Basic questions about Saaminess reveal not-so-hidden racism

Text: Petra Laiti

The question I get asked most by a mile is how being a Saami is visible in my life. In this essay I ponder why basic questions about one’s Saaminess are not only hurtful but also echoing underlying structures of Finnish society.  

The question “how you can tell if you’re a Saami” is telling in terms of figuring out where the Saami stand in Finnish society. Unfortunately, Finns know very little about the Saami, but more specifically, Finns don’t necessarily realize just how little they know. This is demonstrated particularly well when discussing racism against the Saami.

In my experience, there seem to be three key points that are difficult to make a wider Finnish audience understand. I would argue that these three points need to be understood before racism towards the Saami can be discussed properly. The points are very simple:

  • The Saami are not the same as Finns.
  • The Saami are an indigenous people.
  • The Saami are at a disadvantage in society compared to Finns.

There’s an explanation to why these points are so simple; if the only thing a person has ever learned about the Saami is through a children’s movie or a semi-offensive comic, not knowing basic facts is natural. However, ignorance will also lead to asking: “How is being Saami represented in your life?”. In the discourse surrounding the Saami identity and Saami culture, Finns will look for things they recognize in order to determine if a Saami is Saami according to what Finns understand to be Saami.

This is a central problem in Finnish society. Finns have a habit of asking the “but why?”- question, because they feel a need to understand what makes a person Saami. The question is seemingly relevant, since the right to self-determination of the Saami has not been fulfilled in Finland. Most Finns have never knowingly met a Saami, but many have seen racist imagery of the Saami, or rather, imagery of Finns portraying what they believe the Saami to be like. This can lead to a Saami having to answer questions coming from Finns, whose preconception of the Saami is racist without the Finn in question realizing that their preconception is racist.

This is not a Saami problem; it’s a problem of the Finnish society not understanding the privileged position that ignorance gives them.

I have been asked a large variety of questions like this. It can be anything from “what percentage of you is Saami” to “why don’t we just have genetic tests to determine who you people are”.  A counternarrative I often face is Finns belittling my Saaminess because I don’t “look” Saami (as if being Saami has anything to do with looks).

People don’t seem to realize that any variation of these questions is still rooted in the indoctrinated idea that it’s up to someone else to prove whether or not a person is indigenous.  When trying to discuss racism and purposeful racist comments directed towards the Saami, the same thing happens. The discussion revolves around determining whether or not the case in question is racist in terms that Finns understand to be racist.

For instance, I was harassed by a person and ended up taking my case to an authority a few years ago. I was called “dirty” and “filthy” and there were comments stating that my family “smelled” due to my ethnic background. Instead of recounting my experiences as they were, I spent a significant amount of time explaining why the harassment was racist. While the issue was resolved, I couldn’t help but wonder how it would’ve turned out had I not known how to explain the context. What if I didn’t know why the insults were hurtful, but simply knew that they were? Would the case have been resolved in my favor?

It all really depends on how much a person understands about indigenous cultures. A discussion with a Finn can be very advanced or incredibly simple, sometimes both. A person might have knowledge of the Finnish logging industry and how they try to press the Saami for a larger access to our reindeer herding grounds, but still ends up asking the question: “explain to me again, how exactly you guys are oppressed?”. So, while the Saami are required to make a legally convincing argument, we are still faced with very simple questions as well.

The entire discourse is completely missing the point of the right to self-determination. The point, the incredibly central point, is that the Saami have no obligation whatsoever to explain every root and branch of our culture in order to justify our demand to be taken seriously. A lasting solution is not that Finland suddenly starts making Saami-friendly laws, it’s that the power to govern ourselves is returned to the Saami. This is not a Saami problem; it’s a problem of the Finnish society not understanding the privileged position that ignorance gives them.

So, what does it mean to be a Saami? How does it show in my personal life? Well, one way to explain that question is to point at this text. One of the most visible examples is the amount of times I’ve had to explain that asking that question is a reminder of how much work there is still to be done.

How’s that for indigenous activism?

Petra Laiti is the chairperson of Suoma Sámi Nuorat, the Saami youth organization in Finland. Laiti works in Helsinki as the Vice President for the National Union for University Students in Finland. She is also a blogger and an activist, who regularly calls out the Finnish society for neglecting Saami voices.

Photo of Laiti: Sakari Röyskö

Less equal: Growing up Sámi in Helsinki

When I, a Finnish woman, became a mother to children from a cultural minority group, I was forced to come face-to-face with misconceptions of our well-meaning officials as well as structural racism of our society.

“It is against the constitution that your family should go out of their way to secure basic services. It is legislator’s intention that same services are equally available to all citizens regardless of ethnicity.“

-Legal advisor at The Parliamentary Ombudsman of Finland.

When our daughter reached her fifteenth month, she started part-time day-care in a small local public unit comprised of two loving teachers and up to twelve children. She was greeted every morning by a caring professional Sámi childminder in their mutual mother tongue, North Sámi. Day-care in her native language during those critical months of language development was essential in securing the healthy bilingual identity she holds today, as she is preparing for her new life as a pupil in the bilingual Sámi-Finnish class of a public primary school.

10 months prior, I first contacted our local chief of childcare to let her know, that my daughter would need day-care in her native language in the following year. The Sámi are entitled to day-care in their native language according to the Finnish legislation. The Helsinki childcare websites had informed me that indeed, public day-care in North Sámi is available in Helsinki. Little did I realize that I had started on a treacherous road to fight for the basic human rights of my children.

During the following six months I was repeatedly in touch with our local supervisor as well as the Helsinki regional supervisor, whose specialty is organizing services for minority groups. I was reduced to explaining and re-explaining why my children should be treated the same as other children in our region.

“No one is stopping you from being Sámi in the privacy of your own home. You and your husband may take a leave from your careers if you insist on bringing up children in the North Sámi language” they replied, when I suggested that we were not treated equally as is required by the Finnish constitution. I felt the wind being knocked out of my lungs.

I lectured to officials over and over again that my family was exactly the same as those of my friends with the exception that my children were fathered by an indigenous man, Finland’s non-Finnish tax payer. We, too, deserve the same career opportunities and public services according to the Finnish constitution. Furthermore, we were not to be equated with immigrant minorities, we were both born and raised as Finns by nationality, if not linguistically and ethnically.

“Do you suggest that my daughter is not qualified for the constitutional right to day-care in her native language which is spelled out in laws and recommendations alike?” I wondered.

“Absolutely your daughter does qualify for day-care” they replied. “No worries there, just not the extra bit.”

At the time, the city employed two native Sámi childminders in neighbouring units in the eastern suburbs. We were finally offered a place in one of these units with the subtle hint that this was a stretch and a special arrangement to be thankful for. This would have added at least two hours of commute to our daughter’s five-hour kindergarten day and would of course have required a part-time commitment from both or one of our employers, as our home and offices are in the western suburbs.

