Who are the Sami?

Hands up if you know who the Sami are without looking it up!

Hmm… only three of you.

I could have asked whether you can figure out where the stunning movie Sami Blood was filmed, relying on the title alone. Again, no fair looking it up.

If you said northern Sweden, that would be correct. If you said Lappland (or Lapland), that would be even more correct, though the term is outdated. Or, if you said northern Finland or  northern Norway, either would be correct enough and certainly justifiable.

Let’s briefly talk about this film. First of all, you may want to go back and re-read my post of 13 days ago, which describes where I first heard of Sami Blood and gives some context. Indigenous languages—a majority of the 7000 or so languages of the world—have long been a favorite topic of many linguists, partly because they give an opportunity for original research that is hard to find when studying “major” Western languages, all of which seem to have been studied to death at this point. Along the way, racist attitudes have consistently been uncovered and have only recently been openly deplored by whites. We all know a little about the mistreatment of indigenous populations in now-English-speaking areas, such as Canada, the U.S., Australia, South Africa, India, Ireland, etc. (the Brits have a lot to answer for). But few non-Nordic Americans know anything about the indigenous population of northern Scandinavia: the Sami. As a kid first learning about linguistic diversity, I knew them as Lapps, and I knew that they herded reindeer. I vaguely thought that they were related to either the Finns or the Inuit, whom we then called Eskimos. End of story. But there are plenty of other examples outside of the former British Empire, probably including every former colonialist regime all over the world. One common thread throughout these examples is the attitude of the dominant group toward indigenous people who are speaking their own language rather than the dominant language, typically including punishing schoolchildren who are doing so. Even today you hear nasty comments in U.S. supermarkets and the like when a Trumpy white person overhears customers or employees talking in Spanish—“Go back where you came from” or “This is America: speak English!” and the like.

Sami Blood provides a fresh perspective for most of us, partly because the Sami are not the indigenous group that comes to mind for us white folk and partly because it’s such a well-done movie. If you go back to my February 5 post and check out the links, you’ll get more context for this issue. Although the movie is explicitly about an indigenous group of reindeer herders in a modern Western society, it’s implicitly about a much larger issue of how people treat each other. Watch it!



Categories: Linguistics, Movies & (occasionally) TV