Åarjelh-saemien gielesne Davvisámegillii På norsk

Article in the book Sami School History 1. Davvi Girji 2005.

Albert Jåma:

Between school and reindeer herding

Told to and translated by Svein Lund

Albert Jåma, Trones in Namdalen, 2003.
(Photo: Svein Lund)

Albert Jåma was born in 1946 and has grown up in a reindeer herding family. In winter they stayed in areas near to the coast in Namdalen, and in summer in the higher mountain areas in the northern part of Nord-Trøndelag. Today he himself is a reindeer herder in this area. Here he tells about his school days and about his life between school and reindeer herding.

Albert's father, Anselm Jåma, was actively involved in South-Sami school affairs. He was for many years leader of the South-Samis' school commitee. For his hard work for Sami school and other Sami affairs, he was granted the King's Gold Medal in 1968. The school commitee was established in 1902, but was liquidated in 1947, as the authorities promised that there would be built a state owned dormitory school for South-Samis. But as the provisional school which in 1951 was started in Hattfjelldal was not what the South-Samis had been fighting for, the commitee was reorganised in 1953. It was mainly the Samis in Trøndelag and Hedmark who took part in this commitee. Most Samis in Hattfjelldal and Vefsn were afraid that founding of a new Sami school in Trøndelag would mean losing the offer they now had in Hattfjelldal. [1] It was quite a long time before the work of the school commitee showed any visible results. The Sami school in Snåsa was finally started in 1968.

Albert's 4 years older brother spent his first school years in the old Sami mission school in Havika. Albert himself got his whole primary schooling at the Sami school in Hattfjelldal 1953-60. He joined the school in the third year of its life.

- It was a quite provisional school which met us in Hattfjelldal. It was build by the Germans during 2. World War as a barrack for officers. After the war the building was used as a hotel. The school hired the building for the school year, but it was run as a hotel in summer. The owner of the hotel lived at the school and looked after his hotel equipment the first three-four years.

Why Sami school without Sami language?

- I could speak both Sami and Norwegian quite well when I started school. I had no problems with understanding. Other pupils had problems. There were quite a lot who could very little Norwegian. None of the teachers could speak Sami language, except Ella Holm Bull. She was there for a while as newly educated teacher. She taught the 1. and 2. class, but I never had her as a teacher. Myself I never experienced a Sami speaking teacher. That I really missed. We asked each other why we go to a Sami school when we don't learn any Sami language. Even after it became legal to teach in Sami, there were no changes in Hattfjelldal. I remember that we read Margarethe Wiig's Sami ABC, in Norwegian. [2]

However, for all the time when I was at the Sami school, there had been a housekeeper who could speak Sami. First it was Maja Staven (Lifjell) until we were in the 4th class, after that Sofie Kappfjell. There were also some others working in the dormitory who talked Sami, among others Skjolvor Joma. Åsta Larsen also worked there for a short time.

Most pupils came from reindeer herding families, and the school year was adapted to the herding seasons. That was important so that we should not lose contact with our roots. The first years we went to school only before Christmas, about 16 weeks with 6 days a week. The higher classes went to school in spring, about 22 weeks. That way we had less hours than the village school in Hattfjelldal, and I remember that the village children envied us having so much free time.

In spite of the lack of Sami language and content, Albert's memories of school are overwhelmingly positive:
- The school gave us a feeling of common interests. We had to take responsibility for each other and develop solidarity. Also as regards environment and learning it was a good school. Sometimes there were quizes between the schools in Hattfjelldal, and the Sami school used to be the winner.

My mother was a member of the school's supervision council, as the only woman. It can't have been easy at that time, because the council was dominated by men with social status, like the parish priest and the local doctor. They did not always accept that a woman without higher education or noble pedigree having her own voice.

Skiing day with campfire approx. 1960, Albert Jåma to the left.
(Photo: Grete Austad)

Spoiled by the environment at village schools

The 1950's and 60's was a merciless, tough time in the villages. The farmers' children teased and plagued the "Lapp children". Many of the Sami children, maybe most of them, who attended village schools had to reject themselves to survive at all. I believe that we would not have saved out identity, had it not been for the Sami school. It is no exaggeration to sau that had I gone to the village school in Høylandet, I would have been mentally traumatised. I mean that many of those who went to village schools were from a Sami point of view environmentally spoiled. They were deprived of the Sami way of thinking, they don't any longer think community but individualism. In the Sami way of thinking landscape belongs to the community. It is neigher mine nor yours, but ours and all our relatives'. It is farmers' thinking to claim private ownership to an area. Such was completely unheard of in the Sami way of thinking at that time.

Reindeer herding school with cultural collision

After the Sami school there were many Sami pupils who went to the continuation school (1 year school after obligatory primary school) in Hattfjelldal. But Albert was first at home for a year and took part in the reindeer herding before he went back to Hattfjelldal and took continuation school the winter of 1961-62. After yet another year at home and in the mountains, he went to Rørvik for state "realskole" (theoretical secondary school) for two years, and then he worked at home with reindeers for five years before he again went to school.

