produces talking books in Arabic and Sámi

In the Nordic countries, the need for talking books in other languages than European languages has increased during the last few years. Due to the amount of refugees coming to the Nordic countries, a cooperation concerning the production of talking books in Arabic and Sámi languages started in 2015. The involved libraries are Celia in Finland, Nota in Denmark, NLB in Norway, Hljodbokasafn in Iceland and MTM in Sweden. They are all focused in accesible literature and publishing. 25 talking books in Arabic and 6 in Sámi will be produced in this project by spring 2017. 

According to Statistics for the Northern Countries, we anticipate that up to 20% of the population in each country have a foreign background.  Approx. 6-8 % of the total population in the Nordic countries have some kind of reading impairment. This indicates that a large group of the population with a foreign background need accessible media. Many refugees  coming to the Nordic Countries have Arabic as their native language.

These facts made it clear that we would have to find ways to increase the production of talking books in other languages than the national languages and English. The idea to cooperate with the other Nordic libraries was discussed among the libraries and was soon decided upon.

After analysing the demand for foreign language we decided that the project should focus on producing Arabic titles. This resulted in an agreement to produce a total of 25 talking books in Arabic, both for adults and children, by spring 2017. The great advantage of this project, besides satisfying the users´ needs of these titles, is that the libraries share the cost of production. Each library will produce 5 titles and will gain 25 titles. 

In addition to the Arabic titles we will also produce 6 new titles in the Northern Sámi Language. Sámi is a minority language and it is important that we contribute in making Sámi titles available for persons with print disabilities.

Our experience is that it is both nice and intellectually stimulating to be able to read the same book in different languages.  

MTM (Swedish Agency for Accessible Media), Nota (the Danish Library and Expertise Center for people with print disabilities) and NLB (Norsk lyd- og blindeskriftbibliotek) are also part of the TIGAR-service. The TIGAR service (Trusted Intermediary Global Accessible Resources),  makes it easier for participating institutions to search internationally for books in accessible formats, and to exchange them across national borders. It currently contains titles in accessible formats in some 55 languages. Participation in TIGAR is free of charge; there is no membership fee or financial contribution required from a participating institution or end-user.

TIGAR is a part of the Accessible Books Consortium (ABC). The ABC aims to increase the number of books worldwide in accessible formats – such as braille and audio – and to make them available to people who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled. The ABC is a multi-stakeholder partnership, comprising World Intellectual Property Organization WIPO; organizations that serve people with print disabilities; and publishers and authors.

Written by Junko Söderman and Kristina Passad from MTM, Swedish Agency for Accessible Media and Kari Kummeneje from NLB, Norsk lyd- og blindeskriftbibliotek. Other participants in the project have been Eeva Paunonen,  Eva Hellén, Tove Elisabeth Berg, and Hafthor Ragnarsson.