På norsk Sámegillii

Article in the book Sami school history 1. Davvi Girji 2005.

Edel Hætta Eriksen:

School Experiences

English translation: Simon Aldridge

Edel Hætta Eriksen

Edel Hætta Eriksen on Sami school conference, Tromsø autumn 2003.
(Photo: Svein Lund)

Edel Berit Kristine Klemetsdatter Hætta Eriksen (Lemet Edel) was born in 1921, in Guovdageaidnu / Kautokeino. She took further education at “middelskole” (precursor to the final 2 years of today’s secondary school) in Vadsø, attended teacher-training college in Nesna and Tromsø and has additional qualifications in handicraft and the Sámi language. She worked first as a supply teacher and later after completing teacher-training as a fully qualified teacher at Guovdageaidnu primary and secondary school from 1949-68. From 1969-76 she was headmistress of the primary school and from 1977-89 she led the Sámi Education Council’s administration.

Edel Hætta Eriksen has held countless positions of public office on many different boards, councils and committees, principal among them being the Guovdageaidnu school board, the town council and the works committee, as well as Finnmark County school board, Council for pilot schemes in education, the Norwegian culture council and the Values commission.

Apart from her civic duties she has also sat on the board of the National association of Sami and has also been leader of the association’s local branch: Guovdageaidnu Sámiid Searvi. She has, in addition also been leader of the local history club (Guovdageainnu historjásearvi) as well as Finnmark pensioners club.

Edel Hætta Eriksen has also received numerous distinctions among them both Kautokeino municipality’s and the Sami council’s prize for culture, and the medal of St. Olav. In 1990 the Sami College made her an honorary student.

I am an elderly person and school has followed me all my life, or rather, I have followed it. I have worked as both teacher and headmistress at Guovdageaidnu primary school for nearly 30 years and after that as leader of the Sámi education council for over 12 years. I here record the experiences of my working life.

Guovdageaidnu Primary School

As a child I learnt both Sámi and Norwegian so school wasn’t difficult for me. I liked school and as a 12-year old I decided to become a teacher. Most of the children in Guovdageaidnu at that time didn’t speak Norwegian, so for them school became a burden and neither the children nor the parents could see any point in it. It was rather the case that school prevented the children from learning normal work such as reindeer-herding, farming and hunting and fishing.

Pupils and teachers at Kautokeino school in 1934, when Edel was 13 years old.
(Source: Muitalusat ja dáhpáhusat Guovdageainnus 8)

I felt I knew Norwegian quite well so it was galling when one of the teachers at the intermediary school (middelskole) always wrote my mistakes on the blackboard and each time with the words: “well it’s only to be expected, you are a Lapp after all.” For a while I considered giving up but then I thought I’m not going to let that man get me down and I learnt enough Norwegian to get me through. I heard later that the teacher was a Sámi from the coast. Then there were those who asked me where the Sámi came from. It was a strange question and I answered: “I don’t know but I come from Guovdageaidnu.” Later when I had learnt more about Sámi history I used to answer: “Where do Norwegians come from?” They shut up then.

The first step

I was 18 years old and had just finished intermediary school (middelskole) when Guovdageaidnu primary school asked me if I could work as a substitute teacher. It was just what I wanted and I couldn’t wait to get started. Full of expectation I set off for school. There I was given a timetable and some books and then I went to the classroom. I greeted the pupils, they were about 12 years old. Then began my first lesson: nature. The pupils told me they had homework from the textbook about some plant called “charlock” (“åkersennep”). I asked: “Can you do the homework?” A boy put his hand up. He stood up and recited the homework from memory, word for word, in Norwegian. I then asked them in Sámi about the plant, nobody knew or had understood what the homework was about not even the boy who had recited it from memory. That was how it was. The textbooks were in Norwegian, the pupils were Sámi speaking and the teacher was supposed to teach in Norwegian.