“Surely you would not complain about one-hour commute, you guys are Sámi and used to much longer distances than 15 kilometres” reasoned the regional chief. “I am not Sámi, my child is” I snapped. Thereafter I entered a ridiculous rant to justify, why 15 km in rural Lapland is not equivalent to 15 km across rush hour capital and how I do not understand why I have to explain elementary human rights to an official responsible for the execution of said rights with respect to underage citizens.

And that’s when I called the legal advisor at The Parliamentary Ombudsman of Finland.
“In the eyes of the legislator, your children are equal” she said.
“It is not just the law that binds the officials, it’s the intent of the legislation, which is unambiguously explained by our constitution.” she reassured.

I laughed and I cried. “I knew it!” I said. “My daughter is just as important as the next child.”

That autumn, my colleague got used to me taking a phone call in the corridor and returning to our office with tears still gleaming in my eyes. Securing Sámi day-care had become my personal odyssey by the outcome of which I measured the health of the surrounding society.

At the spring party at day-care, our now 20-month old daughter wearing her traditional solju brooch on her dress sat on cushions surrounded by her buddies. Her teacher beat the reindeer-skin drum and the group performed a yoik for us parents. Over coffee, the Finnish teachers and parents thanked the arrangement. Turned out that as our daughter was learning to speak Sámi, so were the other children at the day-care. They explained the particularities of Sámi culture and language at home to their parents, who embraced the cultural diversity without exception. We already knew then that trust between our family and the day-care officials of our hometown could not be repaired.

We wanted to upgrade to a day-care unit with linguistic isolation. Next autumn, the Máttabiegga language nest opened in Pasila. Our daughter was the first of 13 (to date) children to enroll.

Dr. Inkeri Lokki, PhD, is a Finnish mother of two Sámi children growing up in Helsinki. Her family has lived in Haaga, Helsinki since 2010 and she works as a researcher at the University of Helsinki. Her husband is a member of the Sámi parliament in Finland. Dr. Lokki embraces the Deatnu (Tana) Sámi culture of her husband and children. She considers being able to communicate to her Sámi family in their mother tongue, the North Sámi, one of her biggest accomplishments.


  • Portrait of Inkeri Lokki: Mikko Mäntyniemi
  • Featured image:  Inkeri Lokki with her daughter at Paistunturi wilderness in Midsummer 2013.  Photo: Elina Lemmetty

Maainâst muʹnne säämas, čâđđmam kâʹl fiʹttai

Text: Mari Korpimäki
Translation to Skólt Sámi: Anna-Katariina Feodoroff

Muʹst mõõni kuʹǩes äiʹǧǧ fiʹttjed, što päʹrnnpoodd taaurõõžži ääkkiʹʒʒe paaiʹǩi kõõskâst jie leämma dohat ǩilomettar, mâʹte meeʹst. Kuʹǩes äiʹǧǧ mõõni še fiʹttjed tõn, mõõn diõtt jiõm maainâst jiijjan jieʹnnǩiõl nuõrttsääʹmǩiõl.

Eččam šõddâmpäiʹǩǩ lij Savo čâđđmest Kaavi Rovevääʹrest da jeännam dommpäiʹǩǩ tââʹvv sääʹmsiidâst, Aanarjääuʹr saujjbeäʹlnn, Mustolasiidâst. Miʹjjid leäi luâđlaž, što kuäbba ääkk åʹrnn leʹjjiim, tõn mieʹldd mainstiim. Jõs leʹjjiim eeʹjj jieʹnn åʹrnn, toʹben mainstiim hääʹsǩes Savo-suõm di Mustolasiʹjdde go mõõniim di vaajtiim ǩiõl läullai teeʹmes sääʹmǩiõʹlle. Da nääiʹt juõʹǩǩ vuâra.

Kuhttu ääkk åʹrnn šiiʹliim kueʹl, hååidiim jieʹllʼjid, pooriim jiõčč rajjum veär, leiʹbbjiim, påǥstiim jiânnai da uus leʹjje pâi äävai kuõʹssid. Leʹjjiim kâskka ij ni mõõn – peʹce ââlda puuʹttes luâđ. Jiiʹjjesvääʹrrvuõtt leäi arggpeeiʹv da tuejj riʹjttji eeʹjj juõʹǩǩ peivva. Ǩieʹzz leʹjje paakkâs da peeivõõǥǥ, tääʹlv lääskav da muõtti.

Tõn leekk kopplõõzzâst leʹjjem päʹrnnpoddam nuõrrvuõđ äälǥ räjja.

Eman õõut peeiʹv jieʹllem moʹttji. Leʹjjem ååucad klaassâst Siilijääuʹr pââiškooulâst. Fiʹttjem, što vuäitčem leeʹd kueiʹtǩiõllsaž, mainsted kuhttu jieʹnnǩiõllam. Leša mainstem pâi nuuʹbb. Tõn nuuʹbb jiõm mainstam, leša fiʹttjem. Håʹt pâi čâđđminan.

Tän toʹlǩǩummuž leäi mâʹte pomm, kååʹtt vaaʹldi meädda vuâđ tõʹst, ǩii leʹjjem. Identiteeʹtt leäi kriisâst 15 – âkksiʹžžen tän tååʹsǩtaa še. Šõʹdde jiânnai kõõččmõõžž, snäätnteʹmvuõtt, õõmšummuš di vââʹjj še, go jie leämma vaʹsttõõzz. Jiõm fiʹttjam, mõõzz leäi nääiʹt, mõõn diõtt jiõm mainstam muu nuuʹbb jieʹnnǩiõl, sääʹmǩiõl. Mõʹnt muʹnne jie mättʼtam ǩiõl? Leäi-a vieʹrr muʹst? Jiõm-ǥo leämmaž nokk pueʹrr lebe jiõm-ǥo riʹjttjam?

Jiõm vuäǯǯam vaʹsttõõzzid kõõččmõõžžid.

Ääiʹj mieʹldd täi tobddmõõžži da kõõččmõõžži sâjja puäʹtte jeeʹres ravvšmummša kollʼjeei jurddi. Jiiʹjjes väjjaǥvuõtt kuuitâǥ tobddji mâʹte tollân vääimast. Leʹjjem seʹst pâi pieʹll ooumaž.

