Tag Archive: Indigenous people


Today is National Sami Day! It´s a day that celebrates a small ingenious group of people who exist traditionally in the northern regions of Norway, Finland, Sweden and Russia (Sápmi or Lapland). The Sami, commonly known under the moniker Laps or Laplanders, are Caucasians and were previously nomads, before the involvement of others made this impossible. They have a language of their own, known as Sami, who consists of many different types: Northern sami, Inari sami and Southern Sami being the three biggest ones. As with any ingenious groups, centuries of oppression has made their own original faiths come under siege and their own way of life has been nearly forgotten, meaning many of the younger Sami people do not have access to the Sami language, or find the means to speak it fluently. Discrimination is a huge problem for today’s Samis, who face racism and aggressive nationalism from the non-ingenious Swedes, Finns and Norwegians. Simultaneously, with growing awareness of the culture and vibrancy of the Sami people, Finland and Norway have signed the Ilo-Convention, and Sami is protected under the Swedish law as a “Minority language”. In honor of the Scandinavian national day of the Sami, I will review a documentary that consists of both of a generalized cultural history of these people and moving personal view of living as a Sami in the modern age.

Norwegian Sami People in traditional clothing

Norwegian Sami People in traditional clothing

The title of the film, “Jouguan”, means “Jojk” in Sami, a traditional voice device of singing in the Sami culture. It consists of a mixture of humming and singing, where the words are slightly hummed out. The documentary, directed by Maj Lis Skaltje, contains interviews from Norwey, Sweden and Finland. The people being interviewed are all Sami, with the exception of the narrative contextualization of a few historians. The film samples a large and divergent range of different aged Sami people, the oldest being near 80 and 90, while the youngest reside in their teens. Some of the Samis being interviewed live in Sami areas (similar to Indian reservations that exist in the states) and some live in cities. The interviews consist of colorful, funny, insightful and heart-breaking stories.

The significance of what the jojk means to each Sami is touched upon and indicate the wide range of explanations, motivations and motives in which the jojk resides and resonates for the Sami culture. One of the mainstays of the jojk is the Sami use for the herding of reindeer, which is the traditional life style in Sami communities. The Samis were originally entirely dependent on the reindeer, and used them for clothing, food and traveling. The reindeer respond to the humming, especially when it´s their owner who is singing. In this way the jojk is tied with other traditions. Other Samis, both young and old, use the jojk as a way to pay tribute to their family members and different aspects of nature. For instance one of the first interviews Ms. Skaltje did was of two brothers living in Soppero (a Sami area nearby Kiruna, in Sweden) who sing their own jojks dedicated to each other with a heart-warming earnestness. She also interviews a middle-age man who jojks about his cat, with a hilariously accurate mimic. Ms. Sakltje interviews another middle aged man who uses the jojk to learn Sami language, since he grew up with parents who decided not to teach him Sami. The man explains that the Sami have many different ways of expressing their ethic identity; for some speaking the language is the most essential, for others reindeer herding take on the cultural task, and for others the making of the traditional clothing comes to implant them in their cultural identities. For him, personally, the jojking is the most important means to connect with the tone of the cultural roots of the Sami, since he feels like it is a way for him to get in touch with his historical ethnicity and to express his personal emotions regarding this, and his, distinctiveness freely.

jojk-0-jpg

“Jouguans” ample and various interviews give a multi-layered and effervescent depiction of the Scandinavian indigenous people. The Sami in this film have different ways of relating to their heritage and culture and the singing is as unique as every one of the personality we meet within the documentary. The singing is shown as not merely a decorative, exotic type of “folk” singing but a cultural reverberating strength and a resilient personal exploration for each member of this pressured group. The documentary masterfully shows how the songs are used for work, humor, expressions of love and lost, and also for speaking of difficult times that the Sami have gone through. And continue to do so.

Swedish poster of the movie

Swedish poster of the movie

Along with the strength of the diverse interviews, “Jouguans” also explores the historical trajectory of the many ways Samis have been persecuted throughout the ages and the many countries they have inhabited. The jojk, as well as the traditional drum the Sami used when singing, was seen by the Christians as heretical and devotedly antithetical to Christian teaching. Because of this, along with other cultural factors, Sami people were commonly accused of witchcraft during the middle ages and all the way to the 17th century many of them found themselves accused of heresy, or worse, and burned at the stake. This was quite common in Norway, where up to 20% of the people executed for witchcraft were found within the Sami population (both men and women).

