This summer, I spent four weeks in Sápmi on the Norwegian side, and it was an imperative trip on multiple levels. It was part of a UW study abroad program – “Indigenous Sámi Culture and Connections to the Land in Arctic Europe” – arranged by our department, Comparative History of Ideas and the Department of American Indian Studies. Although I am a native Swede, I had never visited Norway or the Arctic before. This experience was absolutely crucial as preparation for my dissertation research on Sámi urban community building. Together with seven other students and Professors Troy Storfjell (CHID) and Christopher Teuton (AIS), I spent time at UiT The Arctic University in Romsa/Tromsø, The Riddu Riđđu Festivála in Gáivuotna/Kåfjord, and in Kárášjohka/Karasjok (home of the Sámediggi/Sametinget). Each location provided unique experiential learning and opportunities to meet Sámi scholars, artists and activists.
One of the program courses was a basic introduction to North Sámi, and it was great to meet this major Sámi language in the area where it lives, and experience how it was used at the different locations. For example, Romsa/Tromsø is a Sámi administrative area which means that all public city buildings and the university have signs in Norwegian and North Sámi. At Riddu Riđđu, many of the performing artists sang and yoiked in North Sámi, including Sofia Jannok from the Swedish side. Kárášjohka/Karasjok is a majority Sámi community where North Sámi is the main language, and it was the language I heard on the street and in the stores. In addition, the street signs were in North Sámi as well as the Coop supermarket’s interior signs.
Two of my fellow students, Manjot and Shay, provided one of the most memorable language moments for me. When we visited the Sámediggi in Kárášjohka/Karasjok, we looked in a language learning pamphlet on the Sámi languages and Norwegian - but not English. Manjot and Shay do not know any Scandinavian language, so they started to decipher the Norwegian words through the North Sámi they did know. This “reverse” privileging of North Sámi over Norwegian in many ways summarizes the whole trip experience for me, learning to center Sápmi rather than Norway and in extension Sweden. Ollu giitu/Mange takk to the department and especially Professor Terje Leiren for making this program and my participation in it a reality!