2010-lååǥǥ äälǥast leʹjjem vuõrâsooumaž, näittlõõttâm da vuäǯǯam pirrsam jiijjâd piârri. Jälstiim Heʹlssnest. Kuuitâǥ, pekkõʹttem õinn seämma aaʹššin go ääiʹjab. Ǩiõlteʹmvuõtt da pååđvuõtt väiʹvvee nuʹt čuuʹt, što äʹlǧǧem vueʹlljuurdeeʹl di mâŋŋa vuõssmõsân ooccõõttâd “muu jiiʹjjes oummi” årra – håʹt jiõm ni teâttam, što ǩeäk täk tuõđi leʹjje. Seʹlvvni, što Heʹlssnest leʹjje jeeʹres säʹmmla še, joba nuõrttsäʹmmla. Muu ooudâst aaʹlji leäʹđgtõõllâd ääiʹji mieʹlddsaž čuõvv.

Uus äʹlǧǧe ävvned õhttõstuejjummša City-Sámit rõ da Saaʹmi Nueʹtt rõ mieʹldd. Kauʹnnem jeärrsid muunallšem oummid da fiʹttješkueʹttem, što jiõm leäkku õhttu väjjaǥvuõđinam. Lie še jeärraz, ǩeäk lie mõõntam ǩiõllâz, da tõk oummu lie jiânnai. Fiʹttjem, što sij lie puk säʹmmla. Verddsažtuärjjõs vuäkka vuåǯǯum vuõssmõs vuâra vuõiggâdvuõđ tuužžâd oummuvuõđ, koon leʹjjem mõõntam. Jiijjâs vieʹrrdõõttmõõžž sâjja pueʹđi tieʹttemvuõtt, što vieʹrr ij ni leämma muu.

Kuuitaǥ ǩiõʹlle tillʼlõõvi ǩeeuʹsummuš tobddai. Mõõnni ǩieʹzz läʹddlaž koon juʹrddem čuõvtõssân, påǥsti muʹnne, što “Mii säʹmmlaid ton leäk, go ǩiõl jiõk maainâst.” Lij vaiggâd peälštõõttâd kõrmmlõõzzin koid ij vueiʹn pueʹttmen.

Nuõrttsääʹmǩiõll lij Unesco klasstõõllmõõžž mieʹldd tuõttsânji vaarrvuâlaž pâi nuʹtt 300 mainsteeʹjin. Jiõčč jiõm ni võl kullu tõõzz uʹcc ǩiõllmainsteeʹji jouʹǩǩe. Tän poodd muʹnne kuuitâǥ riʹjttai tõt, što mainstam, kulddlam da fiʹttjam sääʹmǩiõl čâđđminan. Âânam ǩiõl muu vääim jieʹnnǩiõllân.

Meeʹst säʹmmlain sätt leeʹd nårrjam šeämm da ouddkäddmõš väʹlddnarood juätkkjeei iʹlbbes kommeeʹnti vuâstta, leša dõõzz lij mäinn. Ij mij ǩiõl mõõntummuš leäkku mij jiijjâd vieʹrr, peʹce viõusâs assimilaatiopolitiikk, koon Lääʹddjânnmest vueʹǩǩâʹtte joba 1970-lååǥǥ räjja. Tuõđi päkksuddtummuš, assimilaatio, vaikkti sääʹmǩiõlid nuʹt, što sääʹmǩiõlid haaʹlee obbnes jaukkeed. Lekk lij, što tõʹst jie oʹnstam, håʹt jiânnai ǩeähn raʹjje. Ânnʼjõžääiʹj Lääʹddjânnam vuâđđlääʹjj 17 momeentteʹst lååkk paragraaff 3 momee’ntest, što säʹmmlain lij vuõiggâdvuõtt tuõʹllʼjed ja viikkâd ooudâs jiijjâd ǩiõl da kulttuur. Tõt lij šiõǥǥ vueʹlǧǧemsââʹjj, leša argg lij veâlâinn tuärrmõõžž.

Jiijjâd ǩiõl da kulttuur mõõntummuš lij nuʹt čiŋŋlõs da sokkpuõlvvõõǥǥâst nobba serddai trauma, što ni ǩeän ij õõlǥči tõn occnjõõššâd. Jõs äʹšš ij kuõskât tuu, ij-ǥa tuʹst leäkku tõõzz ni mii särnnamnalla, feʹrttai äšša kuuitâǥ siõhttlõõttâd ciʹsttjeeʹl – da kueʹđđed särnnmõõžžid jeärmmjab oummid.

Jåhtta maʹccem tââvvâst mååust Heʹlssna. Leʹjjem måttmid peeiʹvid muu jiiʹjjes oummivuiʹm sääʹmvuuʹdest, Čeʹvetjääuʹrest, Njeäʹllmest da Keväjääuʹrest. Ânnʼjõžääiʹj vuäǯǯam leeʹd muu tuej (  ooudâst  toʹben, koʹst čââʹđ njoikk seämma taaut mieʹldd muu meerain.

Meeʹst lij võl jiânnai tuejj tuejjeemnalla ǩiõl da kulttuur jeälltummuž ouʹdde. Resuursân lie kuuitâǥ raaj. Nuõrttsääʹmǩiõll lij Unesco klasstõõllmõõžž mieʹldd tuõttsânji vaarrvuâlaž pâi nuʹtt 300 mainsteeʹjin. Jiõčč jiõm ni võl kullu tõõzz uʹcc ǩiõllmainsteeʹji jouʹǩǩe. Tän poodd muʹnne kuuitâǥ riʹjttai tõt, što mainstam, kulddlam da fiʹttjam sääʹmǩiõl čâđđminan. Âânam ǩiõl muu vääim jieʹnnǩiõllân.

Leäm proʹsttjam jiõccsan da ouddam lååʹv leeʹd mieʹldd tõin ǩiõlin mii muu njääʹlmest piâzz, tääuʹjmõsân Savo-suõmin. Tän peeiʹv piʹrǧǧääm puârast, go muu jiõččtobdd ǩeâllai. Aʹlǩǩes čuâǥǥas tõt ij kuuitâǥ leäkku leämmaž.

Äʹjstam muu čâđđmest, što jiiʹjjes määʹtǩ âʹlnn jooʹtti ǩiõllmainsteei vuäǯǯče õõutstõõzzâs tuärjjõõzz, leʹjje sij håʹt koon pääiʹǩest sij määʹtǩest. Pâi mainsteeʹl da mieʹldd ååreeʹl mättai. Smeʹllkââttam pukid säʹmmlaid ââʹjjest huõlǩâni  mainstõõllâd kõskkneez toʹben koʹst teivva, viõʹttjed ääiʹj õhttsiʹžže da čeeʼestõõllâd seämma pååʹrdest. Da mainsted kõskkneez.

Sääʹmǩiõll jeällai kâʹl. Siõmmnai siõmmnai.

