Skip to Main Content
HOME : Diehtu : New Era : Journal


Reda (Sarah Weisberg)

Jan. 28, 2001

I’m attempting to begin the learning process in this class with a clear mind. But, already, from the few passages I’ve read, I find it hard to separate the Sami experience from all I’ve learned about the Native Americans, the Aborigines, and every other cultural group that has come into contact with the Christian Anglo-Saxon western culture. The choice has always been, “Assimilate or Die. Resistance is futile.” I’m having problems seeing the hopeful side of the Sami conflict, that is, if one exists. But it is my belief that as long as there is determination, anything is possible. And if there’s not determination, then no one must care enough to do anything about the situation, and who am I to lament the disappearance of something I have never experienced? It’s like lamenting the disappearance of the do-do bird—it wasn’t my battle to fight and if I waste my energy on a lost cause, that’s just energy that could have been used on a battle that could be won. Don’t get me wrong, I still lament the extinction of the do-do bird and all the wrongs that were done to Native Americans, but what good does that do for the world of today? I feel all that it does is create anger and frustration—a flow of energy in the wrong direction. Instead, what if I could use that frustration and anger to solve problems that I have hope for. Hope begets hope. What I’m trying to say regarding the Sami is: If the culture wants to assimilate, let it assimilate; if it want the rights to what belongs to it, with enough determination, it will get them. As anthropologists, sociologists, linguists, etc., all we can do is support the fighters and do our best to spread knowledge, but we of all people should know that things change. Every culture assimilates, and at some point it may even lose its original identity to the point where it can’t even recognize itself. Take Christianity, for example. It began as a radical sect of Judaism, inventing new ways of interpreting ideologies, following a charismatic leader who taught love for everyone—even those who committed wrongs against them. But today Christianity is largely a restrictive and dogmatic belief system that is lead mainly by people who have often been seeking to benefit their own agendas, and most “Christians” in America can hardly hold a candle to other world religions’ belief in brotherly love. This is not meant to pick on Christianity, but Christianity is an interesting example because it shows us that even the movements, which we perceive as being extremely successful in preserving their traditions, have also been subject to the winds of change.

February 5, 2001

“When the light spring night was at its darkest, the herd was gathered and the sijdda was ready to travel. Was it a dog or a person who gave the first cry on the eastern side of the reindeer herd? It was the signal that the migration was now on its way. The whole herd began to move with the people behind it. Her skis slid easily over the snow.”

This scene is significant because it expresses an important part in the life cycle of all parties involved:

1.      The reindeer herder- Herding reindeer, I can only imagine, must be a grueling project, both physically and emotionally. The moment she hears the cry to begin a wave of adrenaline crashes over her because she knows this trip could be dangerous. Things could go wrong. Her livelihood and health are at stake. The trip can be lonely and uncomfortable. Kind of like, when you’re already having a bad day and then all of a sudden it starts to pour rain on you. Your contentment level goes down exponentially. The same is true for reindeer herders. They are probably very sad and lonely, but when there’s an ice storm and their lips are freezing off, you can bet they’re not feeling to content with life at that moment. But this experience is a necessary part of a Sami’s life. It is a part of their cultural pride. Indeed it may seem to make them who they are, and as is true with many individuals or groups, it is the completion of a ritualistic sacrifice that makes them happy to be who they are.

2.      The reindeer- In the reindeers’ life cycle this moment is of great importance. The female cows have probably been urging the migration because they know it’s time to fulfil their purpose in life- to give birth. The crack of the whip and shuffling of hooves on the icy ground is the beginning of a fulfillment they have been waiting for and they are very excited.

3.      The Reader- So far, my writings have been completely fabricated. They all have been taken directly from my imagination and events or feelings that I’ve had in my life that I’m reminded of when I read about the Sami. We take yearly trips to the Southwest in our 1971 Dodge Van with a family of five and maybe a dog. We never really know what we’re going to do or what kind of situations we’ll be getting ourselves into. All we know for sure is that there WILL be situations- some scary, some frustrating, and some so magical and wonderful that even if the whole trip was filled with misfortune, that one moment of clarity would make it all worth it.

