Speech by Amanda Lind at the Sami Culture Policy Summit
Umeå, 6 March 2019.
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Here, in the very centre of Umeå, in front of the town hall, it is a great honour for me to have the possibility to share this historic event with you! Humbled by the fact that I get to participate in the inauguration of the Sami Culture Policy Summit, I would like to start by warmly thanking Såhkie Umeå Sami Association, Giron Sami Theatre and all those having generously supported this event.
I would also like to congratulate the Umeå Sami week on the occasion of its twentieth anniversary! Twenty years of highlighting Sami arts and culture and their contributions to the cultural life of the region.
Some months ago, Linnéa Axelsson’s epic Ædnan was awarded the prestigious August Prize. Many readers, with or without Sami background, have had the possibility to follow Ristin, Ber-Joná, Lise and Sandra in their fight for survival, recognition and dignity.
The political context of the destinies depicted in Ædnan is not very flattering to the Swedish state. But these stories need to be heard. They help to rewrite Swedish-Sami history – and future. And to be clear on this – if, and when the Sami Parliament so wishes, the Swedish Government intends to appoint a Truth and Reconciliation Committee.
During the last couple of years, many new important stories have met a wide audience. Through literature, drama, visual arts, film and music, the historical and contemporary conditions, injustices, victories and traumas are made visible to a larger audience.
The beautiful and political works of the artist Britta Marakatt-Labba have provoked new thoughts in many minds, both in and far beyond Sápmi.
The film Sami Blood by Amanda Kernell has won several international awards as well as the Audience Award of the Swedish Guldbagge Film Awards. With over 180 000 cinema tickets sold in Sweden, the film widely exceeded all expectations. But it was obvious that the strong account of the chances and choices in life of Elle Marja have the power to go straight to the hearts of any audience.
It is the main objective of Swedish Sami policy to promote a vivid Sami culture and a strong and diverse Sami cultural life. One must not make the mistake of believing that indigenous culture is only about preservation and tradition. Tradition is important. But to be firmly rooted in tradition is not in contradiction with contemporary artistic expressions. With musicians such as Maxida Märak or Sofia Jannok, artists from Sápmi meet a wide and also young audience.
The famous Sami singer Mari Boine once said the following, as conveyed by Veli-Pekka Lehtola in his book “The Sami People – Traditions in Transition”: “My self-image was full of wounds and aches, and making songs was medicine for those. Only when people who heard the songs came and asked, ‘how do you manage to tell so exactly about me and my feelings?’ did I understand the songs were like medicine for others too. The next step was that I wanted to make others understand us and our pain: those who had looked down on us and had diminished and wounded us. The third step was to notice how great were the riches and traditions contained in our culture.”
But individual artists cannot carry culture alone. Culture is something collective and individual at the same time. Transmitting culture and language in meetings between people and across generations is fundamental. But for the future of Sami culture in Sweden, also strong institutions are of great value.
The cultural centre Gaaltije in Östersund is vital in promoting and strengthening South Sami culture.
Sámi Duodji gives important contributions to Sami handicraft and design.
Giron Sámi Teáhter raises important and difficult questions to a wide and diverse audience.
Ájtte, Swedish Mountain and Sami Museum in Jokkmokk, shows how Sami cultural heritage is also Swedish cultural heritage. The importance the Government ascribes to Ájtte is shown by the increased grants the Museum since 2018 receives from the state cultural budget.
Also, the Sámi associations provide many cultural meeting places, such as Tráhppie, here in Umeå.
I am very happy that Såhkie, with Giron Sami Theatre and partners, have provided the conditions for discussions on the future of Sami cultural life and what can be done by the Government. I know that there are high expectations on how the state level can increase its commitments. I look forward to an open and honest discussion on the challenges and possibilities for strengthening Sami culture.
In 2018, the Government raised the grants to Sami culture distributed by the Sami Parliament. But I fully understand that there is much more that can be done. Sweden is a party to the UNESCO 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.
