“A sámi-language political analysis, i’m in heaven!”


Pirita Näkkäläjärvi

NRK Sápmi is taking part in undermining the value of the Sámi language because they don’t prioritise Sámi-language content more on their website. Internet plays a central role in most of our lives and it is an important domain, in which the Sámi language should be visible.”

I couldn’t agree more with Mr Mikkel Rasmus Logje, a young language connoisseur, who was interviewed by NRK Sápmi about a year ago.

I regularly complain on social media about the lack of Sámi-language internet news on the websites of NRK Sápmi and Sameradion & SVT Sápmi. Both of these Sámi arms of the national broadcasting companies in Norway and Sweden mostly write internet news in the majority languages, even when the topics would be of interest for the entire Sámi people across the borders.

I’m a Sámi politics buff.

I want to read in Sámi what is happening in the Sámi Parliaments in Norway and Sweden. I want information in Sámi on, for example, why Ms Marion Anne Knutsen was chosen as the Sámi of the Year 2016 – I know she dared to speak up about sexual abuse in the Tysfjord area in the Norwegian Sámiland, but it is hard for me to piece the story together based on Norwegian-language sources only.

Ironically, when a landmark Sámi court case concerning the right to reindeer-herding of a young Sámi reindeer-herder Mr Jovsset Ánte Sara ended up in the Norwegian Supreme court this winter, I was catered better by English-language news sources than our own Sámi-language broadcasters. I devoured the long stories put out by The New York TimesThe Guardian and the Associated Press but was left hungry for more – especially in-depth stories written in Sámi and from our own, Sámi perspective.

Instead of getting analysis about the outcome on the state vs. Jovsset Ánte Sara, I heard Rihanna songs and light bantering about the upcoming visit of Father Christmas.

On the day of the verdict, knowing that the NRK Sámi website will not serve me in Sámi, I turned to the NRK Sámi Radio. After the verdict had come out, I waited one and a half hour by the radio, but instead of getting analysis about the outcome on the state vs. Jovsset Ánte Sara, I heard Rihanna songs and light bantering about the upcoming visit of Father Christmas. When the radio news finally started, the case was covered by 4–5 sentences.

In all of the cases above, luckily we have a small Sámi-language news paper Ávvir, which only publishes in Sámi. It has become practically the sole provider of Sámi-language news on the Norwegian side of Sámiland.

But why do I care so much about the news in Sámi, a marginal language on a global scale?

First, Sámi languages efficiently carry information across the borders. Building common Sámi politics to preserve the endangered indigenous Sámi culture and Sámi language becomes impossible, if for some reason information does not flow across the borders. Ironically, it is Sámi broadcasters, who now stand as an obstacle for the free flow of Sámi information in Sámi across the borders.

The Sámi languages are more international than commonly understood. Northern Sámi is a language shared by the Sámi living in three countries: Finland, Sweden and Norway. Information disseminated by Sámi-language internet news helps to build the Sámiland despite the national borders of Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia, that have split the Sámiland in four.

Even the smaller Sámi languages are understood across the borders. For example, the only young adults’ radio show, Finland’s Yleisradio’s Sohkaršohkka (Sugar Shock), is co-hosted in the tiny Inari Sámi language of 300–400 speakers. However, due to the proximity of Inari Sámi to Northern Sámi, the Inari Sámi co-hostess can be understood also on the Norwegian and Swedish side of Sámiland, especially as her co-hostess speaks Northern Sámi.

News providers play an important role in establishing new words and expressions in the Sámi languages.

Second, the development of Sámi languages partly relies on news providers. News providers play an important role in establishing new words and expressions in the Sámi languages.

Officially it is the Nordic Sámi-language professional and resources center Sámi Giellagáldu, the Sámi Language Spring, that is responsible for coming up with new Sámi-language words and standardizing them across the borders in Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia. However, Sámi Giellagáldu needs the support of a media that regularly publishes Sámi-language news and makes the new terms visible especially online.

Without written news sources in Sámi, the development of the Sámi languages is undermined. If common terms for new phenomena (What is the tablet computer in Sámi?) are not rooted across the borders, for example the Northern Sámi language can become fragmented. Professor Jussi Ylikoski told Yle Sápmi in December 2017, that Northern Sámi may be split up into three different languages depending on the country. So heavy is the influence of the majority languages on Northern Sámi.

Finally, each language has its own way of telling things. A piece originated in a Sámi language keeps Sámi expressions, idioms and structures alive. In addition to linguistic considerations, a piece originated in Sámi also carries the Sámi worldview.

“A SÁMI-LANGUAGE POLITICAL ANALYSIS, I’m in Heaven!”, I cried on Facebook and Twitter, when NRK Sápmi published a Sámi-language commentary about the Jovsset Ánte Sara case at the beginning of year 2018.

Let’s hope for more reasons to react like this. More internet news in Sámi languages, please!


Ms Pirita Näkkäläjärvi is the Sámi of the Year 2017 and the former Head of Yle Sápmi in Finland. Currently she works as a strategy consultant. She holds an MSc Media and Communications from London School of Economics, UK and an MSc Economics from Helsinki School of Economics, Finland.

Photo:  Mikko Mäntyniemi

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