In 1968 the State Reindeer Herding School was established at Borkenes near Harstad, and Albert was accepted as a pupil. He should of course have started in autumn together with the others, but there was so much to do in reindeer herding that he did not get away.

- I got a dispensation to stay at home the whole autumn, and I was in the mountains all the time. Then I went to school in January with strict orders to work hard go catch up with the others. The only subjects which were new to me, were geology, soil knowledge and domestic animals knowledge. It was about cultivation of grass and rearing cows, typical agricultural school subjects. But these subjects were not very much stressed. Bookkeeping was a new subject for most pupils, but I had fortunately learnt it in the "realskole", so I had no problems in catching up with the others. The other subjects I was mostly acquainted with.

There were almost only boys in the class, only one girl. The pupils came both from South-Sami areas and from Troms and Finnmark. The North- and South-Samis got on well together. This contact was always in Norwegian, as we did not understand each other's Sami language. The North-Sami pupils spoke Norwegian well. I only remember one who perhaps had a little problems with the Norwegian language.

- The Reindeer Herding School was in a Norwegian agricultural village and had to defer to a gardening school. This probably had to lead to some cultural collision.
- There had been some problems in autumn, before I came, both at school and in the village. In the reindeer herding school there were mainly older pupils, as there had not been such an offer before. Yes, we had some parties, and the headmaster, who actually was the headmaster of the gardening school, got a little scared by us. The chairman of the board of the Reindeer Herding School, Anders Oskal, had to come to the school to mediate. But we were popular among the girls in the village. They were certainly not afraid of us. To me it was an interesting village environment.

- To start a reindeer herding school from nothing can't have been easy. Did you have any schoolbooks?
- The main book was " Rein og reindrift" (Reindeers and reindeer herding) by Sven Skjenneberg, who was a researcher at Statens reinforsøk (State reindeer research station) in Lødingen. To get the Reindeer Herding School accepted by the Ministry of Agriculture, we had to have agricultural subjects. So a certain percent of the plan consisted of such subjects. But we succeeded in exchanging some of the subjects, for example replacing tractor studies with snow scooter studies. The school bought an old Varg on which we trained mechanical skills and a new Ockelbo on which we tore around.

Again and again back to reindeer herding

After the reindeer herding school Albert went back to reindeer herding. He would have liked to continue his education, but did not have time for it.

- I had to be in the mountains. My brother married early and moved out, and I was left alone with my parents. After some years my family got more help. It was the Anti brothers who came from Karasjok and started working with reindeers together with my family. Then after some time I got time to get away for more schooling, and I took one year gymnasium (upper secondary school) at Oslo språkskole (language school). After that I applied to journalist college. I saw the need to spotlight all the injustice which the Samis had to bear. But unfortunately I was not admitted. I had choosen teachers' college in Alta as a good number two, and I got in there instead. Again I got permission to start after the others. The slaughtering had of course to be finished first. It was two years with a lot of leave of absence, because I all the time had to go home for reindeer collection and slaughtering. At that time there was already a Sami department in Alta College, but this was only for students who spoke North-Sami. I had to attend the department of ordinary Norwegian students, and I did not get any professional Sami content during my teachers' education. While I was i Alta I took an introduction course in North-Sami in my leisure time, with Håkon Henriksen as a teacher. My final year of study was in Trondheim, to be nearer home.

After teachers' college he went back to reindeer herding for some years, before he started as a teacher in Snåsa.
- I really did not have time to work as a teacher, but after some pressure I took some years at the Sami school in Snåsa. They then had some pupils with Sami as their first language, but the first language teacher had left. At the same time as I was working as a teacher I was responsible for the reindeer herding unit. Therefore I was dependent on having an agreement with the school administration so that I could attend reindeer herding when necessary

- You say that you have been teaching South-Sami language, but you did not yourself learn it at school. When did you learn to read and write your own mother tongue?
- In the schools which I attended there was South-Sami teaching. As an adult I joined a couple of courses at Snåsa, which the headmaster of the Sami school Ella Holm Bull was in charge of. Later I took a half year unit in South-Sami at Snåsa arranged by Levanger College, and several years later the other half year unit in Hattfjelldal. It was organised by Nesna College.

Education in favour of or against reindeer herding?

Both from his own experiences and from what he later has seen of reindeer herding education, Albert Jåma in somewhat sceptical.
- The reindeer herding education seems to have as its aim to adapt reindeer herding to mainstream society. It is not made based on the interests of Sami reindeer herding, but governed by external interests. One may therefore ask if it at all is an education which benefits the reindeer herders, or just a way of educating reindeer herding youth away from Sami reindeer herding and into reindeer herding as the non-Sami society wishes it to be.

(Drawing: Josef Halse)

[1] Hattfjelldal is in Nordland county, north of Trøndelag, while Hedmark is still further south.
[2] Bilingual elementary reader in North-Sami and Norwegian.

More articles from Sami School History 1