A fully qualified teacher

Many years passed before I finished my teacher training and returned to Guovdageaidnu primary school. There everything was the same as before, all the teaching was done in Norwegian and the textbooks were still all in Norwegian, although Scripture and the Catechism were given in both Sámi and Norwegian. I got the first class in which there were both Sámi and Norwegian speaking children. What now? At teacher training college we hadn’t learnt what to do when some pupils spoke one language and some another, as was the case here. Some children spoke only Sámi and others only Norwegian. The first thing I had to do was cut out and draw pictures and hang them on the wall, together with the words in the original textbook, and then teach the Sámi speaking pupils the words in Norwegian. This was in the time before they got the textbook ABC. The Norwegian speaking children I got to draw pictures and do other things. This went well to begin with but after weeks of drawing and playing they started asking for a schoolbook. I explained the situation to the parents. Finally the day came when the pupils got their books and could start to learn to read. The book had nice colour pictures. The children recognized the pictures as they were the same as the ones on the wall. Learning to read was, of course, easier for the Norwegian speakers. One mother told me that her little boy seemed to be giving up when one day he sighed: “Mum, I’m so stupid and those Norwegian speaking children are so clever.” I tried to comfort her. Your little boy isn’t stupid, it’s just that it’s difficult to learn to read a foreign language. I spoke to the little boy as well and tried to encourage him. I told him that he wasn’t stupid and that it was Norwegian that was causing the problems. Teaching in the Sámi language was prohibited, so in the beginning I had to explain things first in Norwegian as law required and then in Sámi so that the children could understand. One school administrator warned me about this practice saying that teaching in Sámi was strictly forbidden. I asked: “What am I supposed to do when the children don’t understand Norwegian?” His reply was: “You’ve just got to keep speaking Norwegian, they’ll learn in the end!” “You can say what you like,” I retorted. “But I’m certainly not teaching duoji (Sámi handicraft) in Norwegian!”

Edel Hætta Eriksen and her class in 1950.
(Source: Muitalusat ja dáhpáhusat Guovdageainnus 8)

I was never a resident of the boarding-school, but for many years, it was the teachers’ responsibility to supervise the resident children in the afternoons, helping them with their homework, playing and doing crafts to pass the time. The work of the boarding-school staff was to make the food and tidy up. That didn’t seem right to me, for the boarding-school could ever be like a home to the children if they were in the care of the teachers all day. But in time, that also changed, as the boarding-school employed a qualified nursery-school teacher to take care of the resident children during after-school hours. It was hard for us teachers too for, although we took it in turns to do boarding-school duty, we still had to work long hours. School was six hours a day for six days a week and then on top of that came the boarding-school duty. Some work days could last from eight in the morning to seven in the evening.

The saddest thing was seeing seven-year olds starting school for the first time. Parents had to leave their children at the boarding-school, in the care of strangers and in a strange place. The children were left behind crying as their parents returned home with a heavy heart.

School board meeting in Máze 1954: Karles Lund, Edel Hætta Eriksen, Johan M. Hætta, Ola Aarseth, Johan O. Hætta, Per N. Sara, Ragnhild Tufto, Svanhild Lund, Alfred Larsen.
(Source: Muitalusat ja dáhpáhusat Guovdageainnus 8)

Things start to change

The norwegianization policy was strict, and some Sámi parents and teachers were disgruntled. They had been trying to tell the authorities this for a long time. The Ministry (of education) set up a committee, (Committee on co-ordination of schools) to look into the matter. The committee finished its work in 1948, proposing an improvement in the education of Sámi children. Part of the proposal’s text reads: (Sámi speaking children should receive education in the Sámi language). Time passed and nothing happened.

About ten years later, in 1959, a new education act was passed with a separate paragraph: Education may be given in the Sámi language when the Ministry so decides, but this was no use as long as it was up to the Ministry to decide, thus schools were obliged to abide by the ruling from 1898 which prohibited the use of the Sámi language in school. In the same year, 1959, the committee on Sámi affairs presented its proposal. This proposal was positive. The local authorities got the opportunity to suggest amendments, and so did the Guovdageaidnu school board. The board elected a committee to formulate these amendments. This committee consisted of Lauri Keskitalo, Hans Jakob Samuelsen and myself. We put forward our proposed amendments and they were passed by the school board. We stressed, among other things, that the children should be taught in the Sámi language, and that only when they had learnt to read should they be taught Norwegian, as a second language. That it was important to provide suitable textbooks, reduce the number of pupils per class, employ qualified nursery-school teachers to visit and get to know six-year olds at home, allow six-year olds to visit the school before starting there as pupils, so that boarding-school wouldn’t be so foreign to them.