Mari Korpimäki, Gaurilooff sooǥǥâst, ǩii kåčč jiijjâs sääʹmsavoneʹǩǩen, alttii eeʹjj tuâǥårra Nuõrttsääʹmkulttuurfoond äʹššooumžen. Tuejj lij jäänmõsân ougglõstuejj Heʹlssnest, leša nuʹt õõut vuâra mannust Korpimäki jeäll foond konttrest Čeʹvetjääuʹr Sääʹmpõõrtâst. Graaflaž plaaneeʹjen tuåimmjam Korpimäki tåʹbdde še jeeʹresnallšem sääʹmkampanjain, koin vääžnʼjummuš meerlažliikkõssân tåʹbdde Lähetä postikortti Sevettijärvelle – kampanjast älggam 99930 Sevettijärvi -seiddõs Facebook-seeidast, koin pâʹrǧǧe stâânâd Koillis-Lappi aazzi vuõiggâdvuõđ jiijjâz pååʹštkääzzkõõzzid.

Photo of Mari Korpimäki: Mikko Mäntyniemi
Featured photo: Enrique Mendez
Translation to Skólt Sámi: Anna-Katariina Feodoroff

Puhu minulle koltansaamea, sydämeni ymmärtää kyllä

Mari Korpimäki

kolttasaameksi / in Skólt Sámi

Minulta meni pitkään ymmärtää, etteivät lapsuuden kavereiden mummolat olleet tuhannen kilometrin välimatkan päässä toisistaan, kuten meillä. Pitkään meni ymmärtää myös se, miksi en puhu omaa äidinkieltäni koltansaamea.

Isäni synnyinkoti on Savon sydämessä Kaavilla Rovevaarassa ja äitini kotipaikka pohjoisen kolttakylässä, Inarijärven eteläpuolella, Mustolassa. Meille oli luonnollista, että kieli vaihtui mummolan mukaan lennosta lupsakkaasta Savon murteesta pehmeästi soljuvaan koltansaameen ja takaisin.

Molemmissa mummoloissa kalastettiin, hoivattiin eläimiä, syötiin omatekoista ruokaa, leivottiin, naurettiin paljon ja pidettiin ovet auki kylästelijöille. Oltiin kaukana kaikesta, keskellä ei mitään – muuta kuin puhdasta luontoa. Omavaraisuus oli arkipäivää ja puuhaa riitti vuoden jokaiselle päivälle. Kesät olivat lämpimiä ja aurinkoisia, talvet lempeitä ja runsaslumisia.

Siinä onnen kuplassa vietin lapsuuteni teini-ikään saakka.

Kunnes eräänä päivänä elämä muuttui. Olin yhdeksännellä luokalla Siilinjärven yläasteella. Tajusin, että voisin olla kaksikielinen, puhua molempia äidinkieliäni. Mutta en puhunut kuin toista. Sitä toista en puhunut, mutta ymmärsin. Tosin vain sydämelläni.

Tämä oivallus oli kuin jysähdys, joka vei pohjan pois siltä, kuka olin. Identiteetti oli 15-vuotiaana kriisissä ilman tätäkin tuskaa. Heräsi paljon kysymyksiä, epävarmuutta, hämmennystä ja vastauksien puutteessa myös vihaa. En ymmärtänyt, miksi oli näin, miksi en puhunut toista äidinkieltäni koltansaamea. Miksi minulle ei opetettu kieltä? Oliko syy minussa? Enkö ollut tarpeeksi hyvä tai riittävä?

En saanut kysymyksiin vastauksia.

Aikaa myöten tilalle tuli muuta aikuistumiseen liittyvää pohdintaa. Oma vaillinaisuus poltti silti sielua syvältä. Olin henkisesti vain puolikas ihminen.

Kielettömyys ja juurettomuus vaivasivat niin paljon, että aloin alitajuisesti ja sittemmin tietoisesti hakeutumaan ”omieni” pariin – vaikken edes tiennyt, keitä nämä omani oikeastaan olivat.

2010-luvun alussa olin aikuinen, naimisissa ja saanut ympärilleni oman perheen. Asuimme Helsingin lähiössä. Silti kipuilin yhä samojen aiheiden kanssa kuin aiemminkin. Kielettömyys ja juurettomuus vaivasivat niin paljon, että aloin alitajuisesti ja sittemmin tietoisesti hakeutumaan ”omieni” pariin – vaikken edes tiennyt, keitä nämä omani oikeastaan olivat. Selvisi, että Helsingissä on muitakin saamelaisia, jopa kolttasaamelaisia. Tielleni alkoi välähdellä satunnaista valoa.

Ovia alkoi avautumaan yhdistystoimintaan City-Sámit ry:n ja Saa´mi Nue´tt ry:n kautta. Löysin muita kaltaisiani ja aloin ymmärtämään, etten ole vajavaisuuteni kanssa yksin. Muitakin kielensä menettäneitä on, ja heitä on paljon. Ymmärsin, että he ovat yhtä kaikki saamelaisia. Vertaistuen avulla sain ensimmäistä kertaa oikeuden surra menettämääni ihmisyyttä. Itsensä syyllistämisen tilalle tuli tietoisuus, ettei syy ollut sittenkään minun.

Silti kieleen kohdistuva kiusaaminen tuntuu. Viime kesänä sivistyneenä pitämäni suomalainen puolituttu nauroi minulle ronskisti päin naamaa, että: ”Mikäs koltta sitä sinä olet, kun et kieltä puhu.” Puun takaa tulevia iskuja vastaan on vaikea puolustautua.

Meissä saamelaisissa saattaa olla patoutunutta vihaa ja ennakkoluuloja valtaväestön jatkuvia tölväisyjä kohtaan, mutta syystäkin. Eihän kielenmenetyksemme ole omaa syytämme, vaan vallalla olleen vahvan assimilaatiopolitiikan, jota Suomessa harjoitettiin jopa 1970-luvulle saakka. Käytännössä pakkosulauttaminen, assimilaatio, vaikutti saamelaiskieliin siten, että saamen kielet haluttiin hävittää kokonaan pois. Onneksi siinä ei onnistuttu, vaikka laajaa tuhoa aiheutettiinkin. Nykyään Suomen perustuslain 17 pykälän 3 momentissa sanotaan, että saamelaisilla on oikeus ylläpitää ja kehittää omaan kieltään ja kulttuuriaan. Se on hyvä lähtökohta, mutta arki on edelleen yhtä kamppailua.

Oman kielen ja kulttuurin menettäminen on niin syvä ja sukupolvelta toiselle siirtyvä trauma, ettei sitä ole syytä kenenkään vähätellä. Jos aihe ei kosketa itseä, eikä siihen ole mitään sanomista, on asiaan silti syytä suhtautua kunnioittavasti – ja jättää sanomiset itseään viisaammille.

