Indigeneity, Language and Authenticity

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Monthly Archives: May 2013

An Open Letter to Eric Lindfors

Dear Eric Lindfors,

Do you remember the days when your newspaper was arguing for the establishment of a Saami Parliament? I don’t. Perhaps I am simply too young to remember what was written back then, those years leading up to the establishment of the Saemie digkie, but others have told me that you used to be ‘on our side’. Perhaps I am just too used to see negative comments about my people on the pages of your paper to be able to believe this was ever the case.



Last Saturday, one day before this year’s Saami Parliament elections, you – unanimously supported by the rest of the editorial board at Expressen, one of Sweden’s largest newspapers – called for the abolishment of the Saami Parliament, calling it a racist institution, a conclusion based on a number of false assumptions regarding the electoral roll and the right to herd reindeer in Sweden.”Abolish the Saami Parliament! Its representatives argue too much and it’s racist, because I say it is” seemed to be the general message of your editoral, but please do feel free to correct me if I have somehow managed to misunderstand your badly written attack on my people’s Parliament.

Your editorial, which can be read here, is not only full of inaccuracies, but highly offensive and a brilliant example of statements that has contributed to the harshened climate towards the Saami across our ancestral lands spanning four countries over the last couple of years. Just take the time to compare your editorial with the Norwegian Progress Party’s claim that Northern Norway is characterised by Apartheid (1) because of the presence of Saami who get to herd reindeer in the area.

Sweden has in general been silent about its dark past with regards to its treatment of the Saami, and thus it has been far too easy to pass off stereotypical inaccuracies about us in national media outlets. Had your editorial been written in the 70’s and instead of arguing for the abolishment of the Saami Parliament had suggested that the Saami should be stripped completely of their reindeer herding rights, I am positive that it had most likely been applauded as an example of brilliant journalism by the Swedish settler majority in northern Sweden, but since then, and in many ways long before that, we, as a people, have risen up and on a far broader scale organised ourselves so that lies about us in Swedish newspapers or programmes cannot and will not be left unchallenged.

Dear Eric, this is important; as a people, we reserve the right to represent ourselves and we refuse to let others talk about and for us without our consent, and while this refusal of ours to remain a silenced Other may seem frightening to you, thus calling for tired, illogical claims of racism – a brilliant use of master suppression techniques, well done – to keep us colonised, we have a constitutional right to self government and no matter the amount of badly written editorials, we will not give up that right without a fight.

In your editorial, I recognise arguments from the Sweden Democrats, who five years ago declared that no Swedish citizen should be granted any rights based on their ethnicity – “[det ligger i] vår ideologiska profil att [etniska minoriteter i Sverige] inte ska ha några etniska rättigheter”, Jimmy Åkesson, 2008. Members of the Sweden Democrats argued for an abolishment of the Saami Parliament until 2009 (2), and the same party suggest that reindeer husbandry should be a right afforded to everyone in Sweden, much like you do in your editorial. Seeing as you are accusing the Saami Parliament of being built on ideas that would be supported by the Sweden Democrats, it’s interesting to see that your arguments used to argue this in fact seem to be identical with those of, well, you guessed it, the Sweden Democrats.

In other words, rather than suggesting a reversal to the pre-1886 Saami Tax Mountain system, where the Saami were seen as the owner of their lands, thus challenging colonialism in Sweden, you wish to strip us even further of the few rights a very small number of us still have left.

I do applaud your ‘brave journalism’.

When you refer to the Saami Parliament as an institution that is marred by race biology and thus should be abolished, I pity the fact that – rather than trying to read up on the colonial history of your country and thus gain a better understanding of Saami identity politics – you seem to have decided to calque the arguments of Norways Progress Party’s MP Per Willy Amundsen who used his seat in Parliament to argue for the abolishment of everything from the Saami Parliament to the support of Saami languages in Norway back in 2011 (3).

