Sámegillii På norsk

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

Sara Tornensis Bongo, Elmine Valkeapää, Ole Larsen Gaino

Three lives with a lost education

Told to Svein Lund

English translation: Simon Aldridge

Ole Larsen Gaino, Sara Tornensis Bongo, Elmine Valkeapää
(Photo: Svein Lund)

Three of the people who have worked most diligently for the association of those with lost schooling in Guovdageaidnu/Kautokeino, (USKAV) tell here of what sort of education they have received and of how they have managed in life. They have all grown up in outlying settlements in the parish of Guovdageaidnu, between 20 and 50 kilometres from the main village. Now all three of them live in the village and their childhood hamlets are now almost deserted.

Sara Tornensis Bongo: - Nothing left to do but go home again

Sara Tornensis Bongo (Sárgon Sárá) was born in 1935 and grew up in Gálaniitu, nearly 20 kilometres upriver from the main village of Guovdageaidnu.

My father was a small holder while my mother, on the other hand, was from a reindeer-herding family. In addition to Sámi, both my mother and father spoke Finnish. My father also spoke Norwegian, though my mother did not. We had both cows, sheep and reindeer, as was the custom on many small holdings in those days. That wouldn’t be possible nowadays as the authorities have robbed us of our birthright; reindeer ear-marks (ear-markings).

During my childhood I took part in all types of work – haymaking, taking care of the animals, fishing and grouse-snaring. I started milking the cows as a seven-year-old. I still remember the time the cow kicked and knocked over the milk-pail.

I was supposed to start school in the autumn of 1942, but when my father took me to the boarding-school it was so full of German soldiers that there was nothing left to do but go home again. After that I didn’t receive any schooling until after the evacuation. At the time of the evacuation we fled to Sweden using pack reindeer. The Germans were after us. We saw them when we were on the border but they didn’t follow us over into Sweden. We had to leave the pack animals in Gárasavvon and the Swedish authorities sent us to the area of Johkamohkki. There we stayed until 1946, in a place called Vaimak. We were 6-7 families living in the same barracks.

I didn’t receive any kind of schooling in Sweden and it was only when we returned to Guovdageaidnu in 1946 that I started school. But I learnt almost nothing as everything was in Norwegian. Well, some of the teachers spoke Sámi but what good was that when teaching in Sámi was prohibited. There were 6 weeks of school in autumn and 6 in spring. The boarding-school had only Norwegian speaking employees. Of course, the children cried and wanted to go home. Following primary school I attended (framhaldskole) for 9 weeks, but I didn’t learn anything. I didn’t understand what the teacher said. I used to be so frightened of him that, years later I still felt afraid when I saw him in the village.

Whatever Norwegian I speak now I’ve learnt since. I learnt a lot when I worked at the mines in Biedjovággi, where I worked for six years as a cleaner and cook. After that I’ve worked at the hotel for three years, at the slaughterhouse and as a cleaner at the boarding-school.

I was 42 years old when I got my driving-licence. It was my niece who helped me. She was only in her teens then but she read with me and translated for me for two years before I could take the test. Everything turned out right then. I did my driving-test in Finnsnes in Troms during which I was allowed to have an interpreter with me.

Although I manage alright in Guovdageaidnu, it’s difficult when I don’t speak better Norwegian. I’m embarrassed about it and because of that I daren’t go anywhere. I’ve always got to have somebody with me who can interpret for me. It would be nice to go on holiday abroad and stay in a hotel, but you can’t do that on the small pension I get.

Elmine Valkeapää: - Life hasn’t been “a bed of roses”

Elmine Valkeapää, (Rijat Jovnna Elmina) was born in 1934. Her parents were reindeer-herders and the family lived in Goahteluoppal (50 kilometres south-west of the village of Guovdageaidnu) in winter and in Biertavárri (Gáivuotna, Troms) in summer.

My mother didn’t speak a word of Norwegian. My father used to speak Norwegian when necessary, but when we children got older we used to laugh at father’s Norwegian. Anyway he managed to get by with it somehow. Other reindeer-herders’ children have learnt Norwegian in the summer when they have been out at the coast, but during my childhood there were so many Sámi speaking people in Biertavárri as well that we didn’t get to hear that much Norwegian there either.

Skárfvággi summer-grazing area during the war. The picture was taken at Somajávri in 1942 or 1943. Elmine Valkeapää as a little girl, sitting on a relation’s lap.
(Picture lent by Elmine Valkeapää)

When I was supposed to start school, the Germans wanted to arrest my father because he had bought a bicycle in Sweden and sold it to Norwegians. So we left with the herd for Sweden. We had to remove the bells from the reindeer and muzzle the dogs so that they couldn’t bark. We were in Geaidnovuohppi, (on the Swedish side of the border, south of Gilbbesjávri) until the end of the war. There they had summer-school in a lávvu (Sámi tent). The children from Norway didn’t receive a request to attend school, anyway, in the third year I went myself. I sat there quietly for a couple days before they even noticed me. On the third day I got a pencil and paper. The teaching was in Swedish, which in the beginning I didn’t understand at all. The only thing I remember is that we had to say: “Please Miss, sharpen my pencil!”