A few years later came parliamentary white-paper nr 21 (1962-63). This became a bible for schools and teachers trying to improve the lot of Sámi school children. The parliamentary white-paper suggested, among other things, extending school in Sámi areas by one year, to ten years. This idea never got off the ground in Guovdageaidnu but the school board did apply for additional lessons to be able to invite prospective pupils to school for a week in the spring before they were due to start in the autumn, to get to know the school and the hall of residence for boarders. This trial school week was quite successful and lasted for many years. Things were getting better for both children and parents.

The Sámi language in school

Then finally, in 1967, the Ministry of education gave permission for the Sámi language to be used in school, and in Guovdageaidnu we started Sámi language lessons in the school year 1967-68. The consultant of the Director of schools in Finnmark came to talk to us about Sámi language teaching. Sámi language teaching was to be restricted to the infants school classes and it was made clear that the aim of Sámi language teaching was to improve Norwegian learning. The council for primary and secondary education had responsibility for the provision of education, and they did in fact manage to produce some textbooks.

In Guovdageaidnu nearly all the Sámi speaking parents chose Sámi for their children. The school separated Sami and Norwegian speaking pupils, putting them into different classes. Looking back we might ask ourselves if this was the right thing to do but after the difficulties we had experienced teaching both Sami and Norwegian speaking pupils in the same class, it was found to be the best solution. One mother chose Norwegian for her child even though the child was a Sami speaker. Then came the first day of school. Because of the lack of classrooms we gathered all the new pupils, both Sami and Norwegian speaking, into one classroom. The Norwegian speaking teacher welcomed her pupils and told them a bit about the school. Then I welcomed my pupils in Sami and I also told them a bit about the school. Then we went to church, as was the custom. When church was over, the mother, who had chosen the Norwegian speaking class for her child, came up to me. She told me that her child had decided to move to the Sami speaking class, and that’s what happened. It’s easy to understand why that mother made the choice she did. When she was younger, she had wanted to study, but because she couldn’t read or write Norwegian she was prevented from doing so. She didn’t want the same to happen to her child as had happened to her. But times had changed and the Sami language was no longer a hindrance. That child went on to both further and higher education as well as a successful career.

It was a relief to the teachers to be able to teach the children in their mother tongue. With a foreign language, years could go by before all the children learnt to read. Now everybody learnt to read in the first year.

In 1969 came the new Primary and Secondary School Act, according to which the children of Sami speaking parents, who spoke Sami daily, could be taught in the Sami language if their parents so wished. Also, during the final two years of primary school, Sami speaking pupils could choose to have Sami instead of New Norwegian. It was, however, in the final analyses, the Ministry who made the decisions. So when who had been taught Sami since the first year reached the fourth year in 1970, the school board had to apply to the Ministry for additional lessons of Sami, which they were granted.

Syllabus Guidelines

The Ministry’s original idea was to restrict Sami language teaching to the first few years of school. The 1971 temporary syllabus guidelines stated clearly that the main aim of Sami language teaching was to improve instruction in Norwegian. They wrote, among other things: - It is natural to place more emphasis on Sami language and culture during the initial school years, but teaching shall, progressively be given in Norwegian and with Norwegian culture forming the basis for instruction, though both shall be present throughout.

The guidelines also stressed, that from the third year onwards, Norwegian was to be the main language with Sami being merely a subject. The teacher was to encourage and facilitate contact between the Sami and Norwegian speaking pupils, so that they would get to hear Norwegian and be in a Norwegian environment in after school hours as well. The policy of Norwegianization was still alive and kicking!

A big seminar was held in Guovdageaidnu in the spring of 1972 which gathered together teachers, and people from the university and the Council for pilot schemes in education. The main theme of the seminar was the proposal for new syllabus guidelines and the Sami school situation. The seminar resulted in a statement which, among other things, requested that some offensive texts in the Syllabus guidelines be changed. We stressed that greater respect should be given to the Sami language and to Sami history and culture. The seminar sent a delegation to Oslo. There they met with the Parliamentary Committee on Education to whom they presented their statement. I was part of that delegation.

The new national syllabus guidelines appeared in 1974, and, although some of the above mentioned texts had been changed, the bulk of the content was still in the spirit of norwegianization. It was still emphasised that from the third year onwards, Norwegian was to be the main language of instruction, with the Sami language still only having the status of school subject. Norwegian history and culture were central while no mention was made of the history and culture of the Sami. This situation, however, would eventually change so that also Sami history and culture came to be taught at school.