Race biology as a concept was championed by the Swedish state; it is offensive and inaccurate to describe the Saami Parliament as an institution based on the very ideas that had our ancestors’ bones put in university archives and our grandparents stripped naked and photographed by ethnographers keen on proving how non-human we were in comparison to other Swedes. When you write that ‘staten ska inte särbehandla individen efter någon rasbiologisk sörja’, you fail to realise that we are recognised as a people, and thus afforded the right of self governance by international laws. In other words, rejoice in the fact that there is no such thing as a Saami Independence Movement, demanding the return of the lands the Swedish state stole from us, despite many conspiracy theories claiming the opposite, and be forever thankful that we allow the colonial state that stole our lands to write laws that continue to affect us in negative ways. Racism has no place in our Parliament and the crass reality is that racism as a concept could be said to stem from the teachings of Sweden’s very own national biologist Carolus Linnaeus, who among other things liked to collect stolen, sacred objects from the Saami, so the notion that the Saami Parliament would be racist because you as a Swedish tabloid writer is incapable of reading the laws surrounding our electoral roll or studying our history is, well, for a lack of better words, preposterous.

Then again, an editorial from what in reality is little more than a tabloid masquerading as a newspaper, however popular, can hardly be expected to be neutral or even accurate in its discussion of issues it truly doesn’t understand. On the other hand it is remarkable that the entire editorial board at Expressen, despite loud critique from both Saami politicians and others, is willing not only to pass on discriminatory lies about Sweden’s indigenous people, but to defend the choice to publish an editorial that not only wants to strip the Saami of their right to self government by criticising the Saami identity laws, but also finds itself in a position where it sees itself granted a god-given right to bestow reindeer herding rights upon all Swedish citizens, a right which is an ancestral right that according to international laws cannot in fact be be granted to, nor taken from the Saami by the Swedish Parliament.

And why, you may ask?

Reindeer husbandry is not a right that was bestowed upon the Saami by Swedish governmental goodwill policies, the current reindeer husbandry laws are the result of the brutal, colonial ongoing theft of our lands by the Swedish state. For your education, I suggest that you take your time to watch the latest episode of Svenska Händelser, it might help rid your mind of some of your stereotypes and false assumptions about my people.

The Reindeer Husbandry right is what remained when the state had stripped us of our humanity and homes, and it was in no way a right that was left to all Saami, but rather to a few groups of reindeer herders who had enough reindeer to be seen as uncivilised enough to keep out of the Swedish social security network, whereas other Saami who had lived primarily off fishing or pastoral farming were forcibly included in the Swedish state. Indeed, what was left was a group without basic human rights; one side denied their ethnicity, culture and languages, and the other side denied the right to proper education, the right to build houses or to not have their bodies examined by racist doctors who measured their skulls in laboratories across the Swedish state to prove how different from the pure Swedes they somehow happened to be.

The closest example I could think of, making this more graspable to you, is the following: Tomorrow, the Russian government rolls up to your door, tells you that you no longer own your house, but that you’re allowed to stay in it and keep your dog and that you’ll be the only one in your house allowed to breed dogs. Following a number of negotiations in which your opinions are dismissed or simply not heard by the Russians, it is decided that in the future, your family will only be allowed to use the house if they continue to breed dogs, and this has to be the only source of income that your family will be able to support themselves with. Now, when your daughter turns 21, other people in the house, who moved in when the Russian government put it on the market, obviously against your better judgment and loud protests, start to complain about your daughters unfair rights – “why is she the only one allowed to breed dogs, she shouldn’t be treated any different from the rest of us!”

But I digress.

