Sámegillii På norsk

Articles about Sami school history
3. part - printed in Min Áigi 12.10.2007

Do you know Sami school history?

Sámi skuvlahistorjá / Samisk skolehistorie (Sami School History) is a series of books published by the publishing house Davvi Girji. In about 200 articles in 5 volumes there is told about the experiences of Sami children in Norwegian schools, and about the changes in the educational politics of the Norwegian authorities towards the Sami population. The books are published with parallell text in Sami and Norwegian language.

In this web site some of the articles of the first book are also published in English. It would be too much to translate it all, so to make this history available to a greater public, we are translating a series of newspaper articles, which sorted by topics make a summary of stories in the books. So far there are 28 articles published in Sami language by the Sami newspapers Min Áigi and Ávvir. They are also published here in Norwegian and the English version will be published gradually as they are translated.

These articles are edited by the main editor, Svein Lund. Besides him the editing board of the book series consist of Elfrid Boine, Siri Broch Johansen and Siv Rasmussen.

Southerner-teachers encounter the Sami language

English translation: Simon Aldridge

In the previous article, we told about teachers who came from southern Norway and the problems that arose when trying to teach in an area where they were familiar with neither the culture nor the language. We shall now continue with other accounts that show, in particular, their encounter with the Sami language. Some of them learnt Sami well, others never learnt.

– They didn’t want me to learn Sami

Even today, one hears that the reason that pupils weren’t taught in their mother-tongue is that there weren’t enough teachers who spoke Sami. But many stories we have found show that the school authorities preferred teachers who didn’t speak Sami and neither did they want the Norwegian teachers to learn Sami. The teacher telling his story here, Leif Sletsjøe, was a teacher in Karlebotn, Nesseby for six months in 1946, before moving south again, where he later became a professor at the University in Oslo.

“When I reported on New Year ’s Eve 1945, to travel to Finnmark as a teacher, I knew nothing about where I would end up. I left for the north without knowing anything about the conditions I was going to be living under and I was also completely ignorant about which school I was to be employed at. I ended up at a school in an almost exclusively Sami district, Karlebotn in the municipality of Nesseby, where I worked for 5 months.

As everyone can appreciate, I couldn’t speak a word of Lappish when I arrived in Karlebotn. I tried to learn a little, as I am very interested in language. I had Konrad Nielsen’s Lappish teaching manual sent up to me. I made pitifully slow progress however, and to this day, I can’t speak Lappish. The reason the result was so bad is that I wasn’t to say anything in Lappish at school. I was to speak Norwegian, talk slowly and clearly and try and make myself understood in that way. It was therefore, not necessary, neither I believe, was it desirable, that I learn anything of the children’s language.”
(Leif Sletsjøe's story, SSH-4)

Nobody told us about other languages

Before they started teaching, some teachers didn’t know that they would have pupils who had another mother-tongue than Norwegian. This was what 17 year-old Randi Nordback experienced when she arrived in a sea-Sami area of Finnmark as a replacement teacher in 1947/48:
“- After secondary school, I wanted to go on to further education, but there wasn’t much support for this in my local environment. Despite this, I went off to Oslo where I completed sixth-for college. After sixth-form, I applied to teacher-training college but was not accepted because I was too young. On the other hand, I got a job as a replacement teacher in Finnmark.

It was a shock. Nobody had told me that I might encounter pupils who spoke something other than Norwegian. But it turned out that a large part of the pupils were Sami-speaking and their knowledge of Norwegian was very limited. I have since often wondered if they learnt anything at all from me during the year I was there. That year made an enormous impression. I realised that something was terribly wrong, when a person could take artium [Eksamen artium = A-level exam from 6th-form college. The expression artium ceased to be used following the introduction of the Further Education Act in 1976] in Norway without hearing there were countrymen who spoke other languages than Norwegian.

