Sami National Day

Friday was the Sami national day. The Sami, sometimes labeled with the derogatory term Lapplanders, are the indigenous people of Scandanavia. For decades, the Sami were oppressed, forced to give up their language, religion and culture. About 30 years ago, though, the Sami resisted construction of a dam in Alta--which led to increased interest and pride in their culture . . . and greater political clout.

I was invited to celebrate the Sami national day at Samisk VGS (high school). I talked with first (sophomore) and third (senior) year students about American Indian literature (the second year students were in charge of the day's activities so they were busy making sure everything ran smoothly). The students are required to learn three languages at school, Sami, Norwegian, and English. As you might guess, the result is that the students aren't as confident in English as many of the other students I work with. Still, they responded well to the videos and literature that I shared.

After my presentation, the next event was the dedication of a special hut that teachers and students had been building. There was a roaring fire inside . . . which was so inviting in the cold, -27 degree weather--but most people actually chose to remain outside since smoke filled the room (they're going to have to work on getting the smoke to draw outside).

We all went back inside to dress warmly for the outdoor activities: spark racing (the spark is a sled powered by the driver kicking or walking behind it), lassoing reindeer antlers, brush hockey, and long ski races. There was also a lavvo, a Sami tent with a fire, reindeer skins, and hot chocolate inside. The games were a lot of fun. Emily and I did the spark race; she was blindfolded and I sat on the sled yelling "left," "right," or "straight" to help guide her. We were winning until we had to turn the spark around at the end of one lap.

One of the students, Jovna, taught Dixie and I to lasso reindeer antlers. Each person got three tries and both Dixie and I were successful!

I also watched the long ski races (four people on two long skis) which was a lot of fun. People fell, laughed, and eventually learned to move in unison. I never made it down to the brush hockey game--there were too many other things to do.

Finally, the cold became too much for everyone, so we went back inside the school for a program. Two women sang joik, the traditional Sami music, another told a story about embracing her Sami heritage. The Slovakians, teachers and students who are partners with Samisk VGS and who are in Karasjok for 2 weeks, sang and danced. And a group of students showed a video they had made about their every day lives in Karasjok. Then, we ate lunch. I tried everything, including boiled reindeer, blood sausage, lingonberry jam, reindeer broth, and reindeer tongue. I even sucked the marrow out of a bone. I had more than one bite of everything but the tongue--I just couldn't get past how it looked. This was not, however, my favorite meal in Norway.

After lunch, Dixie and I walked to the elementary school where there would be another program honoring the crown prince and princess of Norway who were visiting for the day. Everything was outside--so we talked with people, both adults and children. Dixie is a teaching intern from London who works at both the VGS and the elementary school. She's just been in Karasjok since the beginning of the school year, but the community is so small that she already knows a lot of people.

I had to go indoors after awhile because it was so cold, but I came out in time to see the prince and princess, who were dressed in Sami clothing and who were gracious observers of the dancing and other festivities. Norwegians seem to be quite fond of these two. Prince Haakon attended Berkeley where few people knew that he was royalty, and he married a commoner, Mette-Marit who was a single mother (note: the picture above is of some members of the community, not the prince and princess).

Dixie and I left before all the entertainment was done in order to meet other teachers and the Slovakians for a church service. The prince and princess came to this service, as well. I didn't understand the thankfully brief sermon, but I enjoyed sitting in the beautiful church with the interesting, many bulbed light fixture that circled the entire room.

After a brief rest at the hotel, I met Martin, his family, Dixie, and the Slovakians for the culture night. There was a too long speech, but then a lot of fun singing and dancing. The little kids sang a popular Norwegian song which contains Sami words, one boy sang a joik and then combined it with rap music, a girl I had met at the elementary school danced with her older sister. There were a lot of really enjoyable moments. I also ran into a woman I'd met on the bus the day before--and talked with another woman who was sitting next to me during the second half of the program.

After dinner, we went to Martin's house for dinner, a typical Norwegian spread with bread, meats, cheese, salads, etc.

I think I experienced everything the community had planned for Sami day. Now, I just wish I could go back for the Easter festivities which include reindeer races. There's so much I left out of this description--the things I learned about the Sami's love for their reindeer, the nice people I met, Kari who was my "shepherd" for much of the day. This will be, I think, one of my most memorable experiences in Norway.

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