We returned to Norway in the spring of 1946. I had learnt to read a bit; I remember it was the late John Juuso who taught me. We started with a margarine crate we had in our goahti (big Sámi tent). In 1947 I started school for the first time. I started in the third year although I hadn’t learnt what I should in the first and second years. I didn’t understand much of the Norwegian lessons. We stayed at the boarding-school barracks. There the girls were on one side of the corridor while the boys were on the other. The beds were bunk-beds and there were two girls to a bed. The bursar and the maids (assistants) were all Norwegian speakers, nobody spoke proper Sámi. The children had to do a lot of work at the boarding-school. We had to wash the dishes, make sandwiches, and fetch firewood and milk. I remember that at the boarding-school we got a lot of fish that had gone off. It was brought in from the coast in autumn so by spring it was rotten. It was completely inedible and there was no way we were even going to try. Instead we went to relations of ours in the village and ate there.

In my school report I had two S’es (S was the highest mark; “særdeles godt – excellent.”) They were in R.E (Religious Education) and discipline/good behaviour. The reason I got an S in R.E was that this subject was taught in Sámi, which was otherwise prohibited. Another reason that I did so well in Religious Education was that my father had told me so many stories from the Bible, and I remembered the stories my father had told me and was able to retell them at school. I attended primary school for a total of 52 weeks. There are many who have attended even less than this. In 1954-55 I attended the Sámi Folk High School in Kárášjohka, but I have to say that I didn’t learn a lot there either.

Following my time at school I began working with reindeer together with my father. During the 1960s and 70s a dam was built on Guolášjávri, which was the summer-grazing area for our siida. The Troms electricity board had to then pay compensation to the reindeer herders, but we, who had little education, weren’t able to protect our interests. I personally didn’t receive any compensation at all. At that time I was ill for long periods and my father was getting on in years, and because of this we weren’t able to continue herding reindeer. But I’ve never lost hope of starting up again.

Worst of all is that the authorities have deleted our reindeer ear-markings. For us, ear-markings are a treasure that is passed from one generation to another. How can people in offices wipe out our heritage? I’ve seen old reindeer herders in tears because they’ve had their reindeer ear-markings deleted. They have done the worst thing they possibly could. They should have let the markings be as long as the people were still alive. I myself got my reindeer marking when I was 8 years old, and from then on I had my own reindeer. Then, when they changed the regulations, I got a letter saying that they had deleted my marking from the register. I’ve complained but to no avail.

Every summer I still go to Gáivuotna, our old summer-grazing lands. I’m always glad when I arrive there, yet at the same time sad that I haven’t got any reindeer. I remember the first time I had to buy reindeer meat. It was such a strange feeling. I’d never imagined I’d have to buy reindeer meat. The only things I knew were reindeer herding and such needlework I’d learnt at home. I had to do something in order to survive. I had small children at the time.

I started sewing and making things, and I started work as a cleaner at Biedjovággi. After that I worked for a year at Juhls’ silversmiths. There were people from lots of different countries and we all spoke different languages. I was alright with the Finns and the Norwegians. I had learnt Finnish as a child and I find Finnish easier than Norwegian. I’ve also learnt a little German, enough to be able to talk to tourists. After that I had various different jobs, on hotel night-duty and as a home help among others. I also worked as a cook in Kirkenes, on a big military building-site in Hesseng.

I can read a little Norwegian but nothing at all in my own mother-tongue. I’ve got three children, and it wasn’t easy when they started school. They’d ask me to help them with their homework but I couldn’t. I couldn’t bring myself to tell them that I couldn’t read, instead I used to say: “I haven’t got time right now.”

You can gather from this that my life has been no “bed of roses.”

(Drawing: Josef Halse)

Ole Larsen Gaino: - Prohibited from speaking Sámi by a Sámi speaking teacher

Ole Larsen Gaino (Lásse Ovllá) was born in 1933 in Geaidnovuohppi (on the banks of the Guovdageaidnu river, 30 kilometres north of the village), where his parents had a small holding. As a youth he worked as a herd-hand and then he married a reindeer herder’s daughter and worked as a reindeer-herder until he retired.

My father couldn’t speak Norwegian, and my mother died when I was small. I didn’t go to school until I was 10 years old. I started school in spring 1944, but had only been at school for a few days when the boarding-school burnt down and we had to go home. I remember that the Germans kicked us. I also remember that the teacher didn’t allow us children to speak Sámi, and that he grabbed us by the neck. And that was a teacher who was himself a Sámi speaker.

Six months later we were evacuated and during the evacuation I didn’t get any sort of schooling. In the spring of 1947 I went to the school in Láhpoluoppal for 5 weeks. In the autumn I was to start at the school in Guovdageaidnu, but then I received notice that I was too old. After that I didn’t go to school again.

In 1953 I was conscripted into the army and was sent to Høybuktmoen, in South-Varanger. There they discovered that I understood very little Norwegian. But luckily there was a sergeant there who spoke Sámi. He arranged it so that we could work together as border-guards (on the border between Norway and Russia) and he started to teach me Norwegian. I learnt a lot in just a few months and was promoted to Corporal. But my Norwegian still wasn’t very good, and because of that it’s been difficult to manage in society at large.

Towards the end of the 1970s we saw that the damming of the Alta-Guovdageaidnu basin could ruin our livelihood, i.e. of the herders who had reindeer in this area. But, because of problems with the language, it was difficult for us to argue our case with the authorities. It was this that made me aware that we who have been deprived of an education have to jointly put in a claim for assistance.

More articles from Sami school history 1