One of the many types of drums used by the Sami

One of the many types of drums used by the Sami

The director Maj Lis Skaltje herself speaks openly in the film about her childhood, where she was, due to her Sami roots, marked as unclean by the eugenics policy and testing that dominated in Swedish politics in the 40 to 60´s. While the Sami people were spared from forced sterilization in the Swedish context (a fate that many poor and mentally/physically disabled and women accused of “promiscuousness” had to endure) they were still forcibly and geographically isolated from society and, being deemed a lower people, could therefore not be tolerated to mix with the purer, higher Swedish type. Ms. Skaltje describes how she grew up ashamed of herself, too frightened to even dare speak her own mother tongue. Jojking, along with the fear and avoidance of the Sami Tongue, was seen in this age as a dirty, devilish, and barbaric act.

Another type of traditional clothing (all are made out of reindeer fur)

Another type of traditional clothing (all are made out of reindeer fur)

The Narrative trace of “Jouguans” engulfs us in these facts and personal stories both shock and move us, but does not let us give ourselves forgiveness for these deeds. As with any ingenious group, the Sami´s history is, still and robustly, erased in common history lessons in Scandinavia. The hard and divisive struggles of the Sami are not often discussed in society nor seen as important in the national dialogues of the many states in which the Sami now find themselves. Because of this the mere reiteration of Ms. Skaltje own story becomes a courageous, radical political act of the voice of the forgotten, and brings forth the truth of the systematic oppression the Sami have faced.
“Jojk” is an extraordinary documentary, with a rich character gallery, great music and captivating history. It´s shots are gorgeous; everything just works in this film. So on this day, when we celebrate the Samis heritage and history, it is hugely recommended to go see this movie to learn a great deal about both!

International Sami Flag

International Sami Flag

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Hello and Happy International Women´s Day! To celebrate, this blog will feature various articles and reports about Womens´s struggles for justice and equality, for respect and freedom. Enjoy and become aware!

Firstly, it is time for us as a society to not be friends with rapist.

Buzzfeed has a collection of animated depictions of society´s most beloved couples, where such characters as Marge Simpson and Wonderwoman are vitims of Domestic Abuse. Chilling and powerful. Serious Trigger Warning!

How US Politics contribute to the the epidemic portions of gendered violence in Mexico.

The Aftermatch of the Rwandan genocide, from the Rwandan´s womens perspective.

The horrific situation when millions of women worldwide are denied abortions.


The dangers women face when religious beliefs dominate hospitals.

One brave Afghan woman´s film about rape.

Two takes on Jared Leto´s role in “Dallas Buyers Club”.

What does the recent election in Honduras mean for the countires women?

A factsheet about the almost forgotten Comfort Women.

Amnesty Internationals campaign for Reproductive rights and justice.

Seeking justice for the thousands of murdered Indigenous Canadian women.

A factsheet of Chinese activist Cao Shunli.

Black women and the burden of HIV.

15 facts on sex, pregnancy and violence.

In Nepal, widespread gender discrimination has lead to a crisis in sexual and reproductive rights.

(In Swedish, use google translations). Poor women don´t get access to women´s clinics.

(In Swedish, use google tranlsation). Same situation in Burkina Faso.

(In Finnish, use google translation). Everyone must have the right to decide themselves what their genderidentification is.

Take Action! Sign this petition to prevent a new law in Mocambique which gives rapist the right to marry their victims instead of facing jail.

Take Action! Help a Guatemalan mother find justice for her daughter, who was brutally raped and killed.


In China, single motherhood and having children outside of weddinglock are the final taboo.

A crisis for women´s sexual rights in Poland.


In China, a activist protesting child rape was made homeless by the authorities.

India´s period problem.

How landgrabs in Kenya hurt the Sengwer women (an Indeginous people in Kenya).

There is still hope for Arab feminism!

The scars of the Iraq war lead to depression and drug abuse in Iraqi women.

Breaking the silence of Domestic abuse in the palestian communities.

Israel admitted to forced birth controll and sterilazation of Ethiopian women refugees.

Breaking the silence on violence against Indeginous women, adolescents and children.


Peru will reopen the cause of forced sterilizations, subjected to thousands of Indeginous women.

Top five issues which is killing of Native Americans.

A mother was charged with fellony since she heloed her daughter to get access to an illegal abortion pills online.


19 things women writers are sick of hearing.

Some articles on the Woody Allen controversy: An former lawyer who worked on many child molestian causes explains of how despite not being convicted, it doesn´t mean Allen isn´t guilty. Another piece shows the 1993 papers from the trial, showing he infact wasn´t found completely innocent. Vanity Fair spells out 10 facts about the cause. And finally, a piece on how bizarre it is that Mia Farrow is always accused of brainwashing and Woody Allen isn´t.

One-third of European women suffer from either sexual or physical abuse.

