Sami education conference looks at how to better serve Indigenous children

“Our main goals from the beginning are that Sami values and culture is what should be carrying the pedagogy,” says Ol-Johan Sikku, SaMOS project leader from the Sami Parliament in Norway, shown here in a zoom interview. (Eye on the Arctic)

An international education conference is currently underway in Arctic Norway looking at how Indigenous children can be better served by school systems.

“It’s really important that we meet together and share the research results that all of Sapmi is producing, but also gather results and experiences from other Indigenous peoples,” Ol-Johan Sikku from the Sami Parliament in Norway, said in a zoom interview.

(Sapmi is the term used to refer to the traditional Sami homeland that spans Arctic Finland, Sweden, Norway and the Kola Peninsula in Russia.)

Sami Education Conference 2021 started on October 5 and is organized by the Sami University of Applied Sciences and the Sami Parliament in Norway in Guovdageaidnu-Kautokeino.

The goal of the event is to share the experience of Indigenous educators and researchers and highlight the work being done in Indigenous education around the world.

A screenshot from a SaMOS presentation at the Sami Education Conference 2021. “We don’t use these western words or thoughts like rules. We’re working with the idea that everything should be the Sami way of thinking,” says Ol-Johan Sikku, SaMOS project leader at the Sami Parliament in Norway. (SaMOS )

The main areas being looked at include the decolonization of Indigenous education, the revitalization of Indigenous knowledge and languages, the current reality for teachers and students, as well as the role of outdoor education.

About 100 people are attending on site, with others participating via zoom.

Putting ‘Sami basics’  back into education

Among the subjects presented at the conference is SaMOS (Sami manat odda searvelanjain – Sami children in new education rooms), a project started in 2017 to provide culturally relevant education for Sami children.

The goal of the five-year project is to create a new pedagogy where Sami language and culture would be the main organizing principle for pre-school education, that could then be codified and easily shared across jurisdictions and in different contexts. 

The Norwegian government started funding the project with 4-million krone a year (approximately $576,000 CDN) and the project is now being piloted in four Norwegian pre-schools.

“Our main goals from the beginning are that Sami values and culture is what should be carrying the pedagogy,” Sikku, also the SaMOS project leader, said. “We don’t use these western words or thoughts like rules. We’re working with the idea that everything should be the Sami way of thinking.”

The Sami parliaments in Finland and Sweden also intended to participate and had applied for EU funding to launch similtanous pilot projects in their regions. Their funding requests were denied, but they are still involved as consultants.

The Sami Parliament in Sweden in the Arctic city of Kiruna. Although the Sami parliaments in Finland and Sweden were unable to secure EU funding to run pilot projects as part of SaMOS, they are still consultants on the initiative. (Eilis Quinn/Eye on the Arctic)

Carina Sarri, a Sami preschool educator in Sweden who presented at the conference on Wednesday in a session on the SaMOS project , says creating a base for students in their Indigenous culture from the ground up is key.

“I took education through the western world, so my backpack was very heavy when I started thinking about these issues,” Sarri said.  “I just had to throw most of it out and put the Sami cultural basics in.”

The Sami Education Conference 2021 runs until October 7.

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at) 

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Continuing education a priority for new Yukon University president in Canada’s North, CBC News

Norway: Can cross-border cooperation help decolonize Sami-language education, 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 a 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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