The Folk High School North Norway/Álbmotallaskuvla Davvi-Norga is centrally located in Sapmi, in the dual-cultural municipality of Skånland/Skaniid Suohkan in Troms.
A central premise for the school’s existence is that it is to have the specific geographic location in Skånland, North Norway, and the surrounding areas as its seat.
The awareness of the Sami culture and First Nation’s perspectives – both nationally and internationally – is to be foundational for the school, and give it its unique character and position.
Through open and direct cultural meetings, focusing on identity, tradition, history and modernity, assimilation, colonization and neo-colonization, human rights and reconciliation, community is facilitated which lends itself to compassion, reflection, mutual worth and solidarity.
There is no generally, internationally accepted definition of First Nations, or Indigenous Peoples.
Typical traits for First Nations is that they are not the dominant people in the larger society they are a part of, even though they are the group of people who inhabited the area first. They usually have a distinct culture, based on the area’s natural resources. They also reflect a culture, which socially, culturally and/or linguistically set them apart form the dominant population. First Nations often are the minority.
The ILO-convention #169 about Indigenous and Tribal peoples in independent states – which Norway joined in 1990 – defines First Nations people as follows:
“People in independent states who are regarded as first inhabitants or originals because they descend from the people who lived in the land or a geographical region which the land is a part of when either conquering or colonization took place or when the current national borders were established, and who – regardless of their judicial status – have kept all or some of their own social, economic, cultural and political institutions”.
In Norway it is established that the Sami meet the criteria this definition sets forth.
The Sami – Norway’s Indigenous – a people in four countries
The Sami live not only in Norway, but also in Sweden, Finland and Russia. Roughly 80 000 Sami live in these four countries. Just over half of them live in Norway. Less than half of them speak Sami.
Currently, the Norwegian Sami live all over the country, yet the majority of them live in northern Norway, Trøndelag and Femundsmarka in Hedmark. These are the traditional areas of Sami settlements, often called Sápmi.
The Sami speak a language which falls into the Ural group of languages, along with Finnish, Estonian and Hungarian. Norwegian and other Indo-European languages are not linguistically related to Sami.
Today altogether nine different – yet closely related – Sami languages are used in the Sami area. Today, three of these – North Sami, Lule Sami and South Sami – are in daily use.
Reindeer-herding Sami and Sea Sami
About 2600 of the Sami make a living from herding reindeer. The majority of northern Norway is utilized for reindeer herding.
The class we call the Indigenous Class at the Folk High School North Norway/Albmotallaskuvla Davvi-Norga has established collaboration with Inga Sami Siida, at Sortland. Siida means family or community. The Inga Family has made their living out of traditional rein deer herding and modern tourism.
Traditionally, most Sami in Norway – also in Skånland – made a living from fishing, cattle and hunting along the coast, in the fjords and along major rivers inland.
Today, many of the Sami live outside the traditional herding and hunting areas, having moved to the cities in northern Norway or the area around the capitol, Oslo.
Yet most of them still live in the traditional Sami areas, while make a living within the modern service industries, traveling and public sector.
The Sami culture has many unique expressions. The Joik is one of the oldest song-traditions in Europe, and is still in vibrant use.
A Joik is dedicated to a person, an animal or a location, and the harmonies reflect the characteristics of which or who the Joik is for and about.
Should you want to court somebody, a Joik can be a fruitful means of courting!
Sami clothing and duodji
The distinct Sami “Kofte”, or overcoat/jacket, is another long-standing, living tradition. Sami clothing is not standardized such as Norwegian “bunads” are, where materials and colors are predetermined.
The Sami clothing, however, allows for creativity, within a certain traditional framework. Today’s Sami traditional clothing exhibits much variation in colors; the “kofte” – albeit traditional – still expresses new trends, fresh attitudes and creativity.
Traditional Sami clothing has seen a renaissance. The value of the Sami clothing has changed, from being everyday clothing to that of festive occasions, and appears today as an important mark of identity and of positive cultural significance. It has become increasingly common to use elements of the traditional clothing in combination with more contemporary Norwegian fashion.