So, in a way, we too experience the pain and pleasure of sacrifice. Try getting lost in the desert for a few days, barely making it to a small town, and then thanking the spirits you’re still alive. Then maybe you can start to understand the drama of the reindeer migration.


            Paltto’s short story, reflecting her life as a tortured servant, rape victim, forced wife, and relieved widow was by far the most significant piece of Sami literature I have read thus far. Every other piece has had the same theme of bemoaning lost land and way of life. Everyone has this regret in common. Even in Austin, not a day goes by that I don’t hear about what a wonderful, quaint little town Austin used to be, how Barton Springs was not full of sludge and how there used to be no such thing as traffic here.

This story is unusual because it talks about this woman’s reflections on her home life within the Sami culture. She never mentions how beautiful the rivers and streams once were, or how the reindeer used to be plentiful and free to roam all over the land. Instead, she is concerned with the future. The past is over and done with for her. She was forced to live a life that she was never happy with, her children were mainly lost souls, and her husband and parents-in-law were selfish, self-righteous, evil people that took away her freedom, but in the end is she bitter? I think not. In her closing line, “I am ready to leave you there and prepared to begin living my own life in the years that I have left on this earth,” it is clear to me that this woman is a woman of hope.

The loss of a people’s way of life and surroundings is supremely sad and regretful. It is comparable to the loss of a loved one—they are gone, but what is it that you’re mourning? You are mourning the fact that they are no longer with you. They feel no pain or suffering. It is you that feels the pain. And it is a choice you have to make when you’re at a loss—whether to keep on living, or hold on to the past and immerse yourself in your suffering. This is the real death we should fear—the death of the living.

Paltto’s life shows us the darker side of Sami life. Repression and evil exist even in the simplest ways of life. Religious oppression seems to be the culprit in this case: a family so obsessed with the life in the hereafter that their life here on earth is completely neglected. I feel that it is this regression into salvation sanctity that prevents many people from fulfilling their purposes here on earth. It may seem obvious, but we were put here to live, not to wait for our death! Does this scenario sound familiar? It should, because it’s universal. For example, here in America, many people strive to obtain their own selfish desires their whole life and never really experiencing inner (vs. superficial) happiness. But many of them seem to have complete faith that as long as they believe, when they die, they will be miraculously transported to a place free of all the evils, which, ironically, are mostly evils they have created for themselves. This cycle I’m describing taints humanity across the globe. Luckily there are people who are born with the strength to think for themselves and to reason out and evaluate the questions life throws at us all. And easily enough these people can see that the only safe bet is to strive for happiness—a state of mind that can always be chosen—in the life they’re living now. As my grandmother once told me, “You pay the same price to see a comedy or a tragedy. For my money, I prefer comedy.”

February 26, 2001


At the end of this section, she talks about how the old man always wears his knife sheath out of habit; he feels naked without it. Also, he has turned into an alcoholic because along with the loss of his way of life he has become apathetic—kind of similar to many people, even in America, who are not satisfied with what the modern-day capitalist culture has to offer.

Antiphony, in my eyes, was an elegant story of a woman who had an experience, which was like a beautiful and vivid dream. Each section painted a different mood for the reader, and maybe this is why each section was ascribed a different color.