After a year as a replacement teacher, Randi left for teacher-training college in Levanger. Her experiences from Finnmark led to her writing her educational-science dissertation on the teaching of Sami pupils. She has kept the dissertation, which we are allowed to see when we come to pay her a visit in Hønefoss. Considering that is was written in the early 1950s, it is an impressive piece of work, holding clearly to account the Norwegianization policy that was dominant at the time and which she herself had helped to implement in school. As part of the dissertation, compares the reading-speed of pupils from schools in the interior of Finnmark with that of pupils in Trøndelag.

That was what people thought at the time, she says now. – With what we now know about reading and understanding, one would have to say that this didn’t give a proper picture. It wasn’t the reading speed, but rather the understanding that should have been measured.

After teacher-training college, she returned to Finnmark and was, for many years, a teacher in Karasjok. Later, she became director of schools in Finnmark and advisor on Sami affairs in the Ministry of Education.
(Randi Nordback Madsens fortelling, SSH-2)

Marit Aubert med 1. klasse.
(Foto: Bill Aubert)

- It’s this perpetual language barrier

Bill and Marit Aubert came from the Oslo area to Sirma in 1950. They were there for 3 years before returning south. What does a couple do in a small Sami village with no road, when they feel that their work has not been a success and that something is totally wrong? They were the only non-Sami in the village and the only people with a higher education, and it wasn’t so easy to talk to the people in the village about the difficulties they had. Yes, they write letters home to their parents. Many have done that, but rarely have such letters been kept and preserved right up to the present day. But Marite Aubert has saved the letters that her late husband wrote to his parents, and here are some extracts:

17th of September:
So, we have been running the school for 14 days already. The children are more or less as in the south, we think, and the ones we have now are nice and pleasant. But - there is no doubt that the children should have learned Sami in the school, at least for the first three years.
It is rather sad when you think about that only one of ten pupils find any pleasure in listening to the fairytales we read for them. It is just as difficult with religion as with fairytales. Most of the time we work with Norwegian and Math, but 5 hours a day is a lot for the little ones, they get disheartened by the end of the day, restless too.


25th of October:
We have now entered the last week with the little ones. Sadly they have not learned much. The language is the barrier. We did not learn much Sami ourselves either, we somehow fall between two stools when we have to teach the children Norwegian. Next year a Sami ABC will be published, it will be exciting, maybe we can learn also together with the pupils.
(Marit Auberts fortelling, SSH-1)

- The children were my first teachers

Even though most of the teachers returned south with little knowledge of Sami, there were some who really learnt – and stayed, and used Sami in school. Among them, Inger Seierstad, who came from Oslo to Guovdageaidnu in 1953 and still lives there. "I came from Oslo to Kautokeino just after finishing upper secondary school and school of domestic economics in 1953. We were five teachers with no teaching education, the youngest was 17 years old. That was Ole K. Sara, who was a substitute for a short time. Four of us were below the age of 21 and didn't have suffrage. Ole was the only one who spoke Sami. The educated teachers at our school were Ola Aarseth, Alfred Larsen and Anders Bongo. All of them spoke Sami. Right away I understood the necessity of trying to learn Sami in order to function as a teacher.

Many of the pupils didn't know much Norwegian. I never heard that it was forbidden to speak Sami in school, and was quite surprised when I learned that many, many years later. I've asked other Norwegian speaking teachers who have been in Kautokeino, and they all say the same.

My first teachers were my pupils. In the announcement for the job I applied for, it was told that one was obliged to attend a Sami language course. I asked for this course and the answer I got was that the announcement was to be understood in this way: If there was a Sami course, you were obliged to attend, and if you demanded it, they could start a course. An arrangement was made, and the parish pastor Jan Harr did a course for us three Norwegian speakers. Back then, as now, the priests were required to learn some Sami when they got an office in a Sami district. We learned some grammar and necessarily a few words in the process. We also got a crash course in cursing, so we could tell when the children were using foul language.

