Project to educate Finnish students about Sami needs to be permanent: Youth Council

Members of the Sami Youth Council look at educational materials. “The most important thing about [the Dihtosis project] is that the wish for this project came from Sami youth themselves,” says Anni-Sofia Niittyvuopio, chair of the Youth Council of the Sami Parliament in Finland. (Ville-Riiko Fofonoff/Youth Council of Sami Parliament in Finland)
Funding for a program to educate students about Sami culture in Finland ended on June 30, and project leaders say due to the success of the project, they will now work to make the curriculum permanent. 

“We see the effects and the feedback is always amazing,” Anni-Sofia Niittyvuopio, chair of the Youth Council of the Sami Parliament in Finland, said in a phone interview. “It really surprised us this year. We did two times more [school] visits than usual and many more schools are ordering our videos.” 

The Dihtosis project was started by the Youth Council in 2018.

The goal was to better educate Finnish students between the ages of 6 and 18 about Sami people and culture, in an effort to reduce prejudice and ignorance. 

“We had a huge need for this project because our curriculums don’t involve knowledge about Sami enough, if they even have it at all, and that puts Sami youth at risk of racism, bullying, discrimination and hate speech,” Niittyvuopio said.

By youth for youth

Teachers in Finland are required to teach about the Sami, an Indigenous people whose homeland covers the Arctic areas of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia’s northwesternmost region, but there’s no rules about what, and how, to teach about them, and much depends on an individual teacher’s interest and experience. 

The Dihtosis project was put in place to help change this, by sending Sami youth into schools to teach lessons about their history, culture and Indigenous rights first hand. Teachers and schools are also able to order videos of the lessons to use in their classrooms.

The curriculum is adjusted to according to age.

“For the students, the fact that the message comes from Sami youth was perceived as much more effective and meaningful than traditional book-based teaching,” said a recent paper written about the project. (Ville-Riiko Fofonoff/Youth Council of Sami Parliament in Finland)

The Dihtosis project, young children are taught basic facts about who the Sami are and where their traditional territory is. Middle school children are taught about things like ILO 169, the United Nations International Labour Organization Convention that concerns the rights of Indigenous peoples, while high school students are taught about things like United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and about the Sami parliament and what it does. 

A recent paper (in Finnish), click here for the English version, published on the project, done out of Finland’s Tampere University, interviewed teachers who’d received visits from the program and educators said the experience was invaluable.

“Many teachers were unsure how to present the Sámi people and the relationship with the state in a respectful way and avoid misinformation,” the paper said, citing everything from general societal silence on Sami issues to lack of direction from the government.

“The Dihtosis project was seen as a great help in these areas, creating understanding and connection.”

“Most people don’t understand what Sami face”

Niittyvuopio said ignorance of Sami life and culture are still rampant in Finland, and that making connections between youth is key to breaking down barriers. 

“Colonialism is not just [Sami] history, it’s the history of the main population and of Finland, and that’s what people need to understand,”Niittyvuopio said. 

“Most people don’t understand what Sami face. There may be discussions of things like land rights, but most Finns don’t recognize someone calling us “dirty laps” on the internet as hate speech.

“That’s why, in my opinion, the most important thing about [the Dihtosis project] is that the wish for this project came from Sami youth themselves. Sami youth wanted it, Sami youth felt the need for it.” 

“Colonialism is not just [Sami] history, it’s the history of the main population and of Finland, and that’s what people need to understand,” says Anni-Sofia Niittyvuopio, chair of the Youth Council of the Sami Parliament in Finland (Ville-Riiko Fofonoff/Youth Council of Sami Parliament in Finland)
The Tampere University paper said the project’s unique approach leads to increased understanding. 

“For the students, the fact that the message comes from Sámi youth was perceived as much more effective and meaningful than traditional book-based teaching,” the paper said.

“Empathy, participation, connection building, human rights and the breaking down of one-dimensional stereotypes are central to the program’s work.”

The Dihtosis project has been supported by Finland’s Ministry of Education and Culture, but that funding ran out on June 30. 

Niittyvuopio says meetings will be held with the ministry this fall with a view towards making the program a permanent part of the Finnish curriculum. 

Update
A link to the English language version of the paper on the Dihtosis project as been added to this text.

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

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Post-secondary education offered in Nunavik, Quebec would be a game changer, says school board, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Sami education conference looks at how to better serve Indigenous children, Eye on the Arctic

Sweden: 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."

Do you want to report an error or a typo? Click here!

Leave a Reply

Note: By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that Radio Canada International has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Radio Canada International does not endorse any of the views posted. Your comments will be pre-moderated and published if they meet netiquette guidelines.
Netiquette »

Your email address will not be published.