March 23, 2001

Black Elk Speaks

Black Elk Speaks showed me the perspective of a dominated people that was completely subjective and beautiful for that very reason. This perspective gave me a new insight into the way that I understand the Sami.  The plains Indians reacted to the white invasion in a very interesting way; they seemed upset and dissatisfied, but they had an air of Zenful acceptance. Things were mentioned in a very matter-of-factly way, as if the Indians had no control over their situation. Or better yet, as if lamenting had no function and so therefore it wasn’t done.  For example, when Black Elk’s ship left without him going back to America and he was stranded in England, he certainly didn’t freak out about it as you or I might do. Rather, he and the others just wandered around kind of lost until they found ways to make money and get back to America: “We did not know what to do, so we just roamed around.” And when his good friend was killed in battle it was just casually mentioned, something like, “Yellow Shirt died that day. He was a good friend.” Or when his father died, he said, “My father died in the first part of the winter from the bad sickness that many people had. This made me very sad.” And that was that. Maybe they just saw death differently, or maybe a lot had been lost in translation, but throughout the whole story it seemed as though these people were definitely not whiners. But the most significant statement that demonstrates this point is how Black Elk reacted to their land getting taken away, “They said the land would be ours as long as the grass should grow and the water flow. You can see it is not the grass and the water that have forgotten.”

Another way one could react to this kind of domination is the way in which many modern Sami react. As I discussed in previous journal entries, the Sami literature expresses incredible angst and grief-ridden mourning (especially Nils-AslakValkeapää). The reason for this may be that the dissolution of the Sami way of life took place on a much smaller scale, over more time, and with little physical conflict. These differences, especially the absence of physical conflict, led to the Sami metaphorically getting the rug pulled out from beneath them. This left the younger generation trying to make sense of the changes that happened to their ancestors that now shape the way they see themselves as a people. The contemporary Sami writers we have read remind me of a child whose father had been killed in Viet Nam. The child is frustrated and angst-ridden because his father was taken away from him just so that a selfish and paranoid government could try to play king of the mountain. Just like this, most of the contemporary Sami writers are expressing their sadness for the loss of something that they never even really had. But the American Indians seemed to look at their situation from a warrior perspective: their tribe went to war with another tribe, they fought with bravery, but regretfully, the other tribe beat them. It is hard to accept, but crying over spilt milk is useless.

The memories of Black Elk and many other Native American writers are direct expressions of losing something they once proudly held in their hearts, unlike the Sami’s expressions of being deprived of something that they never got the chance to hold. This idea may explain the very different moods that characterize the limited comparative reading we’ve done. When it is said, “It is far better to have loved and lost, then to never have loved at all,” with some license I believe it may also follow that, “It is more frustrating to know you will never be able to have something than losing something you’ve already had.”

April 12, 2001

In Search of the Drum

            In this book, the thick wall we’ve constructed between reality and imagination was torn down. What was “really” happening to Jon could not be separated from what Jon was feeling or thinking. The ancient tribes of the earth didn’t have this wall, and now that it’s here it seems that so much life experience material is lost. What if every time someone told you a story, he would add in his daydreams and what he felt was happening as if it all existed in reality? Well, apart from sounding a whole lot like Gaup’s book, you would probably think he was full of shit. But is that a valid conjecture? If it was real to him, why should it be left out from his story? Does it not add to the wholeness of the story? Does it not make the story more interesting? In fact, I would venture to say that if including these extra pieces of information makes a story full of shit, then I think, as a species, we’d be much more informed if every story was “full of shit.”

The message/meaning


            Every author has a reason for writing, whether it is informing, entertaining, self-expressing, or calling to action, to name a few. Gaup’s book seems to be more of a call to action in the pretty package of entertainment. His call is sent to all his readers, urging them to discover and embrace their roots, and seek the spiritual path that the ancient knowledge teaches us. Jon’s own search was like this, and by reading about his trials and tribulations, the reader lived the journey through him. And by living his journey, it might follow that the reader seeks his or her own journey to personal and group awakening. That last bit brings up a good question: Was this a call for action on a personal level or a group level? I believe it was both. On one hand, the author made several mentions of John’s belief that, “ a people without a past are a people without a future.” This quote goes along with what seemed like Jon’s main purpose, to rediscover the Sami’s original spiritual identity and be able to pass it along to others.

