Everyone encouraged to boost Sami language visibility in Finland, Norway and Sweden this week

Exposing people to the breadth of different Sami languages is an important part of this week’s events, says Lars Miguel Utsi chairman of the Language Committee at the Sami Parliament in Sweden (pictured here in Kiruna, Sweden in 2019). “In this way, it also becomes clear how language can be a unifying force and strengthen the Sami community,” he says. (Eilís Quinn/Eye on the Arctic)
Sami Language Week is underway this week in Finland, Norway and Sweden and everyone is being encouraged to make Sami languages as visible as possible, no matter how small the action may seem.

“Sami Language Week is a collective volunteer work to highlight and increase knowledge of the Sami languages ​​throughout society,” say the organizers on the Sami Language Week website.  “Private and public institutions, businesses, organizations and other actors are invited to make Sami languages ​​visible this week. Together, we take on a greater responsibility for the Sami languages ​​being heard, spoken and used in all areas of society.”

Besides numerous planned events in the three countries, organizers are asking everyone to get involved and think about how to make Sami languages more visible in everyday life whether it be translating a menu into Sami, displaying Sami-language books in the library, using the Sami language on social media or saying “I love you” in Sami to someone you care about.

In Sweden, dozens of Sami-language signs have also been made up that anyone can print out and hang in their homes, schools or businesses to make the language more prominent. The signs give a word in Swedish, followed by translations in North Sami, Lule Sami, South Sami and Ume Sami.

“We want our rich Sami languages ​​to be heard, seen and used throughout the week,” said Ingegerd Vannar, supervisor at the Sami Language Center, in a news release. Vannar also encouraged everyone to use the Sami Language Week hashtags. 

Some of the Sami Language Week hashtags

#giellavahkku2020
#giellavahkko2020
#giällavahkkuo2020
#gïelevåhkoe2020

The program for Sami Language Week is available here.

Languages in danger

The Sami are an Arctic Indigenous people. There is no census just for Sami but their numbers are estimated to be between 100,000 to 150,000. Their traditional homeland stretches across Arctic Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia’s Kola Peninsula — a region they collectively refer to as Sapmi.

There are eleven Sami languages and numerous dialects spoken across the Sami homeland but according to UNESCO, all are in danger. Their classifications range from “definitely endangered” for North Sami, the most widely spoken Sami language with most estimations averaging around 25,000 speakers; to “critically endangered” for Pite Sami which is now extinct in Norway but is believed to still have around 30 speakers in Sweden.

The first Sami Language Week was held in 2019 to coincide with the International Year of Indigenous Languages. It was considered a success and now the Sami parliaments in Finland, Sweden and Norway are hoping to the make the event an annual occasion. 

Organizers of Sami Language Week say even something that seems simple like leaving Sami language books out on your coffee table can help raise the visibility of the language. (Eilís Quinn/Eye on the Arctic)
Pandemic prompts online events

Because of COVID-19, many events have been pushed online. In Sweden, the Sami Language Centre has arranged a special lecture series online featuring a different speaker each night. Monday night featured Pite Sami and Lule Sami language evenings. Tuesday was devoted to the South Sami language and Wednesday to Ume Sami. The North Sami language evening will be on Thursday. 

Lars Miguel Utsi, chairman of the Language Committee at the Sami Parliament in Sweden, says the changes forced by the pandemic also have some benefits.

“The digital solution enables everyone to participate in their language, regardless of where they live,” he said in a news release. “But this also gives the opportunity to participate in several language meetings and get to know all the Sami languages ​​even more. 

“In this way, it also becomes clear how language can be a unifying force and strengthen the Sami community.” 

Sami Language Week runs until October 25.

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)cbc.ca

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Inuit TV coming to Northern Canada from new Inuktut-language broadcaster, CBC News

Norway: Walt Disney Animation Studios to release Saami-language version of “Frozen 2”, Eye on the Arctic

Sweden: Can cross-border cooperation help decolonize Sami-language education, Eye on the Arctic 

United States: Inuit leaders applaud UN move to designate International Decade of Indigenous Languages, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying an culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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