Love lead me to learning about the Sámi people. Well, more accurately, love and a song.
It was not the love of a partner.
The first time I heard the song “Sámiid Ædnan,” I was in a movie theatre. Being a huge John Carpenter fan, I squealed with delight when I saw that a prequel for my favorite work of his, The Thing, was in the works. Although Carpenter would not be directing, I loved that the story of my favorite alien would once again grace the big screen. I saw the prequel on October 14th, 2011.
For persons unaware of the plot of The Thing, the film is set on two Antarctic research bases. The 1982 film was set on the American base. The 2011 film was set on a Norwegian research base, which the American scientists visited briefly in the 1982 film. Being that the prequel was set on the Norwegian camp, many of the actors spoke Norwegian (although those with a more savvy understanding of Scandinavian languages would realize that one actor speaks his native Danish in the film). Subtitles were used for English language audiences. The majority of the scientists in the film were Norwegian, but there were also a constituent of researchers from other areas of the world. The researchers in the 2011 film dug up an alien, which had been preserved deep inside the Antarctic ice. Naturally, they celebrated. Among the many shouts of “Skål” that echoed throughout the camp, a scientist began to sing a song, and was soon joined by his coworker, who accompanies him on a guitar. Eventually, every Norwegian speaker in the camp is singing this song, with those who do not speak the language laughing and clapping along. The scene is the last pleasant interlude before havoc, death, and destruction hits the camp.
My curiosity piqued, I decided to research the origins of the song that was sung in the 2011 incarnation of The Thing. After a little research (made much easier thanks to Google), I found out that the song was entitled “Sámiid Ædnan,” and was originally sung by Sverre Kjelsberg and Mattis Hætta. Hætta is a Norwegian Sámi singer and recording artist, and performs the long live in traditional Sámi garb. “Sámiid Ædnan,” which translates to “Sámi Earth,” or “Sámi Soil,” was Norway’s entry for the 1980 Eurovision Song Contest. The lyrics of the song discuss the events of the 1979 Alta Controversy in Norway.
The Alta Controversy began when the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate wanted to construct a dam and power plant that would create an artificial lake, swamping the Sámi village of Máze. The plan for construction was revised several times, as the original was met with an abundant amount of political resistance. In the fall of 1979, the time of year that construction was slated to begin, protesters implemented two demonstrations of civil disobedience. At the construction site, activists sat down and blocked the machines. Simultaneously, Sámi activists began a hunger strike outside of the Norwegian Parliament.
The lyrics of “Sámiid Ædnan” reflect the peaceful protest in the quest for sovereignty over their ancestral lands by the Sámi people. There are numerous lines acknowledging a traditional form of Sámi song; the “yoik” or “joik,” and a yoik itself, are found in “Sámiid Ædnan.” Additionally, there is a line in “Sámiid Ædnan” that reflects the aforementioned hunger strike; “framfǿrr tinget der dem satt, hǿrtes joiken dag og natt,” which translates to “in front of parliament they sat, the yoik was heard day and night.” “Sámiid Ædnan” also reflects on the power of peaceful protests, and the indomitable nature of the Sámi people. “Joik har større kraft enn krutt, Sámiid Ædnan, Førr en joik tar aldri slutt, oh… Sámiid Ædnan,” roughly translates to: “A yoik is stronger than gunpowder, Sámi earth, for a yoik never ends, Sámi earth.” Whether or not the characters in the The Thing, being set in 1982, knew that the Norwegian Supreme Court ruled in favor of the government in that same year is unknown.
Upon researching this on my own, I mulled over how little I had learned about indigenous people in the United States and abroad, in the entirety my twelve years of public education in the United States. The common narrative in all my years of schooling was that of the colonizer, not those who had been inhabited. The only resource in my life that spoke about the plight of native people consistently was song. Even then, these songs were often written by white men; such as “Run to the Hills” by Iron Maiden, “Cheyenne Anthem” by Kansas, or “Cherokee Rose” by Corey Smith. Why is it that the voices of white men are taking president over the indigenous artists that yearn to say the same thing?
Sámi women also perform the yoik, and there is a well-known assemblage of Sámi female performers. Angelit, (formerly known as Angelin tytöt) is helmed by Finnish Sámi women vocalists that perform Sámi music throughout the world. Angelit is also the former band of male Finnish metal star Jonne Järvelä, who went on to join the rock band Korpiklaani. Järvelä mentions the traditional ancestral home of the Sámi people several times in Korpiklaani’s lyrics, introducing the Sámi people to those outside of the Nordic countries, (specifically those who listen to the metal genre). Ulla Pirttijärvi, a Finnish Sámi solo vocalist, also began her career with Angelit. Pirttijärvi performs traditional yoiks with contemporary music arrangements. Pirttijärvi composed an album of songs in the Sámi language aimed to teach children the Sámi language and the Sámi cultural experience.
Mari Boine (neé Mari Boine Olsen) is a Norwegian Sámi musician that added jazz and rock to the traditional yoiks of the Sámi people. Boine regularly writes and sings songs in the Sámi language. Boine notably rebelled against being labeled as being an inferior “Lappish” (or native) woman in Norwegian society. The accompanying booklet for Boine’s album, entitled ‘Leahkastin,’ is illustrated with photographs and bigoted political cartoons, complete with racist captions. Like many other women of color, Sámi women are highly sexualized by the dominating patriarchal group. The disrespect the Sámi experienced at the hands of academics is also explicitly stated, as one of the subtitles reads: “”Lapps report for anthropological measurement.” Many of the captions are references to the “well-nourished” Sámi female body. Boine even includes a photo of herself, with the caption being: “Mari, one of the rugged Lapp-girl types.” Ever the activist, Boine also turned down an invitation to perform at the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, as she interpreted the invitation as insincere, and did not want to me the “token minority.”
I believe that it is a travesty that my love for a film about a nefarious shapeshifting extraterrestrial was the catalyst to my introduction to the Sámi people. In fact, I find it hideous how lacking my public education in the United States was in relation to indigenous women and people’s voices, and issues. If this is not amended, the educational system in the United States will continue to support the overarching themes of societal, governmental, and institutional decimation of indigenous peoples and cultures throughout the world.
Voices of Sámi and indigenous women are there. The world is just not listening hard enough.
Overarching themes of colonization are relevant to women ubiquitously. Patriarchal societies allow men to feel as if they are entitled to conquering women’s bodies whenever they please. Colonial agents everywhere ignored the role of women in the societies that they occupied and subjugated. I did not, and still do not, have a right to write for Sámi women. The voices of women in the Sámi community are their own. They deserve to be heard, and not to be drowned out by the voice of a white woman on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. I am not attempting to write for Sámi women here.