When Christianity came to Samiland the priests and preachers outlawed the ancient Sami religion. In their opinion the “yoik” and “yoiking” was part of a heathen idol worship and they promptly banned it. At Guovdageaidnu primary school the ban on yoiking lasted until the end of the 1980s.

An incident concerning “yoiking”: A school mistress from the south of Norway had come to work in Guovdageaidnu. She heard the children yoiking and thought it sounded fun. In one of her lessons she asked the children to yoik for her. The children did as she asked and, of course, when they got home they said that they had been allowed to yoik at school. The parents were shocked and immediately called for a parents’ meeting. I was the headmistress at the time and listened to the parents views. During the meeting the parents complained that their children were learning to yoik at school, for which they blamed the teachers. One couple had their 5 year old son with them. He was playing on the floor when suddenly he started to yoik. The discussion ceased abruptly, and I couldn’t resist remarking: “Well it can’t be the school that’s taught that child to yoik.”

Sami for Norwegian speakers

As I’ve mentioned earlier, it was only Sami speaking parents who could choose the Sami language for their children. In 1972 there were some Norwegian speaking parents who started to inquire about lessons in Sami for their children. As they were living in a Sami parish they thought it only natural that also their children should learn the Sami language. There were few Sami speaking teachers and few textbooks, but we promised to try and provide the education that the parents wanted.

The Sami language wasn’t a high status language, but it would gain increased status if Norwegian speakers also learnt the language. So for the school year 1972-73 the Guovdageaidnu school board applied to the Ministry of education for 2 extra lessons a week to this end. After months of waiting the reply finally came. The Ministry had rejected the application. The school board sent in another application. Nothing was heard, and so when the school year began we started the lessons anyway. It wasn’t until October of 1972 that a letter finally arrived. The reply from the Ministry of education stated: “The municipality of Guovdageaidnu is the only municipality that has applied for lessons to teach Norwegian speakers Sami. It is assumed that if it is accepted then similar applications from other municipalities will follow. The application is rejected.” The school board didn’t give up and sent in a third application in which it explained in greater detail the need for such lessons. The Ministry finally accepted the application in February of 1974 even though it was, strictly speaking, not permitted according to the school act. Later, in 1975, the primary school act was changed, so that all pupils living in Sami speaking areas could receive lessons in the Sami language.

Council for pilot schemes in education

At least, the seminar in Guovdageaidnu in 1972 brought tangible results. In the spring of the same year the Schools' council for pilot schemes in education appointed a committee which was to draw up plans for the development of schools in the Sami areas. On this committee sat Odd Mathis Hætta, Per Jernsletten, Trygve Madsen and myself with the council’s own Arne Solstad as secretary. The plans were ready in 1974 and contained a number of aims and objectives. The committee proposed, among other things, a separate pedagogic unit for Sami schools, which was to have its own board or council and its own administration. It was probably beneficial that I became a member of the Schools’ council for pilot schemes. There I got the opportunity to influence the committee and our objectives with regard to Sami schools. The council’s director, Hjalmar Seim, was positive to the idea of a special centre for Sami school affairs. The council held meetings in Finnmark and Hjalmar Seim and I took the matter to the Ministry of education. The result was the Sami education council.

The Hoem-committee

More things happened in 1972 that would benefit Sami pupils. In September of that year, the teacher training council appointed a committee which was to propose ways of improving the teaching situation. Anton Hoem was both committee chairman and secretary and for this reason its name became the Hoem-committee. The other committee members were Odd Mathis Hætta, Nils Jernsletten, Trygve Madsen and myself. Anton Hoem was an excellent chairman and made short work of the committee’s task. Within a few months, in January 1973, the committee had its proposal ready. The main thrust of the proposal was the building of a separate Sami teacher training college. The first step on the road to this goal was to establish a teacher-training department for the Sami areas at either the college of higher education in Alta or East Finnmark. The Sami teacher-training department was to have its own administration and full responsibility for academic content. The department was established at the college of higher education in Alta in 1974.