The second misunderstanding put forward as a truth in your editorial has to do with our identities. You claim that Saaminess is something that is passed on only if a person has the right amount of pure Saami blood in their veins, but this is ludicrous. Saaminess is not based on blood; blood quantum laws are indeed used by other indigenous peoples to decide if a person is a member of an indigenous community or not, but this is not the case in Sápmi. According to the Swedish law, being Saami equals self-identifying as Saami  and

1. gör sannolikt att han eller hon har eller har haft samiska som språk i hemmet, eller [being able to prove that they speak or have spoken Saami at home, or]

2. gör sannolikt att någon av hans eller hennes föräldrar, far- eller morföräldrar har eller har haft samiska som språk i hemmet, eller [being able to prove that one of his or her parents or grandparents speak or have spoken Saami at home, or]

3. har en förälder som är eller har varit upptagen i röstlängd till Sametinget. [having a parent that is listed or has been listed on the electoral roll to the Saami parliament]

As you can see, there is not one single mention of DNA or blood quantum in the law, instead Saaminess is based on a linguistic and cultural belonging that isn’t closed to e.g. adoptive children. Worth noting is that this law – which was created by the Swedish state – is being questioned by the Saami Parliament who thinks it leaves far too many Saami without the right to vote. Rather than calling for the abolishment of the Saami Parliament, then, you would spend your time far better by joining these politicians in petitioning the Swedish Parliament and call for a revision of the Saami Law.

Because here’s the deal, despite the name, the Swedish Parliament has not granted the Saami Parliament the right to create laws, and as such it is hardly the scary, racist institution, inhabited by ‘pure Saami’ that you and your fellow editors seem to think.

Anyhow, based on your indignation at our democratic rights as expressed through our Saami Parliament, I am looking forward to your next editorial, in which I am assuming that you will call for the abolishment of the Swedish Church because non-members aren’t allowed to vote in the upcoming Church Elections this year. And when, next year, I feel myself personally victimised because I don’t get to vote in the Malmö Council Elections despite living in Lycksele, I assume you will take your time to write an editorial calling for complete and utter anarchy, and the abolishment of all Councils despite the one that I am living in – all this in the name of democracy, of course.

Vaajmoelaaketje Helseegh,
Best Wishes,

Johan Sandberg McGuinne

Sofia Jannok – Áhpi


Sofia Jannok at the release party for her latest CD, Áhpi – May 7th, 2013.

DSC_0076.jpgTuesday’s concert was one of the best ones I’ve been to in well over a year. Sofia is not only a fantastic musician who is successfully using her Saami heritage to create something new, and unique – she’s indie pop and a fresh take on traditional Saami music at once – but she is also incredibly political and her commitment to indigenous rights, decolonisation and the environment is both real and inspiring.

Reading articles about Sofia, one is often led to believe that, by virtue of being an indigenous woman working as a musician, she is automatically some kind of fragile, ethereal nature being – Sweden’s answer to Björk if you wish. The obvious reality, of course, is that she’s not. If anything – that is, if a musician has to represent anyone else but themselves – Sofia represents Sápmi and not the colonial government that occupied our ancestral lands and yesterday’s release party was just one example of how she’s challenging the outsider’s stereotypical view of Saaminess as something – when expressed through music – that fits comfortably with Swedishness in a rather empowering way.

Áhpi is a CD that may seem like an easy listen, but to those who understand the lyrics or take the time to read them, this CD becomes something more, something stronger than your everyday collection of songs.DSC_0145.jpg

A clear example of this came half-way through Sofia’s concert. After having sung one of her more upbeat songs – a song that became the go-to Saami song whenever Swedes talk about the Saami after Sofia appeared in a popular Swedish radio show last summer – Sofia stopped, looked out at the mass of people crammed in front of the stage, most of whom were Saami, and rather matter-of-factly told all of us that, ‘right, enough of that. Time for politics’ and what followed was a  short but powerful call to arms against different types of neocolonial projects in Saebmie, as well as a request aimed at all those who have the right to vote in our upcoming Saami Parliament elections to do so on the 19th of May.

Anyway, Áhpi is all of the things described above – it is a call to arms, it’s indie pop that melts in your ears, think an aural orgasm, and it’s awesomeness all wrapped into one single nice package and I cannot recommend this CD enough.

The four best songs on the album, if you ask me:

  • Viellja jearrá (Brother Asks)
  • Jávrrit juiget (Lakes are Singing)
  • Čuoivvatmiessi (The lightest reindeer calf)
  • Áhpi (Wide as Oceans)