Take Care/ Maaretta

“Father always spoke Finnish!” – Elina about her deceased father

This is a post to celebrate “The Day of the Finnish Swede”, a day for all Swedes of Finnish Descent and Finns who happen to live in Sweden.

Despite being a good 2-10 percent of Sweden´s population, Finns aren´t much represented in Swedish Media. Only a few Swedish movies feature a character of Finnish roots, and when it comes to the ever growing literature which is penned by immigrants or second-generation immigrants, people of Finnish descent are even less present. Susanna Alakoski and Eija Hetekivi Olsson, both Swedes of Finnish descent, have won awards and been best-sellers, but the fact that they write about Finns hasn´t really been acknowledge by the Swedish critics. Therefore it is a delight that the film “Elina – As If I Didn´t Exist” (2002) not only exists, but is a touching tale of courage and a enchanting, and completely underrated, cinematic gem. It is directed by Klaus Härö, who has also directed “The Best of Mothers”, another work of bright cinematic display.

Original Swedish Movie Poster For "Elina"

Original Swedish Movie Poster For “Elina”

“Elina” centers on a young 9-year old girl who lives in a rural area of Sweden in the year 1952. Both of Elina´s parents were Finnish immigrants, her mother being a single parent after the death of the father. After recovering from tuberculoses, Elina must return to school after a year of absence. Being a year academically behind her age peers Elina must reenter the school into the same class as her sister, Irma. The teacher of Irma´s class is the strict disciplinarian Tora Holm, who is both loved and feared in the small town Elina lives in. While at times generous, Tora is also frightening in her determination. Since it is strongly prohibited in the Swedish schools of the Era, Elinas mother warns her to never, ever speak Finnish outside of her home.

However when in school, Elina decides to help a fellow Finnish speaking classmate, Anton, since he, being of Finnish descent and newly arrived to Sweden and the school, doesn´t speak any Swedish. Elina speaks Finnish to help Anton come to grip with new the language. Unfortunately The teacher, Tora Holm, overhears them speak Finnish and without caring to know the context of the situation, decides this means Anton doesn´t get any lunch (a penalty for speaking Finnish). Elina tries to explain that Anton is at a disadvantage. Furthermore she points out that she also shouldn´t be allowed to have lunch since both of them spoke Finnish. These statements are dismissed by Tora. At lunch Elina, to protest the unfairness of the teachers actions, gives her entire meal to Anton. This starts a chain of verbal abuse Elina receives from her teacher. Elina becomes bullied, since she refuses to tolerate the discrimination she and Anton faces.

Elina and Tora Holm

Elina and Tora Holm

Despite “Elina” being a childrens film, it doesn´t shy away from showing how openly hostile people could be to Finns at the time, as well as to the poor. Since the death of her father, Elinas mother struggles to feed her three children and maintain a meager existence in a richer Swedish community in which they find themselves. The poverty Elinas family faces are constantly mocked by Tora. Tora also refers to the ability to speak Finnish as a sole reason to being poverty stricken, and even states that it´s “so hard to teach these finnsavages”. Today in Sweden Finnish is recognized under law as a minority language (as are the Sami language, Mäenkieli, Romani Chib, Yiddish, and Sign language). This status, as now conferred by Swedish law, means that every Swede of Finnish descent has a right to have access to their mother tongue, or a right to learn Finnish.

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Chinese Poster for “Elina”

While it is of great importance that minority mother tongues, and the cultures which circulate around them, have found respect (at least in theory) in the Swedish State, it´s also crucial that films such as “Elina” show that discrimination and oppression have also been a part of the Finnish-Swede experience. On another note, the Sami in Sweden faced harsher discrimination and still continue today to be erased in Scandinavian society.

Elina as a protagonist is a fantastic, inspirational character. She is strong, fierce and believes in justice. She is brave enough to do this even when literally everyone else is against her, even her family. She feels pride in being Finnish and her sense of belonging and self-respect give her strength to avoid the shame in being different from the other Swedish children.

Elina´s family

Elina´s family

Also, Elina is also shown as having a substantial and binding connection with her father, which the movie implies to have been the person who has nurtured, and inspired, her sense of justice and concern for rights. The Finnish father, in “Elina”, gets to be portrayed as a kind, loving parent, which may not seem to be an important detail, however a commonplace, as well as unfortunate, stereotype of Finnish men in Swedish society, is that they are often drunken and violent hooligans who are commonly brutish and unremittedly uncivilized. In Contrast to this simplistic and one-sided stereotype, Elina´s father is a positive, nuanced portrayal of Finnish men. Granting a space for Finnish men to be allowed more three-dimensional roles in Swedish media without recourse to this overly represented stereotype is important to not only recognize the value of minorities in a society, but also to recognize the importance of the Finn to the history and development of Sweden.