The council for primary education

The council for primary education was responsible for Sami teaching and provided textbooks for instruction in the Sami language. There were a few books for beginners but other textbooks were sorely lacking. In the 1970s there was a television programme that was transmitted from Guovdageaidnu. I was headmistress of the primary school at the time and I was invited to appear in the programme. When they asked me about school textbooks I told them that we had very few. The day after somebody from the council for primary education rang me and said that I had lied on television, adding that they had a book ready to print, but lacked the resources, about 300,000 kroner, to do so. I was going to Oslo the following week and asked permission to go and talk to them, which I duly received. When I arrived at the council for primary education I found a lot of people gathered together in a room. Then the director arrived carrying a great pile of books and said: “Look at all these books!” I had a look at them, there were a few textbooks and there were books about the Sami in Norwegian, none of them were new. They told me how difficult it was to get money for Sami textbooks. That I could believe. It turned out to be a good meeting anyway and we were able to discuss Sami school matters at some length. I told them that I was to have a meeting with the State Secretary for education and that I would tell him that they needed more money. They wanted to send a consultant with me to which I replied: -“You can meet with the State Secretary whenever you want, but I’m rarely in Oslo and now I’ve got the chance to meet with him, I’m going on my own!” The 300,000 kroner were promptly made available.

The director of the Council for primary education said later of me that I had been so angry when I arrived “in her pontifical robes” (Sami costume) “but when you got to know her she wasn’t really so bad at all.”

A woman “headmaster”

At that time there weren’t many women in prominent positions in Norway. I remember very often, when the telephone rang and I answered, that the caller would ask to speak to the headmaster. When I said that I was the headmaster, they didn’t seem to believe me and thought I was joking. They thought I was merely a secretary and asked again to speak to the headmaster.

Here I have been recollecting some of my experiences from my time at Guovdageaidnu primary school. The work was interesting and fun and it was always a pleasure to go to school!

Today the signboard in the Sami language, "Guovdageaidnu skuvla", is the bigger and on top, but the old signboard with "Kautokeino skole" in Norwegian remains from the time when this was the only accepted name and Norwegian the only accepted language.
(Photo: Basia Głowacka)

The Sami Education Council

The start

The Sami education council was established by royal decree on 8th of December 1975. The Ministry of education appointed the first council in 1976:
Hans Eriksen, Kárášjohka, director
Ole Einar Olsen, Guovdageaidnu
Albert Johansen, Deatnu
Ole Henrik Magga, Guovdageaidnu
Ella Holm Bull, Snåsa
Mikal Urheim, Tysfjord
Hans Guttorm, Kárášjohka
Edel Hætta Eriksen, Guovdageaidnu

I don’t know what criteria were used when choosing the council members, but all those on the council had either worked at school or with Sami school matters for many years. The administration was led by Hans Eriksen initially, but the council suggested that I become acting director of the administration. I applied for sabbatical leave from Guovdageaidnu primary school, and on 22nd of March 1977 I began as acting director of the administration.

In my own home

A few weeks later, the Ministry of education advertised the position of director of administration as well as a number of other positions. When they decided to locate the administration offices in Guovdageaidnu I applied for and got the position of leader. There were those who said that I had invented the position for myself. There certainly wasn’t much competition for the job, the only two applicants being a trainee- teacher and myself. I then handed in my notice at the primary school where I had worked for nearly 30 years. I resigned my seat as a member of the Sami education council and was replaced by Per Jernsletten of Deatnu. Ruth Hætta, my secretary at the primary school, began as secretary and Jan Henry Keskitalo, who had been a pupil of mine at the primary school and later a teacher at that same school as well as in Alta, got the position of consultant. Jan Henry couldn’t start until August, so, initially, Johan Klemet K. Hætta substituted for him.

We located the administration offices in one of the Biedjovaggi buildings. [The copper mines at Biedjovaggi were then just closed down, and there were left some empty buildings in the village.] The Sami education council had a typewriter and a photocopier, but apart from that we had to build the offices up from scratch. I remember how Ruth and I had to make the curtains ourselves while Johan Klemet put together the tables and chairs. The offices were located in the same building right up until 1981, when they were moved to the municipality’s festival hall.

Departementet - SOR og SUR

The Ministry - SOR and SUR In our fast-moving world we don’t have time to write long names, we have to abbreviate them to just a few letters, thus the Ministry asked the Sami education council to abbreviate its name. We proposed SOR (Sámi oahpahusráđđi) in Sami and SUR (Samisk Utdanningsråd) in Norwegian.

The Ministry accepted SOR, but found SUR, “sour”, inappropriate. Perhaps some of them thought we were a sour bunch. The Sami education council didn’t give up though, and finally the Ministry had to accept SUR.