Alternatively, there was never really an effort in the story to include everyone. In fact, only Jon found spiritual awakening. Others were not included on account of paranoia, that is, Christian misunderstanding. Even Lajla, his wife, was never actually a part of his journey, or much less, taught the knowledge that was to be passed down. But yet Lajla seemed to be on her own spirit journey away from the limelight of Jon’s. When I look at their parallel journeys for meaning I see that in our modernized culture the only way to retain spiritual meaning is through individual experience.  The way I see it is, this kind of spiritual knowledge must be found on an individual level and cannot be learned through a “group effort.” The story was about a man on his own vision quest seeking knowledge that cannot so easily be “passed down.” The point is to spark a desire to learn it.

So, all in all, the book was a call to find the old Sami shamanistic religion. It was a message to unify the people and urge them to seek the meaning of their ancestral past and secure a future identity.

Final entry

            In this last entry, after a lot of deliberation over the way I need to answer this last question, I’m attempting to use the tone, which I feel is most true to the Sami way of expressing their stance on their situation. Here we go.

Brothers, sisters, we live our lives in two almost completely different spheres of existence, and to this day one of us has not eaten the other. We are succeeding where so many before us have failed. We still hold close to our chests the spirits of our ancestors. We live our lives in a world controlled by your sphere but in the ground of our own sphere the great heart of the reindeer still beats with honor and perseverance. Never have we tried to force upon you our world, and we never will. That is not a desire we could even comprehend. There have been others before you, the tchudes, who may not have had evil in their hearts, but nevertheless, wanted our two worlds to become one. That may seem like a noble endeavor, but why change something that is happy living its life the way it is? It is the infinite variety in nature that makes our world so strong and beautiful. In the Catholic Church, or the “universal” church, it was a good-hearted effort to try to make the world follow the teachings of the One God. But, what they did not understand is that the all is the one and the one is the all. It is the hearts of all the tribes, beating as one, from which the great tree of life is constructed. And its strength does not rely on the power of the one “right” tribe, for all of us are right. And it is not one tribe’s duty to decide the will of God for all of humanity, for only God knows his own design for us. So, like the delicate balance of an ecosystem rests upon the survival of every species, or like the strength of a chain rests upon the fortitude of every link, so too the tree of life—the architecture of the collective human mind and heart---rests upon the existence of individual group solidarity and peaceful coexistence between the legions.

            We have lived in harmony with nature, as far back as there are words to remember it. A small child can look at a bug crawling on the petal of a flower and understand the awe and reverence that our planet inspires.  It is hard for us to comprehend how greed can usurp moral conscious and cause man to destruct his own abode. We live contently off our lands. We take only what we need, and what the earth offers us naturally. Why is it that people wish to strip the planet for all its worth, leaving nothing to rebuild from? Don’t they see that when every resource has been used up, our children and grandchildren will die? This process is absurd and eventually the great reindeer heart could stop beating if this process continues.

 The land we live off of does not belong to a person or government. It is strange how people can come in to our sphere of life and tell us that the land we have lived in harmony with for as long we can remember belongs to them. It is true we do not own the land. In fact, it is inane to think that anyone could own the land as if it was a reindeer or pair of skis. To us, that is similar to thinking that one can own God, the creator and sustainer of life, for that is what the land is to our people. And what makes these men think that they have the right to dam up rivers, blow up mountains, or build fences across the land?  All we can see in these actions is destruction and desecration, not mutual benefit for the animals and humans living in the habitat. But more importantly, why is that way of life even desirable? The buzz of florescent lights, the eternal noises and smells of cars and factories, and machines that only make life more complicated don’t seem to really make anyone content. They just leave you wanting more and more as more and more of the earth gets destroyed to feed the fire. Our people can live in harmony with the earth and be provided with everything they need for life and happiness at the same time. It’s very simple, and it is also the only way to live if we wish to be on this planet for much longer.