Palasin eilen pohjoisesta takaisin Helsinkiin. Olin joitakin päiviä taas omieni parissa koltta-alueella, eli Sevettijärvellä, Nellimissä ja Keväjärvellä. Saan nykyään viettää aikaa työni puolesta siellä, missä sydän sykkii samaan tahtiin oman kansani kanssa.

Meillä on edelleen paljon työtä ja tekemistä kulttuurin ja kielen elvyttämisen eteen. Omat voimavaramme ovat kuitenkin rajalliset. Koltansaamen kieli on Unescon luokituksen mukaan vakavasti uhanalainen vain noin 300:lla kielenpuhujallaan. Itse en edelleenkään kuulu tuohon pieneen kielenpuhujien joukkoon. Tällä hetkellä minulle kuitenkin riittää se, että puhun, kuuntelen ja ymmärrän koltansaamea sydämelläni. Pidän kieltä henkisenä äidinkielenäni.

Olen antanut itselleni anteeksi ja luvan olla mukana sillä kielellä, jota suustani pääsee, eli useimmiten Savon murteella. Tänä päivänä pärjään hyvin, sillä itsetuntoni kestää. Helppo tie se ei kuitenkaan ole ollut.

Toivon sydämestäni, että omalla matkallaan olevat kielenpuhujat saisivat yhteisönsä tuen, olivat he sitten tiellään missä vaiheessa hyvänsä. Vain puhumalla ja mukana olemalla oppii. Rohkaisen kaikenikäisiä kolttasaamelaisia tarinoimaan keskenään siellä missä tavataan, viettämään aikaa yhdessä ja saikastelemaan (eli juomaan teetä) saman pöydän ääressä. Ja puhumaan toistensa kanssa.

Koltansaame elpyy kyllä. Pikkuhiljaa.


Gauriloffin sukuun kuuluva, kolttasavolaiseksi itsensä esittelevä Mari Korpimäki aloitti vuosi sitten Kolttakulttuurisäätiön asiamiehenä. Työ on pääosin etätyötä Helsingistä käsin, mutta vie Korpimäen noin kerran kuussa säätiön toimistolle Sevettijärven Kolttatalolle. Graafisena suunnittelijanakin toiminut Korpimäki tunnetaan myös oivaltavista saamelaiskampanjoista, joista merkittävimpänä kansalaisliikkeenä tunnetaan Lähetä postikortti Sevettijärvelle -kampanjasta virinnyt 99930 Sevettijärvi -sivusto Facebookissa, jolla pyritään turvaamaan Koillis-Lapin asukkaiden oikeus omiin postipalveluihinsa.

Kuva Mari Korpimäestä: Mikko Mäntyniemi
Artikkelikuva: Enrique Mendez


Pirita Näkkäläjärvi

NRK Sápmi is taking part in undermining the value of the Sámi language because they don’t prioritise Sámi-language content more on their website. Internet plays a central role in most of our lives and it is an important domain, in which the Sámi language should be visible.”

I couldn’t agree more with Mr Mikkel Rasmus Logje, a young language connoisseur, who was interviewed by NRK Sápmi about a year ago.

I regularly complain on social media about the lack of Sámi-language internet news on the websites of NRK Sápmi and Sameradion & SVT Sápmi. Both of these Sámi arms of the national broadcasting companies in Norway and Sweden mostly write internet news in the majority languages, even when the topics would be of interest for the entire Sámi people across the borders.

I’m a Sámi politics buff.

I want to read in Sámi what is happening in the Sámi Parliaments in Norway and Sweden. I want information in Sámi on, for example, why Ms Marion Anne Knutsen was chosen as the Sámi of the Year 2016 – I know she dared to speak up about sexual abuse in the Tysfjord area in the Norwegian Sámiland, but it is hard for me to piece the story together based on Norwegian-language sources only.

Ironically, when a landmark Sámi court case concerning the right to reindeer-herding of a young Sámi reindeer-herder Mr Jovsset Ánte Sara ended up in the Norwegian Supreme court this winter, I was catered better by English-language news sources than our own Sámi-language broadcasters. I devoured the long stories put out by The New York Times, The Guardian and the Associated Press but was left hungry for more – especially in-depth stories written in Sámi and from our own, Sámi perspective.

Instead of getting analysis about the outcome on the state vs. Jovsset Ánte Sara, I heard Rihanna songs and light bantering about the upcoming visit of Father Christmas.

On the day of the verdict, knowing that the NRK Sámi website will not serve me in Sámi, I turned to the NRK Sámi Radio. After the verdict had come out, I waited one and a half hour by the radio, but instead of getting analysis about the outcome on the state vs. Jovsset Ánte Sara, I heard Rihanna songs and light bantering about the upcoming visit of Father Christmas. When the radio news finally started, the case was covered by 4–5 sentences.

In all of the cases above, luckily we have a small Sámi-language news paper Ávvir, which only publishes in Sámi. It has become practically the sole provider of Sámi-language news on the Norwegian side of Sámiland.

But why do I care so much about the news in Sámi, a marginal language on a global scale?

First, Sámi languages efficiently carry information across the borders. Building common Sámi politics to preserve the endangered indigenous Sámi culture and Sámi language becomes impossible, if for some reason information does not flow across the borders. Ironically, it is Sámi broadcasters, who now stand as an obstacle for the free flow of Sámi information in Sámi across the borders.

The Sámi languages are more international than commonly understood. Northern Sámi is a language shared by the Sámi living in three countries: Finland, Sweden and Norway. Information disseminated by Sámi-language internet news helps to build the Sámiland despite the national borders of Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia, that have split the Sámiland in four.

Even the smaller Sámi languages are understood across the borders. For example, the only young adults’ radio show, Finland’s Yleisradio’s Sohkaršohkka (Sugar Shock), is co-hosted in the tiny Inari Sámi language of 300–400 speakers. However, due to the proximity of Inari Sámi to Northern Sámi, the Inari Sámi co-hostess can be understood also on the Norwegian and Swedish side of Sámiland, especially as her co-hostess speaks Northern Sámi.

News providers play an important role in establishing new words and expressions in the Sámi languages.

Second, the development of Sámi languages partly relies on news providers. News providers play an important role in establishing new words and expressions in the Sámi languages.

Officially it is the Nordic Sámi-language professional and resources center Sámi Giellagáldu, the Sámi Language Spring, that is responsible for coming up with new Sámi-language words and standardizing them across the borders in Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia. However, Sámi Giellagáldu needs the support of a media that regularly publishes Sámi-language news and makes the new terms visible especially online.

Without written news sources in Sámi, the development of the Sámi languages is undermined. If common terms for new phenomena (What is the tablet computer in Sámi?) are not rooted across the borders, for example the Northern Sámi language can become fragmented. Professor Jussi Ylikoski told Yle Sápmi in December 2017, that Northern Sámi may be split up into three different languages depending on the country. So heavy is the influence of the majority languages on Northern Sámi.