The Sami education council was the first Sami institution started by the Ministry of education. At first there was talk of locating the administration in Oslo, but the Sami education council couldn’t agree to this as it would have meant the administration was in an “outlying district” in relation to the Sami. The administration was located in Guovdageaidnu. It wasn’t easy to get the people at the Ministry of education to understand or take an interest in our ideas and requirements, especially during the initial period. It seemed that they didn’t take us seriously, and they often forgot that they had a council outside of Oslo. We often had to remind the Ministry when we found courses, discussions on Sami school matters and so forth, that it would have been natural for the Sami education council to participate in. Our contacts with the Ministry were with people on a consultant level, who neither cared about or had the resources to deal with, the matters we sent on to them. We therefore often had to demand to speak to people higher up in the system, and it wasn’t always easy to communicate with the higher echelons either. The Sami education council sometimes had meetings in Oslo, and then we would, of course, go and see the Minister of education. I had received the title of director, the same as the leaders of the other school councils, but I didn’t receive as high a salary as them. So when the council member met the Minister they took up the matter with him. They asked why their director was on a lower salary than the other directors, such as the director of the council for primary education for example, to which the Minister answered: “The Sami education council isn’t as important as the other councils!” The council members drew the Minister’s attention to what he had just said and he admitted to not actually knowing very much about the Sami, but said that he would be going up to Finnmark and expected to learn more then.

There was an occasion when the Sami education council held a council meeting in Alta on a Saturday. Laila Somby Sandvik, who was a reserve member, worked in Vadsø, and was only at home in Kárášjohka at the weekends. She returned with me to Guovdageaidnu. When we arrived in Guovdageaidnu, Laila rang her husband to ask him to come and fetch her but nobody answered and in those days there was no such thing as a cellular phone. There was no bus to Kárášjohka until Monday, so what do we do now? It seemed totally unacceptable; first of all to be sat in a meeting for the whole of Saturday and then not to be able to get home. I called a taxi for her so that at least she could have one day at home. I told the taxi-driver to send the bill to the Ministry of education. A month later I was at the Ministry when a lady appeared with a piece of paper in her hand. She was in a filthy mood and complained loudly about the Sami education council using hundreds of kroner on a taxi ride. I explained the matter to her and she agreed to pay the bill.

When people visited the administration offices we used to offer them coffee, as is the custom. So we used to buy coffee for this purpose. Then we received a note from the national auditing office. Though it is only a matter of a few kroner, it is inappropriate to buy coffee with public funds. We answered that since we had no canteen, we had to buy the coffee ourselves. After that we received no more notes. Fortunately I knew the workings of the Council for pilot schemes in education well. There they employed someone to make coffee both for employees and visitors.

What is a Sami area?

There were many Sami areas where there was no teaching in the Sami language. According to law, people in “Sami areas” had the right to education in Sami. This in turn begged the question: what is a Sami area? The view of the authorities was that the interior of Finnmark was the Sami area. I remember when Sami in Skánit / Skånland (southern part of Troms county) asked for lessons in Sami for their school. They were told that Skánit wasn’t a Sami area. The Skánit Sami didn’t give up though and eventually succeeded in getting lessons in Sami. The Sami area steadily expanded as more and more areas asked for and got teaching in Sami.


The challenges were many, principal among them being to facilitate the use of, and secure the place of the Sami language, both at primary - secondary level, in further education and at teacher-training college. The education laws didn’t give Sami students enough rights. Changes in the law on primary and secondary education took years, but little by little, the authorities agreed to change the law. The school timetable plan didn’t have room for Sami lessons, so these had to be taken from other subjects, first and foremost from New Norwegian (Nynorsk), but also from other subjects. It was quite a struggle.

The biggest challenge though was the lack of textbooks in Sami. It was also at that time that Northern Sami orthography was changed, so that the few books that did exist had to be transcribed using the new orthography. The biggest task though was to produce new textbooks, not just for Sami language teaching but for other subjects as well. Teachers had already been making their own teaching materials for about 10 years. The Sami education council therefore employed teachers to produce approved teaching materials. Then the schools complained that the Sami education council was taking the few Sami speaking teachers they had. This was unfortunate, but in the long run it was the schools who benefited. Textbook production was dependant on the teachers.