Our lives are enveloped by nature. And hence, our worldview is constructed from that fact. To us there is no distinction between what is real, and what is supernatural. Everything we experience, moment-to-moment is alive and infused with the spiritual. The outdoors is our church and our experiences are our teachers. So many spiritual things happen all the time, and enlightenment is only a matter of opening up your mind and soul to them. Every caw of a crow and roll of thunder is significant. And even to the people living in cities, a change in the ambience brings with it a change in mood. So why not take it a step further and consider that nature may be linked to the spiritual tide of communal consciousness? When a thunderstorm moves in there are few people who do not feel a tinge of awe and wonderment. The natural world is full of an intelligent power, which we strive to revere and nourish our relationship with. Our understanding is that if we take care of and give respect to our surroundings, they, in turn, will take care of and give respect to us. This relationship is the backbone of our life contentment and spiritual unity with God.

Major manifestations of Present day Sami culture

            Sami culture is alive and well on the home front in Samiland, within politics of the area, and in their art that’s experienced all across the world. Of course most of these manifestations of Sami identity are really manifestations of their cultural conflict with the dominating society. But, although Sami identity has changed through this conflict to encompass some ways of their dominating culture and to express the emotional effects of it, some very significant faces of pure Saminess still prevail.

            On the home front, the Sami live in small, close-knit communities where their culture still expresses itself in the livelihoods and domestic operations of the inhabitants.  The Sami live off the gifts of the land. Gathering plants and berries, especially cloudberries, is a meaningful task for many. Being close to nature on these excursions gives them the opportunity to tell stories and bond with family members. Reindeer herding is the primary manifestation of Sami culture. They move with the reindeer on their cyclical migrations as they have done for hundreds of years. Not as many reindeer herders are allowed to do it anymore due to overpopulation of the reindeer, radioactive meat from Chernobyl and larger, more efficient methods of herding that dominate the business. But, reindeer herding continues to be the number one identifier of Sami culture. Lesser known to the world, is the yoik. It seems that the significance of the yoik is somewhat obscure to us because the notion of singing, chanting and storytelling seems very natural and prevalent across the globe, so what’s the big deal? Well, I think the special significance lies in the spiritual connection it promotes and its enduring presence throughout their turbulent history. Lastly, the handicrafts, which are usually functional as well as beautiful, are a big part of Sami identity. The brightly colored costumes that are usually worn as festive and Sunday clothes are distinctly Sami. They vary according to the sex, age, social position, and status of the wearer. Also, every day objects such as knives, bowls, and harnesses all have a distinctively Sami shape and appearance.

            Sami politics have arisen out of their conflict with Swedish and Norwegian society. Mainly the problem is encroachment upon land and water traditionally occupied by the Sami. Although popularly elected Sami agencies (Sameting and the Sami council) that would represent their interests in various conventions were established, most Sami still feel that the government has no consistent policy for providing adequate support to develop their culture. The Sami council has however committed itself in particular to developing safeguards in international law for the rights of indigenous people to life, culture and economic development.

            Sami art is also a more recent development in their culture, specifically, the literature and film that reaches across the world. The handicrafts and yoiking also are art forms, but I prefer to place them in the context of domestic expression, and leave film and literature to dominate the area of mass media art forms. Sami literature is involved mainly with their customs, history, and folk beliefs. But wider reaching literature such as political articles or poetry is concerned with the informing and expressing of their dubious situation. Film and theater also have played an important role in vocalizing the Sami predicament in the past and in the present. Now Americans are able to sit on their couches and see how the Sami live day to day by watching PBS or the discovery channel. How’s that for a present-day manifestation?

            From all I have learned in this class, it is apparent that Sami culture is thriving. For a population of 50,000, the political, educational, and cultural gains they have made are unheard of. Every culture is subject to change, and many of the changes the Sami have undergone have been beneficial. So, the barrier they face today should not be how to prevent change, but how to maintain the manifestations that create the Sami identity and culture.