Monday, June 24, 2019

Do You Need to Write in Sami to be a Sami Author?

It’s perhaps not widely known that Norway practiced sustained and systemic discrimination against its Sami population for several centuries, discrimination now known as Norwegianization [fornorsking]. 

As described on Wikipedia, Norwegianization (Fornorsking av samer) was an official policy carried out by the Norwegian government directed at the Sami and later the Kven people of northern Norway to assimilate non-Norwegian-speaking native populations into an ethnically and culturally uniform Norwegian population.

One of the results of the prohibitions against schooling in the Sami language (largely Northern Sami as spoken in Norway), including sending many Sami children to boarding schools away from their families, is that a great number of Sami, especially those who grew up outside certain districts in Sápmi, such as Finnmark, never learned the language. Finland and Sweden had their own forms of  suppressing Sami languages and culture.

What does that mean for Sami literature, and for authors who identify as Sami but who write in one of the Nordic languages, either to reach a wider audience or because in many cases they never learned one of the Sami languages due to state policies that discouraged or forbade it? 
Linnea Axelsson, author of Ædnan

In Sweden, it is notable that the esteemed August literary prize for 2018 was awarded to Ædnan, by Linnea Axelsson, a Sami author from Porjus. Ædnan, written in Swedish as an epic poem, is almost 800 pages long. You can read an excerpt in Saskia Vogel’s translation, published in Words Without Borders, and interview between Axelsson and Vogel here. The book has received rave reviews in the Swedish press. For many readers it brought the history and struggle of the Sami in Sweden to life for the first time. 

Today I happened to read an article in Norwegian, originally posted on NRK on June 20, 2019 and cross-posted on the website of the Norwegian Writers’ Union about recent rules in the Sami Authors’ Union that prevent Sami authors who don’t write in Sami from becoming members of the association.

I’ve translated it into English below: 

Historically untrue and discriminatory

Several authors respond to the Sami Authors' Union excluding Sami who do not write in Sami. This has created great divisions.
After this year's annual meeting, it was made clear that Sami who don’t write in a Sami language cannot become a member of the union. If you write in Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish or Russian, you are thus excluded. If you are not a member, you also cannot receive a fellowship or be nominated for the Nordic Council Literature Prize.

Author Susanne Hætta believes it is shocking that the union is excluding "their own." She says, “I think it's historically untrue, it's exclusionary, and it's discriminatory.”

Hætta herself writes in Norwegian, and became a member before the membership criteria changed last year. Despite resistance, a change of last year's decision was voted down in the recent annual meeting. Hætta believes "language discrimination" is extra-shocking when the reason why many Sami do not have Sami as their mother tongue is former Norwegian-language policy.

And Hætta is not the only member of the writers' union that is shaken. Lene E. Westerås believes the decision is in violation of the Gender Equality and Discrimination Act. “What was adopted is against Norwegian law and it was initiated by racism. I get chills in my body thinking about it.”

The chair of the Sami Authors’ Union, Inga Ravna Eira, says that the reason for the decision has to do with concerns that an increasingly smaller part of the Sami population speaks Sami. She responds to the criticism:  “I can understand their reactions very well. But our intention was to save the Sami language. It was not our goal to discriminate against anyone. But when making such a decision, these are the consequences.”

Eira is supported by the deputy chair Karen Anne Buljo: “I respect the members' feelings, but we are in the middle of Norwegianization [fornorsking] which is completely unstoppable. Therefore, it is important to take a position.”

Susanne Hætta criticizes the leadership style, believing that they now have an authors’ union that that appears anything but unified. “We are a divided union. The leader used a divide-and-conquer technique, and it has worked well for what she has tried to do.”

Eira denies that she has tried to divide the union, only to protect the Sami language.

But Susanne Hætta still believes that the decision is a loss, not just for the authors who can’t get membership, but for all of Norwegian literature. “It is wounding, it is very sad for all those who cannot write in Sami. And Sami literature is not just related to the "correct" language.

Susanne Hætta and Lene E. Westerås

 Susanne Hætta og Lene WesteråsSusanne Hætta og Lene Westerås



Thursday, June 20, 2019

Clearing Out Book Release and Interview Helene Uri

Read the Interview with Helene Uri Here

Just out from the University of Minnesota Press

Inspired by  Helene Uri’s own journey into her family’s ancestry, Clearing Out, an emotionally resonant novel by one of Norway’s most celebrated authors, tells two intertwining stories. A novelist, named Helene, is living in Oslo with her husband and children and contemplating her new protagonist, Ellinor Smidt—a language researcher, divorced and in her late thirties, with a doctorate but no steady job.

An unexpected call from a distant relative reveals that Helene’s grandfather, Nicolai Nilsen, was the son of a coastal (sjø) Sami fisherman—something no one in her family ever talked about. Uncertain how to weave this new knowledge into who she believes she is, Helene continues to write her novel, in which her heroine Ellinor travels to Finnmark in the far north to study the dying languages of the Sami families there. What Ellinor finds among the Sami people she meets is a culture little known in her own world; she discovers history richer and more alluring than rumor and a connection charged with mystery and promise.