Sami language teaching in the Southern and Lule Sami areas was lagging a long way behind. The Sami education council had good contacts with the Sami schools in both Snoasa (Snåsa) and Arborte (Hattfjelldal). Council member Ella Holm Bull was headmistress of the Sami school in Snoasa. Mikal Urheim from Divttasvuotna (Tysfjord) was also a council member and it was he who became our guide in Divttasvuotna.

Both the South Sami and Lule Sami orthographies were officially recognized, and the few Sami speaking teachers in those areas worked tirelessly to produce teaching materials. The Sami education council established area offices for both South and Lule Sami and local education consultants had responsibility for school affairs in those areas. In those days, the Sami education council had to develop new Sami teaching materials in addition to being a publishing-house.

Bible stories and the Catechism

School wasn’t great in the old days, but two books have stuck in my memory, the Catechism and Bible stories in North Sami. At a parents’ meeting at which the Sami education council was present, one of the parents asked us to produce a revised edition of both the Catechism and Bible stories. We acted on this suggestion and transcribed the aforementioned books with the new orthography. Some teachers were unhappy that so many resources had been put into two such old books and for this reason we produced work-books which reflected the new teaching methods. This proved to be a great success and I think it was a good way of improving parent–school relations.

Approving textbooks

The Ministry of education had the authority to approve text-books. When the first batch of text-books from the Sami education council was ready, we contacted the Ministry about getting them approved. Our consultant there said that we would have to translate the books into Norwegian before they could approve them. Once again I had to go to people higher up in the Ministry. The Ministry wouldn’t give in at first, but the Sami education council refused to translate the books into Norwegian. So for many years schools had to use text-books that had not been officially approved, and it was only in 1985 that the Sami education council received the right to approve text-books.


We lacked a pedagogic terminology when we started producing teaching materials and so in 1978 Nils Thomas Utsi began work as our language consultant. He worked for about 8 years as the language consultant, producing a basic foundation of educational and pedagogic terms for North Sami. He had contact with other institutions across national borders, in order to achieve a uniform terminology throughout the whole of the North Sami speaking area. We held courses for interpreters, and they in turn, helped us with our work on terminology.

Cross-border co-operation

Once the Sami education council’s administration was up and running, the Nordic Sami Institute called for a meeting with the other Nordic countries to discuss cross-border co-operation. But in practice it wasn’t so easy, as we first had to apply to the Ministry for permission to cross the borders. We got permission but foresaw many other difficulties in pursuing a common cause. The Nordic countries all had their own national syllabuses and education laws.

We did go and speak to the school authorities in both Helsinki and Stockholm, but they had little or no interest in co-operating on matters of Sami education. One Stockholm bureaucrat told us straight out that the education of their Sami was a matter for them and that they didn’t want to work with us. However, some projects on teaching materials were started.

At the Sami conferences there used to be a lot of nice talk about how important cross-border co-operation was, but when it came to the point the frontier lines were as red as ever and just as difficult to cross.


It was important to maintain good relations with the other school councils, as they had always had close contact with the authorities. We therefore set up joint committees both with the council for primary education, the council on further education and the teacher-training council. I remember one incident in particular. The joint committee of the Sami education council and the Council on further education were on a trip to Divttasvuotna (Tysfjord), during which we called in at Hamarøy school of further education, where we met with teachers and students. One of the students suggested that Sami be introduced as a subject at the school. At this we promised that if at least 5 students requested it, we would provide lessons in Sami for them. A few weeks later, the lessons had started.

It was an area where the Sami language had been suppressed and there were many parents who were trying hard to forget both their Sami origins and the language. One of the parents reported the matter to the police, claiming that the student who had wanted Sami lessons had put other students’ names forward without their knowledge. The police took no action and the Sami lessons continued and indeed still continue to this very day.

Teacher-training – preliminary courses

A Sami department was set up at the teacher-training college in Alta in 1974, but it was difficult to get enough students. There weren’t many who had the right combination of subjects from sixth form to be able to start teacher-training. We had good relations with the teacher-training college in Alta and we proposed setting up a preliminary course so that more Sami students could get onto the teacher-training courses. The college in Alta agreed to do the paperwork while the Sami education council dealt with the practical details. We also contacted the teacher-training colleges in Bodø and Levanger in an effort to improve the teaching situation in the South - Lule Sami area.

The first preliminary course started in the school year 1978-79 with 15 students. Between 1978-79 and 1987-88, 9 such preliminary courses were held, 2 in Kárášjohka, 1 in Guovdageaidnu, 2 in Hápmir / Hamarøy, and 4 in Alta. Altogether about 50 students completed the preliminary course of which the majority went on to either teacher-training or nursery teacher-training.

