Privileged as a Swede, discriminated against as a Sami

Charlotta Svonni.Charlotta Svonni, doctoral student in history at the Department of Historical, Philisophical and Religious Studies.
Photo: Mattias Pettersson.

Kautokeino, or Guoavdageaidnu, is a village in northern Norway where the Sami culture is completely dominant. This was also the reason why I chose to study Sami at the University of Guoavdageaidnu — something as unique as a Sami university.

In addition to the fact that all teaching took place in the Sami language, the entire context had a Sami stamp, from the art exhibits in the premises to the food in the lunchroom.

It was a liberating but at the same time remarkable experience to visit a densely populated area and a higher education institution where Sami is the norm. Here, I could wear my Sami clothes, speak Sami and sing a yoik without attracting attention. In Sweden, there is no equivalent.

Something that became clear to me after my studies in Guoavdageaidnu is the importance of the language. When speaking Sami with native speakers of the language, they talk about different things than when we speak Swedish. Use of the Sami language opens the possibility of expressing Sami identity that otherwise has a subordinate position in everyday life.

“I am immensely privileged as a Swede but discriminated against as a Sami,” my father said many years ago.

That is something I carry with me and agree with. I’m extremely grateful for living in a country like Sweden and to do the work I do. Every morning when I go to work and see the University in front of me, my heart skips a beat!
But my privilege must be used with care. To engage in research is not about looking after my own interests as an individual, but rather about contributing to society with new knowledge that can lead to improvements.

In my research, I have looked at the curriculum for the Swedish nine-year compulsory school and found that only half a percent of the 800-plus educational targets touches on Sami themes.

At the same time, the Sami are a national minority and recognised as a native people in accordance with fundamental law. Sweden as a nation has obligations to avoid discriminating against the Sami people or assimilating them.
That becomes a difficult equation to solve. Is it possible to avoid assimilation when 99.5% of the compulsory school curriculum lacks a Sami perspective? A difficult question, but one that needs to be posed.

In my culture, it is most important to first say where I come from and to what clan I belong. Who I am, as opposed to what I do. Lineage is important because we are a people who have strong ties to our land and who hold this land in trust for the next generation. In 2017, Umeå University is focusing particular attention on Arctic research. But my hope is that the focus will also encompass Sami research and Sápmi.

For me personally, it goes without saying that I feel responsibility towards Sami society. But I would like the University to also shoulder that responsibility in an even more distinct manner.

If our Swedish society is to increase the knowledge base about Sami society, the change must start here, at our university.

Text: Charlotta Svonni

From Aktum no 1 2017

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