Peace work in The Sami community
Boures, (good day). I am Beate, a Sami and very proud of it. Today I will tell you about my grandmother, Henrikke. She was the daughter of Henrik and Elida. They were immigrants from Finland, leaving their country behind in the 1860’s when there was no food to get for the children. They had no choice but to leave if they wanted to give their children any future. So, they packed the little they had and put it on their backs and led the children by the hand to Ruija- Norway. The ocean-land where there were said that the fish was so rich that you could go down and put your hands into the water and catch it. For a person starving that is a great fairy-tale. And on the long walk to Norway they longed for the fish.
But of course, leaving everything behind they could only bring what was close to their heart; the language, the culture, the way of living.
When they came to Norway and settled along the coastline, they could not hunt for the reindeer anymore. They had to adapt to a new way of living, now being farmers and fishermen. What they didn’t know when they left their country was that in the 17th Century the Norwegian Church had been very sceptical to the Sami people. The priests could not understand the Sami language, so they banned them. They looked at them and they could see the ritual drums with very strange marks on them and they thought the Sami was the devil’s people. So, my great grandparents were met with a sceptical attitude. An attitude can be inherited through many generations forward, so it was not an easy life to come to Norway as a Sami. They had to blend in as soon as possible, and even up to these days it is normal to make fun of the Sami. And since you form your identity by the way society is looking at you, the Sami learned to look down on themselves. They were not considered as good as the Norwegians.
When my grandmother was born in 1908, her family lived in a very small house. If you stretched out your hands you could reach the walls on each side of the house. It had a floor made of earth, and a ladder up in the one-room house where all the 13 children were sleeping together with their parents on a half-roof room.
In 1924 my great grandmother started to cough. She got a cough that would not stop and the doctor came. He shocked his head and said it was tuberculosis- the white plague. Everyone looked at my grandmother, their eyes said; – It is you who are going to look after her till she dies. At that time, they thought that was a disease that you got because you were not sanitary enough. So now my grandmother had two stigmas. One she was a Sami and two she was not clean enough. And she was left with her mother in that little house. Her father left with the rest of the children, but every day he would come to the steps with food. And he would knock on the window and then he would step back. My grandmother would open the window and talk to him. During the sickness, and everyone knew the end of it; no-one came to visit. Not her sibling, not her husband, not her children, not the neighbours. None at all came. WHEN Elida died the whole family was scattered with the winds. My grandmother did not want to be a Sami anymore. She didn’t want to be considered dirty and she didn’t want people to look down on her. So, the rest of her life she kept her Sami identity a secret, as many other Sami- due to the Norwegian suppression.
So, I did not know until I was 40 that I was a Sami.
Today we have a big invasion of immigrants wanting to come to Norway and other countries. My heart bleeds for them- and specially for the children coming alone. They need a warm embrace and friends in this strange land. They don’t come because they want to, they come out of pure necessity. So we need to give a thought to these children and families and meet them with open arms and not like the Norwegian met the Sami two generations ago.Let us learn from history. Let us embrace them and tell them that a stranger is just a friend you yet don’t know.
Peace work in The Sami community