Syllabus guidelines 1987 and 1989

When the Sami education council heard that the national syllabus guidelines were to be revised we wrote a letter to the Ministry of education. We suggested that it was time we got our own Sami syllabus guidelines. The Sami education council was invited to draw up a syllabus, initially for Sami both as a first and second language. The Sami education council agreed to this, but at the same time insisted on making a Sami syllabus for all subjects.

In 1985, the council for primary and secondary education invited the Sami education council to a preparatory seminar in Oslo. There, the participants were divided into groups. They put the Sami representatives in a group with the immigrant representatives. This annoyed us because the Sami aren’t immigrants, the Sami are Norway’s indigenous people. After setting the matter straight we were put in a group of our own.

Anton Hoem was helping the Sami education council write a preliminary project and the education council employed people to write the syllabus. Though we had to base our syllabus on M87 (national syllabus guidelines), it was, none the less, the very first Sami syllabus.

The council for primary and secondary education wanted to print the Sami syllabus in the same book as the national syllabus, but the book became so thick that the Ministry refused to print the Sami syllabus. The matter was taken up in parliament during question time. The result was that the Sami syllabus appeared in a separate publication in 1989, in both North Sami and Norwegian. It was a historic event, and was marked by a press-conference in which both minister Mary Kvidal and Sami education council chairman Jan Henry Keskitalo took part.

Sami folk music or yoik formed part of the music syllabus. In some municipalities yoik was prohibited at school, so when the various school boards approved the syllabus, they were at the same time approving yoik.

The Sami education council has changed steadily through the years. In 1977 the administration consisted of 3 employees and had a budget of 488,000 kroner. 10 years later there were 13 employees and a budget of 5,7 million kroner. In addition to its administration employees the education council also hired various project workers.

I finally reached my pension in 1989 and had to finish at the Sami education council. I had good relations with both the council and its employees. In that sort of institution it is important to be able to work well with others so that everyone can make full use of their talent. For me, each working-day was exciting.

An education council without powers

As Edel Hætta Eriksen tells in her article, the Sami education council didn’t initially have the same status as the other councils under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education. It wasn’t only the council’s own members who questioned this state of affairs. In the Ministry archives, which have now been transferred to the National archives, we came across this note, which we have here reproduced, with the permission of Harry Kvalvik. Kvalvik was the first director of the council for further education and later became director of education in Troms.


Datum 24.4.79

To Dep. dir. Borgvad, Ministry of education
From Dir. Kvalvik, Council of further education


This should be regarded as a private inquiry,- and stems from a meeting I recently had with The Sami education council. This council has recently received its mandate and in connection with this there are a couple of things I’d like you to have a look at:

SEC (SUR) has been given responsibility for Sami education “from cradle to grave”, - a much broader field than the other specialist councils. It has a small administration and is working under difficult conditions. It is in need of a degree of status.

My impression of the mandate is that this council is more “centralized” than other specialist councils, - and the mandate seems to have come about very much on “secondary school premises”. On the practical side, the administrative leader has no authority to allocate funds. The chairman, usually in Oslo, has this. Creates great practical difficulties. Why? In all other councils, authority to allocate lies with the administrative leader.

The other thing is the rule that travel outside the country’s borders must be approved by the Ministry. In the council for further education, the director has the authority to approve trips abroad within budget limits. SEC is dependant on cross-border contact with Finland/Sweden (Karesuando, Jokkmokk etc). It’s a much shorter trip than to Tromsø. Let them have a bit of elbow-room within budget limits, at least in northern Scandinavia.

Thirdly, (a small matter, but which has to do with status in relation to other councils): - The mandate’s § 4. The right to appoint small committees within budget limits must, for this particular council, be exercised “in council with the Ministry”. Why?

One more small thing. The administration in SEC has been notified that contact with the Ministry shall be made through one particular consultant in the section for primary education. As administrative leader for SEC, I would consider that I was perfectly within my rights to contact anyone in the Ministry I felt was necessary (apart from the Minister and political leadership).

This is really none of my business. It’s just that I concern myself with “the Sami question” from many sides. They do at least need backing-up. I hope you will excuse my frankness.

Yours sincerely,
Harry Kvalvik

More articles from Sami School History 1