My best teachers were my Sami friends. I learned while we cut shoe grass (Carex), did handicrafts, sang hymns together, went fishing and drove with reindeers."
(Inger Seierstad's story, SSH-2)

Inger Seierstad with her pupils celebrating the Norwegian national day, 17th of May.
(Source: Muitalusat ja dáhpáhusat Guovdageainnus 10)
"dá leaba lásse ja máhtte" was one of the books which Sverre Hatle made for elementary education through Sami language. Here is a newer version in the current orthography.

- Dares to speak Sami even though he can’t!

Though there aren’t many such examples, there were also some teachers who tried to learn Sami before they came north. One of them was Sverre Hatle, who is also the only one of the teachers quoted in this article, who has, himself written down his story in Sami. He came from west Norway to Porsanger in 1966, and returned south in 1974.

"When I came to Skoganvarre  as a newly fledged teacher in 1966, I had a naive wish to be an advocate of justice and equality. I have always taken an interest in languages, minorities and indigenous peoples. I have often felt that I belong to some kind of minority both spiritually, culturally and politically. I were convinced that the Norwegian society had done the Sami an injustice. I didn't want to be a part of cementing this injustice, but rather contribute to making up for some of the wrongs which had been done." ...

I found it important to know the mother tongue of the children to be able to do a good job. Therefore I tried to learn a little Sami on my own while attending the teacher's college in Volda. But I only had written sources at hand. To prove that I knew some Sami I wrote the application to the school board in Porsanger parallel in both Norwegian and Sami. It created more stir than I had reckoned, so the rumour went ahead of me to Skoganvarre: A teacher who was a southerner and spoke Sami was about to come.

When I had presented myself to the pupils in the first lesson and we went out to have a break, one of the older boys came over to me and asked me forthright in Sami: "Mo dat orru?" (What do you think?) I had barely heard the language before, until then I had only seen it written, and he probably hadn't seen his mother-tongue written, so the conversation was slow in the first try, to put it mildly. Later I got the opportunity to prepare, and got a lot of praise for being so good at speaking Sami. ...

We were some acquaintances who were sitting and talking together, partly in Sami and partly in Norwegian, when my good friend, who considered himself as Norwegian speaking, blurted out: "I know Sami. I understand everything. But I don't dare to speak. But Sverre Hatle, he dares to speak Sami, although he can't!"
(Sverre Hatles fortelling, SSH-1)

Here you find all the articles in the series:

28.09.2007 Why Sami school history?
05.10.2007 Boundless ignorance
12.10.2007 Southerner-teachers encounter the Sami language
19.10.2007 The start of Sami beginner instruction
26.10.2007 The start of education in reindeer-herding
02.11.2007 From Sami to Norwegian vocational training
16.11.2007 Struggle for Sami gymnasium
28.11.2007 School experiences of Norwegian speaking Samis
14.12.2007 Resistence against Sami language and culture
25.01.2008 A strange world
23.05.2009 On Sami teachers
30.05.2009 Life in boarding school
06.06.2009 Sami pupils were bullied
13.06.2009 Sami content in the teaching
20.06.2009 Pupil as interpreter
04.07.2009 How the children quit speaking Sami
10.09.2010 God does not understand Sami
08.10.2010 The point of view of the Norwegianizers
13.10.2010 Men of the church defending the Sami language
02.12.2010 Sami teachers in old times
09.12.2010 Boarding school life in old times
18.12.2010 Sami pupils in special schools
14.01.2012 The parents' struggle for Sami education
21.01.2012 Reluctance and absence
28.01.2012 The school during the war
04.02.2012 Reconstruction and barrack schools
11.02.2012 Curriculums - for Norwegianization and for Sami school
18.02.2012 The great struggle of the curriculum

Sami school history 1
Sami school history 2
Sami school history 3
Sami school history 4
Sami school history 5
Sami school history - main page