Sweden’s constitution was also amended in 2011 to affirm the obligation of public power in Sweden to promote the opportunities of the Sami people to preserve and develop a cultural and social life of their own. These are obligations to be taken seriously. The Swedish Government will continue the efforts to reach a Law on Consultation in Matters Concerning the Sami People. We also continue to work for a realisation of a Nordic Sami Convention, that will strengthen the rights of the Sami people to maintain and develop their language, culture, economic activities and social life.
As many of you already know, 2019 is the International Year for Indigenous Languages. In the official communication around this year, it is clearly stated that without the indigenous languages on this planet, the world would be a poorer place. So many stories would be lost forever. So much knowledge and so many perspectives would disappear. One cannot help but to think of Elsa Laula’s words that it is about life or death.
I know that all around Sápmi, there are heroic efforts made to strengthen the Sami languages. Initiatives by the public sector, by organisations, civil society and committed citizens together make up a forceful contribution. The work by the Sami writer’s organisation Bágo is vital in promoting the written word. But it is a matter of both production and distribution. The Sami Library in Jokkmokk has an important role to play in ensuring access to the Sami works already written. But it is obvious that more still needs to be done to even start to make up for the wounds made. The loss of a language is a loss for us all.
We are happy that the Swedish Sami Parliament is a partner to the International Year for Indigenous Languages and the Government intends to join in the efforts to highlight this initiative.
The Government sees the need for a coherent and long-term strategy on how to strengthen the Sami languages. We have also given the task to the Sami Parliament to make an inquiry into how a Sami language centre can be developed to strengthen more Sami varieties.
The Sami Parliaments in Norway, Sweden and Finland cooperate on a project that aims to establish a common Sami language centre, called Sámi Giellagáldu. The Nordic civil service body for Sami issues, in which the Sami parliaments also are represented, has established a working group to look into the organisational model for Sámi Giellagáldu. Since Sápmi stretches across four states, international cooperation is very important. We must do all we can to ensure that there are no border obstacles for Sami cooperation and cultural exchange.
During the Swedish Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2018, we arranged, together with the Swedish Sami Parliament, the Institute for Language and Folklore and the Swedish Arts Council, a workshop on how culture can be used for language revitalisation. One good example that was presented was by Giron Sámi Teáhter, based in Kiruna. They use the playful cooperation methods of circus to inspire children to dare to use Sami languages.
This great example of using the arts for language revitalisation was also presented to the Nordic ministers for culture in October last year. Inspired by this, The Nordic Council of Ministers will shortly launch an initiative of promoting culture and education for language revitalisation. I will closely follow this initiative and I hope that you will too.
Being here in Umeå with you, the city’s year as European Capital of Culture in 2014 comes to mind. During this year, Sami culture was at the very core of the activities. The structure of the year was based on the eight seasons in Sami tradition. This was a great possibility to discuss what the place of Sami culture, both here and in the greater area, could be. I know there were many heated debates on this and the lessons learned can guide us in the future.
I genuinely welcome that these discussions are now continuing. I look forward to an exchange with Sami cultural actors and others on how the Government in cooperation with the regions, municipalities, civil society and others can work together to help strengthen the Sami cultural infrastructure. And I wish you all the best for a fruitful, honest and inspiring summit.
I warmly welcome that this is an event focusing on culture. But having the responsibility also for sports, I would like to wrap up by shortly bringing your attention to the Vasaloppet ski race that was held in Dalarna three days ago. On that very day, the third of March, ninety years ago, the Sami athlete Johan Abram Persson won Vasaloppet. Most newspapers did not bother to put his name in the headlines, they only focused on his ethnicity. But there are names, there are faces, there are individuals with their own stories. And with the growing amount of Sami artistic work, these names, faces and stories will be read, seen and heard.
Thank you very much for letting me be a part of your summit, which I hereby declare inaugurated!