Finally, each language has its own way of telling things. A piece originated in a Sámi language keeps Sámi expressions, idioms and structures alive. In addition to linguistic considerations, a piece originated in Sámi also carries the Sámi worldview.

“A SÁMI-LANGUAGE POLITICAL ANALYSIS, I’m in Heaven!”, I cried on Facebook and Twitter, when NRK Sápmi published a Sámi-language commentary about the Jovsset Ánte Sara case at the beginning of year 2018.

Let’s hope for more reasons to react like this. More internet news in Sámi languages, please!


Ms Pirita Näkkäläjärvi is the Sámi of the Year 2017 and the former Head of Yle Sápmi in Finland. Currently she works as a strategy consultant. She holds an MSc Media and Communications from London School of Economics, UK and an MSc Economics from Helsinki School of Economics, Finland.

Photo:  Mikko Mäntyniemi




Snaepmie – sámegielat lanjaš viiddes vierisgielat máilmmis

Briefly in English: Published On February 6, the Saami National Day, the essay by Ánne Márjá Guttorm Graven discusses the relationship of the Saami language to the dominant language as well as practical instruments for strengthening the profile of Saami languages. She is a professional of the Northern Saami language. Guttorm Graven appreciates all the small advances that raise the status of Saami languages and wants to actively contribute to this process. The text is in Northern Saami.

“Mii fertet geavahit giela vai dat eallá ja ovdána.” Dát lea diehttelas cealkka, man leat gullan juo máŋgii. Muhto leago nu, ahte mii duođas vuoruhit sámegiela árgabeaivvisteamet? Dat leat min – giellageavaheddjiid – árgabeaivválaš válljemat, mat láhčejit giellamet boahtteáiggi.

Jáhkán dávjá lea nu, ahte sis geain ii leat sámegielmáhttu, gáddet sámegielagiid oažžut buot nuvttá beare danin, go sis lea giellamáhttu. Sámegiela vuoruheapmi goit mearkkaša dávjjimusat liigenávccaid, návccaid, maid eanetlogugielahálli ii dárbbaš oba smiehtadit. Jus háliidat telefovnnain čállit sámegillii, fertet vuos viežžat liigeprográmma, sámegielat boallobeavddi, telefovdnii ovdal sáhtát čálligoahtit sámegielbustávaiguin. Sámegiella soaitá šaddat noađđin váhnemii, guhte rahčá oččodit sámegiela skuvlii dahje mánnái, guhte gártá leat áidna sámegielaoahppi olles skuvllas dahje geasa šaddet guhkit skuvlabeaivvit sámegiela dihte.

Ii leat sápmelaččaid sivva, ahte buohkat eai leat oahppan sámegiela, danin go oassi min árbbis lea hávkaduvvon. Gal mun dieđán, ahte sidjiide lea bahča, go eai ádde man birra lea sáhka, jus soapmásat sámástit ja de báifáhkka rešket. Mun ádden sii dovdet iežaset olgguštuvvon. Mii dovdat dan bákčasa ja morraša, mii máŋgasiin lea dáruiduhttima, ruoŧaiduhttima, suomaiduhttima ja ruoššaiduhttima dihtii.

Sámásteame oktavuođas dávjá gullo, ahte sámegielagat olgguštit sin, guđet eai máhte sámegiela. Jus juoga lea dušše sámegillii – de sii hilgut earáid. Giela seailluheame hárrái dákkár miellaguoddu šaddá hástaleaddjin.

Sámegielagat ánssášit birrasa, gos besset friddja sámástit.

Mun in háliit hilgut gean ge. Mus lea baicce justa nuppelágan oaidnu: háliidan sin, guđet eai vel máhte sámegiela, áddet sámegiela riggodaga. Háliidan olbmuid oaidnit, ahte lea ovdamunni máhttit sámegiela, ja dainna lágiin ražastit oahppat ja vuoruhit sámegiela.

Lea dehálaš ásahit positiiva ja eahpeformála giellaarenaid, gos beassá stoahkat gielain, leikošit ja gos riektačállin ii leat deháleamos. Jus ferte diibmobeali rahčat gávdnan dihte rivttes gehčosa sátnái, leago imaš, jus giellamokta nohká. Lea áibbas OK, ahte muhtumin šaddá boasttogeažus sátnái, go háhppilit čálista juoga. Muhtuminhan mii meaddit, go čállit maid eanetlogu giela. Mannebat ii leat lohpi meaddit sámegillii?

Jurdagiin stoahkat gielain lean ásahan sámegielat johtti snapchat-kontu Snaepmie. Gii beare sáhttá snáppet, muhto áidna eaktun lea, ahte ferte snáppet man nu sámegillii. Ii dárbbaš máhttit riektačállima, ii dárbbaš leat eatnigielat, lea doarvái, ahte lea juoga man háliida čájehit ja muitalit – sámegillii. Okta olmmoš snáppe ain hávil vuossárggas gitta sotnabeaivái, ja de sáddejuvvo snáppa viidásat, ja muhtun eará sámegielat joatká snáppema.

Dassážii eanaš snáppejeaddjit leamašan Norgga bealde eret, muhto gal snáppen lea beroštahttán maid Ruoŧa-, Suoma- ja Ruoššabealde. Eanetlohku snáppejeddjiin leamaš davvisámegielagat, muhto maiddái julev- ja lullisámegiella lea gullon. Sámegiella ii leat dušše davvisámegiella, ja livččiige riggodat gullat eanet iešguđet sámegielaid.

Dál Snaepmies leat badjel 600 geahčči.

Snaepmiein suohttaseamos lea, go olmmoš ii goassige dieđe, gii doppe ihtá ja maid mii beassat vásihit suinna. Ovdamearkka dihte Isák-artista, Ella Marie Hætta Isaksen, čájehii vahku iežas artistaeallima árgabeaivvi. Beasaimet láhka geahččat, go son ráhkkanii konsertii, go almmuhii ođđa lávlaga ja beasaimet juoba čuovvut su ilu, go lávlla viimmat ilmmai. Oinniimet, mo son lei lávddi duohken gealdagasas ovdal loaiddasteame. Son válddii min vel mielde lávddi ala, go lávllui!

Snaepmie bokte oaččut binnánaš sámegiela njuolga njeazzái juohke beaivve. Beasat oahpásmuvvat ođđa olbmuide, gullat sin árgabeaifearániid ja sáhtát ieš válljet, goas don lávkestat dan latnjii. Sis, geat leat oahpahallamin giela, eai álo leat liigenávccat, mat dárbbašuvvojit giela oahpahaladettiin, muhto Snaepmie-máilbmái juohkehaš sáhttá lávkestit, go orru rivttes bottoš.

