I have visited the reindeer herders in Norway for years, trying to document some of their uniqe traditions and way of life. The Sámi people of Northern Scandinavia are the only remaining indigenous people of Europe. There are other minorities in Europe, and the ethnic groups inhabiting the European countries are considered to be indigenous to Europe, including the majority populations. But in Europe only the Sámi is internationally recognised as indigenous.
This year I am having three exhibitions with pictures from my work the last 10-15 years. That is, my pictures are from the tiny minority within the minority; the South Sámi. They are few, maybe only around 2000 persons, living in central part of Norway and Sweden. And they are trying to preserve their traditional way of life and their land rights in an environment often not so interested.
The Sámi is one nation, Sápmi, living in four countries; in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. There are is no exact population estimates, but they are few. There are between 40,000 and 60,000 Saami in Norway; up to 20,000 in Sweden; around 8,000 in Finland; and 2000 on the Kola Peninsula, Russia. They encompass different language groups, and the South Sámi language is among the severly endangered languages according to Unesco, spoken by only a few hundred people.
2017 is a great year for the Sámi people. It is 100 years since they started their political work for rights and a community across borders. It happened in my home town, Trondheim (Tråante, in the South Sámi language) were on 6th February 1917 Sámi from all over Sápmi met to agree on a way forward. Since 1993, 6th Februar have been the Sámi National Day. And this year it will be like a big festival all week in Trondheim, Tråante2017, with music, theatre, lectures, and reindeer food all over town, and with my exhibition as one small part of it. Later on there will be celebrations all over Sápmi.
My impression is that people in other countries and tourists are generally more interested in the Sámi people than Norwegians. As some researchers write in an Australian paper: “Despite gains, Europe’s indigenous people still struggle for recognition.” I have a feeling that lack of interest will change this year. At least I hope so.
My first of the three exhibitions is in a cáfe cooperating with a gallery, which is exactly what I like. The more people, the better. There are more pictures of the Sámi reindeer herders in my galleries, on this link.
I am very lucky and got a grant from the Fritt Ord Foundation, an organization to promote freedom of expression. Not only on my behalf, even if that meant I could spend time preparing the exhibitions. But because they saw that this unique group of people deserves some more attention. On the 9th February there will be a meeting at the exhibition where some of the reindeer leaders will tell about their way of life, both the joys and challenges.