Duodji is the Sami word for art, and draws upon many traditions, such as tin embroidery, pearl embroidery, weaving of bands for footwear, sewing of “kofte”, woodcarving and knife-smithing. These means of art are both taught and in general use.
Current Political status
“Sametinget” is the Samis’ elected political ministry in Norway. It carries much political authority in questions of culture, both current and historical, reindeer industry and teaching, and increases it’s influence steadily within economy and industry related to both food and tourism.
The Sami language is acknowledged on par with Norwegian in 10 municipalities, two counties and a host of federal ministries. The Sami language is an official Norwegian language, yet not quite enjoying the same status as Norwegian.
Sami in the 21st century
In the 21st century, the Sami culture encounters the modern world in a new way. No Sami any longer lives fully the traditional, nomadic life, and many a Sami’s everyday life appears very modern. Even so, the interest in “joik”, “duodji” and Sami language is clearly growing. Traditional “joik” is often incorporated into modern rhythms and music.
Subjugation and equal rights/worth
A common denominator in many Indigenous Peoples’/First Nations Peoples’ histories, is the subjugation of their culture by the ruling class, among the means of subjugation has been the official policies of ongoing assimilation. The same is true for the Sami people of Norway.
During the nation building of Norway from the early 1800’s till well into the 1900’s, the Sami were regarded as a foreign people – often viewed as uncivilized, primitive, even wild nomads who did not fit into the established image of what it meant to be Norwegian.
With all the available means of society: schools, church, justice, defense, health and other ministries, the Sami were to be “Norwegianized” by being forced to abandon their own culture.
This resulted in monumental cultural losses, including loss of identity and health.
Today there is little doubt that racist attitudes and a philosophy of racial hierarchy influenced the ruling authorities policies of that era.
Even though the policy of “Norwegianizing” now is a thing of the past, the lingering consequences are still evident today. It shows itself in degrading attitudes and lacking acknowledgement of the value of language and culture.
It has thus become necessary for the government to repair some of the damages incurred upon culture and language, and to lay the groundwork necessary for revitalizing both Sami language and culture.
More recently, the Indigenous/First Nations peoples’ rights have increasingly been the topic both internationally and nationally, and several laws and international conventions have been implemented.
The principal equal rights between Norwegians and Sami people has been established in the Constitution, §108, where it states (paraphrased): “It is incumbent upon the federal authorities to facilitate that the Sami part of the population can secure and further develop their language, their culture and their social life”.
The aim of the Constitution and other legal ordinances is to secure that which is unique to the Sami population, such as language and culture; to see to it that it is secure and may be furthered according to the Samis’ own intentions and conditions.
The Folk High School of North Norway/Álbmotallaskuvla Davvi-Norga acknowledges Norway’s laws, the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention of Indigenous Peoples. This is the foundation upon which the school builds its work for and among First Nations locally, nationally and internationally.
At the school we believe that we all carry within us the possibility that we might be both the one who perpetrates and who is victimized.
Our school cannot be true to its name and intention without reflecting on the common history of both Samis and Norwegians of the north. Together with others who have their roots in various Indigenous/First Nations areas throughout the world, we need to speak truthfully about history. The school intends to maintain a conscious attitude towards the rights Sami and other First Nations people have, nationally and internationally. In all the classes and activities, Sami and Norwegian values and experiences are to be expressed equally and without discrimination. To practically ensure this goal, the school will keep an active dialogue with the Sami milieu and institutions, both locally and internationally.
To be truthful about one’s own life and history, it is necessary to be closely connected to self and others. However, experience teaches us that we easily develop a distorted view of ourselves. Self-reflection is often well aided from afar, as we travel much and reflect on ourselves in light of other cultures and new life experiences.
We aim to focus on visits and relationships with First Nations in other parts of the world. Thus we hope to mirror our own life and experiences with people who are similar to us. We aim to create unique possibilities to relate to First Nations people, their values and way of life, on all continents.