Snáppedettiin šaddá dihtomielalažžan iežas gielas: lea bággu smiehttat sámegillii vaikko maid de leaš bargamin. Sámegiella ii galgga leat giella, mii dušše gullo, go leat bigálusat, muhto maiddái dalle, go leat hommámin feara maid árgabeaivválaš gulaš dat sámevuhtii dahje ii. Dušše nu sáhttá sámegiella gávdnat ođđa vugiid, sániid ja dadjanvugiid dán áiggis.

Luđe snapchat-áppa telefovdnii, ja čuovvugoađe Snaepmie. Ávžžuhan váldit oktavuođa muinna, jus háliidat videoid ja govaid bokte čájehit iežat árgabeaivvi eará sápmelaččaide ja searvat rájáid rasttildeapmái.

Sámiid álbmotbeaivve ávžžuhan snáppet lihkkodearvvuođaid, mat almmuhuvvojit Snaepmies. Dalle mii muittuhuvvot, man girjái lea Sápmi. Muittuhuvvot, ahte Sápmi lea doppe, gos gullojit sámegielat.

Ánne Márjá Guttorm Graven lea lohkan sámegiela Romssa universitehtas, ja bargá jorgaleaddjin, logaldallin ja giellabargin. Son lea ásahan johtti sámegielat snapchatkontu Snaepmie, ja sámegielat podkástta Sis-Finnmárkku syndroma. Dál sáhttá su gullat maid podkásttas Manin ja danin, man NRK Sápmi buvttada.

”Dat ii leat vejolaš” – Vihtta muitalusa rájáid rasttildeames

[in English]


Olbmot, geat álget ovddidit sámegielaid sajádaga servvodagaineamet, dávjá ožžot vástádussan: ”Ášši lea dehálaš, muhto dan ii leat vejolaš čađahit.”

Doaimmaheaddjin gulan fearána dávjá. Eadnái, guhte geavaha čuđiid diimmuid ovddidettiin sámegielat árrabajásgeassima ja skuvlabálga, vástiduvvo, ahte dan ordnen ii leat vejolaš, danin go sámemánát eai gávdno doarvái. Hovdii muitaluvvo, ahte sámegielaide eai gávdno bustávat ja danin neahttaođđasiid buvttadeapmi ii lihkostuva. Rávvehagas leat fuolas, oahppágo mánná ollenge suomagiela, jus ruovttus gullo dušše sámegiella. Almmái, gii gillá alkoholismmas, muitáša ásodatskuvlaáiggi, go iežas eatnigillii ii ožžon hállat, danin go stáhta vehádatpolitihka geažil sámegillii gulahallan lei gildon skuvlaásahusain.

Oahpis lea maiddái árgabeaivválaš dovdámuš das, go ii jolge sámástit oahppásiin, jus láhkosis lea oktage, geas váilu giellamáhttu. Eanetlogu giela vuoruheapmi dáhpáhuvvá gažadatkeahttá. Multilingual Month – ja Satakieli-teemamánu áigge vihkkehallat earet eará dan, mo lea rasttildit gielaid gaskkas. Máŋgasat dain, geat leat searvan teemamánnui iežas čállosiiddisetguin, čalmmustahttet, ahte sámegielaid sajádaga ovddideapmi gáibida rájáid fanaheame, juoba daid cuvkema. Muhtumin lávki ain ovddosguvlui manná álket, muhtumin das boahtá veaddjemeahttun.

Eastagat sámegielaid nanosmahttimii leat máŋggat. Váddáseamosat dain leat struktuvrralaččat, oassin historjjálaš joatkaga, árgabeaivvi dásis fas ovttaskas olbmo miellaguoddu soaitá šaddat hehtehussan.

Go mun bivdojuvvon mielde kurateret Multilingual Month -teemamánnui vihtta sámefáddásaš čállosa, in eahpidan searvat mielde. Nu máŋgii sámejietna jávohuvvo ja navden dán buorrin dilálašvuohtan loktet bajás moadde dáin jienain.

Fáttáid válljemiidda eanemus lea váikkuhan áigeguovdilisvuohta: Maid geavatlaččat oaivvilda ”vuoigatvuohta iežas eatnigillii?” Mii lea sámegielat mediaid davviriikalaš geatnegasvuohta? Naba sáhttágo eatnigiellan navdit giela, man ii máhte aktiivvalaččat? Dáid gažaldagaid lassin čállosiin čalmmustahttojuvvojit rasismma sierra hámit, fáddá, mii dávjit ah dávjit ihtá sámegažaldagaid oktavuođas.

6.2., sámiid álbmotbeaivve, almmustahttojuvvo vuosttas čálusin Ánne Márjá Guttorm Gravena vihkkehallan sámegiela gaskavuođas eanetlohkugillii ja árgabeaivvi vugiin nannet sámegielaid profiilla. Son lea máŋggabealát giellabargi. Guttorm Graven illuda buot dain smávva lávkkážiin, mat nannejit sámegielaid árvvu ja dán proseassas son iešge háliida leat mielde.

26.2. almmustahttojuvvo Pirita Näkkäläjärvi čálus sámegielat neahttaođasdoaimma mearkkašumis sámegielaid sátnevuorkái, giela struktuvrii, dadjanvugiide – daidda giela iešvuođaide, mat dollet giela eallin. Näkkäläjärvis, ovddeš Yle Sámi hoavdan, lea persovnnalaš vásáhus fáttás sihke čavga višuvdna áššis.

5.3. almmustahttojuvvo čálus, mas Mari Korpimäki smiehtada giela mearkkašumi iežas identitehttii dakkár dilis, go giellamáhttu ii leat aktiivvalaš. Liikká oktavuohta gillii sáhttá leat lágaš ja ráhkis. Korpimäki lea šaddan dovddusin hutkás sámekampaniijain, main dovdduseamosin lea Lähetä postikortti Sevettijärvelle (sám. Sádde poastakoartta Čeavetjávrái), mii bohciidahtii 99930 Sevettijärvi -siidduid Facebookas.

12.3. almmustahttojuvvo Inkeri Lokki čálus bálgás oažžut sámemánáidasas sámegielat árrabajásgeassima sihke skuvlabálga oaivegávpotguovllus. Lokki čalmmustahttá eahpedoaivvu dovdámušaid ovttasbarggus eiseválddiiguin ovddidettiin Helssega sámemánáid vuoigatvuođa eatnigielat giellabálgái. Lokki oaččui fámu iežas riekteáddejumis, man mielde su sámemánáin galggašii leat dat seamma vuoigatvuohta, man son suopmelažžan lei ožžon: vuoigatvuođa gazzat oahpu iežas eatnigillii.

