I am a Sami

Hunter Gray HUNTERBEAR at SPAMprodigy.net
Sun Mar 18 11:18:09 MST 2001


We very  much appreciate Louis' posting of the New York Times piece, "I am a
Sami."  [The NYT is not exactly a best seller anywhere  here in Idaho.]  The
article is certainly well meaning but we do feel obliged to round things out
just a bit -- and give a little sharper perspective.  My wife, Eldri, is of
considerable Saami [another spelling] descent  -- Norwegian and Finnish --
and while she is quite capable of speaking for herself et al., she's
delegated this one to me since I'm quite at home on our Marxism list.

The article indicates general ambiguity about the origins of the Saami,
quotes an anthropologist who feels they have no  Far Eastern origin, and
gives the impression that they are light-skinned and blond.  Vigorous
dissents from this corner [and we are sure there will be from many others.]
My wife and her people are rather dark, with  conspicuously slanted  dark
brown or almost-black eyes, and often with broad faces [the children on her
side have sometimes been mistaken for "nice little Koreans.'']  This is
essentially true of many, many Saami;  and lends considerable credence to
the most widely accepted account -- by a great many Saami [and by several
anthros] -- of their initial geographical origin:  the northern edge of the
Lake Baikal region on the Siberian/Mongolian border and a migration that
moved westward over centuries, undoubtedly mixing with many other peoples
along the junket -- and certainly, in the more "European" sections of
Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia, blending with those peoples.
Traditional Saami still hold to a theology encompassing The Bear, and some
extended family structures still have a delineated "family shaman."
Originally from Northern Minnesota, and raised a liberal Lutheran, my wife
also has a very culturally  ingrained recognition of the "mysterious forces
which cannot be codified in blackboard formulae" [my words.] Several members
of her family have married Native Americans.

What really matters, of course, is not the racial piece of it -- culture, of
course, is always critical and the Saami are  the Saami, whatever the colour
shade, as the Rom are the Rom -- but the fact that the Saami, like Fourth
World  peoples everywhere, are maintaining essentially tribal societies and
basic cultures, fighting for their inherent sovereignty and rights of
self-determination and aboriginal title,  holding on to land and other
resources -- while endeavouring to make some sort of practical adjustment to
the influences of urban/industrialism: e.g., using snowmobiles -- but for
Saami purposes -- as a Navajo uses a pickup ["Navajo Cadillac."]

Many years ago, I had the honour of taking the  then Finnish ambassador to
the U.N. on a full-day tour of Chicago -- with an emphasis on a number of
low-income grassroots minority community organizational projects in which I
was deeply  involved.  He was a very sensitive and decent person and aware
of my wife's background. The subject of the Saami did not arise until --
after our tour was essentially completed and he had expressed considerable
concern about the minority groups of Chicago -- I broached  the "minority
situation" of Finland.  Gamely, he rose to the occasion, making no effort
whatsoever to sugar-coat Finland's treatment of the arctic nomads. "I am
glad you raised this so directly," he told me, "because we always have to be
reminded."

 And the Saami are now reminding not only Finland and the other neighbouring
countries -- but the world -- and are doing it with increased effectiveness.

Hunter Gray [Hunterbear]

Hunter Gray
www.hunterbear.org






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