“Elina – As if I didn´t exist” is a powerful film about discrimination and bullying. It´s a film that speaks of a personal history of the Finnish immigrants, but also speaks of the universal will to fight for what’s right.

So for The Day of the Finnish-Swedes, go have a sauna, munch on some Karelian pies and watch “Elina – As if I Didn´t exist”!

Swedish/Finnish Flag

Swedish/Finnish Flag

Today it is the National Sami Day in Finland! So it’s time to spread some information about the Sami culture and History, as well as mention a few of the interesting cultural people of Sami origin.

First, on this site you’ll find a brief, but well detailed essay about the history of the Sami people with a concise introduction to their culture and environs. Gives a good synopsis of the politics of persecutions they lived through to the qlliveations of some gained rights.

For a history specifically on the Sami’s in Finland, go here. (In Finnish! Use Google translation to read in another language!)

Look at this interesting article from The Guardian in 2010 about what Sami People can teach us about adapting to climate change.

A fact sheet on Sami’s in Sweden.

Naturally they have even a contemporary cultural production and the information on the Sami filmmaker Paul Anders Simma, who grew up with a nomad Sami famil, gives a good account of this.

The famous musician Mari Boine, known for adding jazz and rock to the yoiks of her native people.

An article on Sámi Literature.

And lastly, below is featured a song by the Norwegian-born Sami singer Maddji. This song is called “Iđitguovssu”.

(Still picture accompanying the music on the video, sorry!):

 

“Frozen River” is an independent drama film from 2008. It is both directed and written by Courtney Hunt. This is her first film, which I would not have guessed after watching it. After viewing this film I was sure she had a lot of experience in film making due to the films maturity and how touching it was.

“Frozen River” stars Melissa Leo as Ray, a middle aged woman with two kids who is in the midst of buying as well as desperately needing a new house. Unfortunately, the money she has been saving up for the new house gets stolen by her husband who takes off on a gambling spree. This act destroys the family’s economy. Ray has a low-paid part time job which can barely feed the family, let alone buy the new house. While trying to figure out how to be able to gather enough money for the new house, she comes across a part-time human smuggler, Lila Littlewolf. Ray soon realizes how much money she can make through the smuggling of illegal immigrants from Canada to US (over a frozen river which separates the boarder of the USA and Canada). Ray becomes a smuggler herself, working with Lila, but working in the smuggling business doesn’t go as smoothly as the women have hoped…

“Frozen River” deals with big issues: poverty, immigration and motherhood. The movie is pretty short (97 min.), but it’s so intense it feels a lot longer. Ray’s struggle to somehow satisfy the needs of her family single-handedly is heartbreaking to watch. She gets a rotten deal, a not uncommon thing for single mothers in the US (they are actually the most common group of people who are below the poverty level in the US). Ray is shown having a part time, minimum-wadge job, a problem that most single-parent women have and which places many of them below the poverty level. So the movie is fairly realistic about Ray’s problems, which makes the movie even grittier. For an American film, “Frozen River” gives a true and fair voice to poor families, and to the sometimes harsh realities of being a single mother. Also Lila, the other smuggler and a Mohawk, is a character the viewer bleeds for. She is also a single mother, but her child has been taken away from her by her mother-in-law. She has trouble getting jobs and feels mistreated by the white majority in the film. Lila at first acts harshly towards Ray, but after the two women get to know each other and realize that they are both getting the bad end of the social deal, she and Ray bond, resulting in a moving friendship. This part of the movie is particularly poignant since it’s one of the few decent female bonding’s portrayed in cinema.

Even if you meet most of the illegal immigrants briefly, Hunt gives us a pretty good idea of how vulnerable their situation is. Ray even seems somewhat lucky for not having to be one of them, even if just barely so. Hunt seems to want to point out how inhumane illegal smuggling can be and how we should put into place some kind of protection system for the illegal immigrants. Hunt also points out that Ray and Lila get a fairly small portion of the money for the smuggling, while the top dogs in the smuggling business are fairly rich and very savage.

“Frozen River” is a near-perfect work of cinematic art which I feel should be viewed by everyone interested in any of these issues. It is actually not that hard to find, either, since it was highly acclaimed by critics.

As a movie about illegal immigration/immigration, I thought this was one of the best movies I’ve seen on this subject.
Some other films of interest dealing with the issue of immigration are “An american tail” (1986) by Don Bluth and “Persepolis” (2007) by Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi. Even if “Persepolis” is not strictly about immigration, it does deal with it in some parts of its 90 minutes or so length. It is also, like “Frozen River”- a great movie directed by a woman.
Does anyone hear now any good movies about immigration? Or has anyone seen “Frozen River” and would like to comment on it?

Lila and Ray