19.3. almmustahttojuvvo maŋimuš sámečálus, guokte beaivve ovdal riikkaidgaskasaš rasismmavuostásaš beaivvi. Čállosiinnis Petra Laiti vihkkehallá máŋggagielatvuođa ja rasismma oktavuođa, fáttá, masa son speadjalastá iežas vásáhusaid. Njuovžilis Laiti ii jaskkot, go son fáhtte birrasisttis miellaguottuid, mat dulbmet sámiid.

”Dat ii leat vejolaš” -vástádus lea oahpis dáidda čálliide. Sii eai leat dasa duhtan. Máŋggat sis leat hástalan eiseválddiid ja ovttaskas olbmuid nearvvaid, go leat ovddidan áššiid, mat eai galgan leat vejolaččat. Muhtumat sávve sin oalát jaskkodit ja heaitit. Dávjá dákkár reakšuvnnat baicce deattuhit, ahte soames lea mearkkašahtti ulbmiliin jođus.

Čállingiellan leat davvisáme-, nuortalaš-, suoma- dahje eaŋgalasgiella. Sávan dát čállosat čájehit binnáš dan máŋggagielat árgaeallima, man siste sámit ellet beroškeahttá das, gos sii orrot.

Sávan dát čállosat čalmmustahttet čihkosis leahkki miellaguottuid, mat doibmet hehtehussan sámegielaid friddja ja rabas geavaheapmái.




Biennáš-Jon Jovnna Piera Helga lea freelance-doaimmaheaddji, guhte lea eret Ohcejoga Deanuleagis, Savvonis. Son orru bearrašiinnis Helssegis, gos eallá njealjegielat árgaeallima. Gielaid máilbmi, olbmot sihke čállin geasuhit su. West lea teologa. Su davvisámegielat diktačoakkáldat Gádden muohttaga vielgadin almmustahttojuvvo giđđat 2018.

*Govvideaddji Mikko Mäntyniemi lea govven West, Näkkäläjärvi, Korpimäki, Lokki sihke Laiti dáid čállosiid várás.

“This Can’t Be Done” – Five Stories Of Breaking the Saami Ceiling



People who embark on advancing the position of Saami languages in our society often face a reaction along the lines of  ”what you propose is important, but it can’t be done”.

As a journalist, I hear this story often. A mother who spends countless hours to secure Saami-language pre-school and elementary education for her Saami kids in the capital city area is told that it is impossible to organise this due to the small number of Saami kids. A head of news is told that there are no fonts available for Saami languages and that online news cannot be produced in these languages. In a maternity clinic a mother is asked, worryingly, how the child will learn Finnish if the only language that he hears at home is Saami. An alcoholic recalls his days at the residential school where one could not speak the mother tongue, because speaking in Saami was prohibited due to the state’s policies towards its minorities.

We also know about the everyday feeling that it is not polite to speak Saami with a Saami-language acquaintance if there is even a single person around who does not know the language. The fallback to the dominant language in such situations often goes without any questioning. During the Multilingual Month and Satakieli theme month we explore, among else, the experience of operating between different languages. Many authors of Saami-themed texts highlight how an unusually big leap has been taken to improve the position of Saami languages. Sometimes this step is easy to take, at other times insurmountable.

Can one consider a language a mother tongue when one speaks it only with one’s heart?

There are many obstacles to the blossoming of Saami languages. The hardest obstacles are structural, some have historical roots and are often related to the attitudes of individuals.

When I was asked to curate the five Saami-themed essays for the Multilingual Month, I did not hesitate for a moment. So many Saami stories have been untold and I saw this as an excellent opportunity to draw attention to some of them.

My choice of topics has been guided by their topicality. What does ”the right to mother tongue” mean in practice? What is the responsibility of Saami-language media towards Saami languages? Can one consider a language a mother tongue when one does speak it only with one’s heart? In addition to these issues the essays discuss expressions of racism, a subject that is increasingly often raised in the Saami context.

Content of the blog series

On February 6, the Saami National Day, the first essay by Ánne Márjá Guttorm Graven will be published, discussing the relationship of the Saami language to the dominant language as well as practical instruments for strengthening the profile of Saami languages. She is a professional of the Northern Saami language. Guttorm Graven appreciates all the small advances that raise the status of Saami languages and wants to actively contribute to this process.

On February 26 we will publish the essay by Pirita Näkkäläjärvi about the significance of Saami-language online news and its impact on Saami vocabulary, structure and expressions – i.e., everything that keeps the language vibrant. As a former chief of Yle Sápmi, Näkkäläjärvi has personal experiences and a precise vision on this subject.

The text to be published on March 5 by Mari Korpimäki, who identifies herself as a Skolt Savonian, discusses the meaning of language for one’s identity in a situation where the language is not actively practiced. Despite this, the relationship to the language can be affectionate and close. Korpimäki is known for her insightful Saami campaigns, of which the most significant is the civic campaign “Send a postcard to Sevettijärvi” which has led to the 99930 Sevettijärvi website.

On March 12 we will publish the essay by Inkeri Lokki about the struggle to secure Saami-language pre-school education as well as schooling for her kids in the capital city area. Lokki describes the baffling moments when interacting with officials, while promoting the rights of Helsinki’s Saami to education in mother tongue. Lokki has been guided by a sense of justice to ensure that her Saami children would have the same right that she has been able to enjoy as a Finn – the right to study in one’s mother tongue.

On March 19, two days before the international day against racism, the last essay in this series will be published. In it, Petra Laiti talks about the relationship between multilingualism and racism – a topic about which she has many personal insights. The articulate Laiti who is also known as the Chair of the Finnish Saami Youth Organization, does not remain silent when facing discriminating situations towards the Saami.

The response ”This can’t be done” is familiar to all of these authors. They have not accepted this answer. Some of them have tested the nerves of officials and fellow citizens while advancing something that was supposed to be impossible. In the process, some of them have been asked to fall silent or have faced wishes that they would stop their pursuits. Often precisely such reactions reveal the necessity of their work.

These essays will be published in Northern Saami, Skolt Saami, Finnish or English. I hope that they will shed light on the multilingual reality that the Saami experience irrespectively of where they live.

I hope that the essays will reveal hidden attitudes and stories that prevent a full blossoming of Saami languages.


Helga West, originally from the Teno river valley of Utsjoki, is a freelance journalist. She lives with her family in Helsinki, in a daily quatrilingual environment. She is fascinated by language phenomena, stories of people and writing. She is a theologian by training. Her Northern Saami debut poetry book Gádden muohttaga vielgadin (“I Thought Snow Being White”) will be published in spring 2018.


* Mikko Mäntyniemi has taken photos of West, Näkkäläjärvi, Korpimäki, Lokki and Laiti for this series.

Translation from Finnish to English: Oliver Loode