Our Contemporary North American Sami Chronology

There have been many events and gatherings of North American Sami descendants over the past twenty five years in the Midwest, West Coast, Pacific Northwest, Alaska and elsewhere. Here is at least a partial list including Midwest Sami Siidastallans and Sami North American gatherings. We would like to keep adding to this list as more information comes in. Please contact us if you have items to add or photos to share. Giitu!

Timeline

1990 (May) – Faith Fjeld attends the World Council of Indigenous Peoples (WCIP) meeting in Tromsø, Norway, Sápmi as a special invited guest. Faith gave her presentation “A is for Assimilation” at the event. (Faith also attended the 1984 WCIP meeting in Panama). She stays on for three months traveling throughout Samiland in Norway, Sweden and Finland, meeting many in Sami leadership, artists, her family, and interviewing many. This trip became the basis for Faith starting Báiki, the North American Sami Journal.

1991 (Fall) – The first issue of Báiki is published, with a return address from Duluth, northern Minnesota. The issue was written and composed in San Francisco, California, before editor, Faith Fjeld moved to Duluth at this time. Faith  consulted often with Rudy Johnson, University of Minnesota Duluth head librarian, and others who were early collaborators to the formation of Báiki. Many important occasions happened over the years at the home of Rudy and Solveig Johnson. People recall Faith being involved in Sami related events in California since 1984, but we will say that the California Sami Searvi really started in 1991, with a card table information booth on Sami Culture at area cultural events. The launching of Báiki was a major milestone in our collective memory.

1992 (June 4) – New York Mills, Minnesota. One of the first meetings of interested descendants where the idea surfaced to form a group of North American Sami. Alyce Ruikka and Leon Keranen were involved, as was Faith. The group was called “SIIDA- Sami Immigrant Indigenous Descendents Association.”

1992 (July 23-26) – The first comtemporary Sami American community participation in the annual Finnfest Finnish American festival gathering, this one in Duluth, Minnesota. Báiki and friends presented a panel discussion and had a Sami information table. Many of our Midwest group met at this time. Finnfest became a Sami American gathering time on a nearly annual basis.

1994 (February 24-26) – The first Siiddastallan and Reindeer Festival, Minnesota Zoo, Apple Valley, MN. A large gathering of people gathered to share information on Sami culture.

Ellen Binder and Lloyd Binder attended from Inuvik, NWT, and Anja Kitti from Toronto, Canada, demonstrated traditional handcrafts. Joni Kitti came from Helsinki, Finland, and he and Lloyd yoiked. The first community lavvu was sewn for the event by community members including Ellen Binder. American Indian community friends furnished borrowed poles for the lavvu.

1994 (Fall/Winter) – Another attempt at organizing a North American Sami organization is endorsed by Báiki and the community. It was to be called Sami Association of North America, SANA. A chairperson was elected by group meeting in Minneapolis. Fairly restrictive bylaws were written and quickly enacted without much time to critique or change. A board of mostly Minneapolis representatives were elected. The chair and core became resistive to critique of their direction, and dictated that the board would be delegated by the chair, not elected in the future. Also, they were publically critical of journalists for questioning their direction. Implosion of the group soon followed within months. An overall community rejection of their methods lead to later establishment of the Sami Siida of North America founding group.

1994 (December) – Ingebretsen’s Sámi Culture Day, began by Báiki, and have been an annual event on the first Saturday of December ever since featuring the Sami community and culture.

1995 (February) – Siiddastallan at New York Mills, Minnesota. A nice community gathering, complete with reindeer and goahti tents.

1995 (March 9-11) – Last visit to North America by Nils Aslak Valkeapää. On Friday night, he did a concert of yoik and poetry at Augsberg College, Minneapolis, MN, to an enthusiastic crowd. Saturday he visited the Báiki office, aka Faith’s house, and visited with community most of the day. In the evening we held a huge feast in his honor at Nathan Muus’ house, site of many larger community gatherings of the Minneapolis Siida. Nils Aslak went on to visit Finlandia University and Gustavus Adolphus College also.

1995 (July 2-4) – Finland, northern Minnesota Centennial gathering. For months many visited the Tom Scheib farm and worked on helping with the reindeer, sewing lavvu tents, meeting guests from Sápmi, and preparing for the big weekend. It was a great success, complete with parade. The town of Finland was proud. Many of us camped out.

1995 (September 22-24) – Skandi-Fest huge festival in Turlock, California. A good size group of us from the Midwest went out to this festival meeting west coast friends, and setting up a lavvu, Sami information area, and participating in activities. This festival became one of our west coast/California annual events, along with Norway Day(s)- San Francisco, and Scandinavian Festival, Thousand Oaks, CA.

1995 (October 11-14) – Norsk Høstfest, Minot, North Dakota, the biggest Scandinavian festival in North America. We were there as a big group, and yes, with a goahti tent, and reindeer from Tom Scheib. We shared a big hall with singer Merle Haggard and his band, who played four sets a day. Thousands of visitors saw our camp. We also had reindeer meat sandwiches, Seaberg family art, Báiki publications and materials, along with a group of 30 of us—lots of fun!.

1995 (December) – The Árran newsletter is first published with Mel Olsen (Maple, Wisconsin) as founding editor. Anja Kitti, Arden Johnson, Nathan Muus, and Chris Pesklo also contributed ideas to the effort. Arden later became co-editor. It was originally stated to be “a quarterly supplement to Báiki.” The two publications share writers, artists and ads for each other for many years.

1996 (February 2-4) – Laskiainen, Palo, Minnesota, and Founding meeting of the Sami Siida of North America. This memorable event took place at the traditional Finnish sliding festival and the temperature was a record breaking –60º F. Johan Mikal Sara, then Norwegian Sami Parliament Vice President, was a guest from Sápmi and Ellen Binder was there from Northwest Territories. Tom Scheib provided the live reindeer. The Sami Siida of North America (SSNA) was formed and organized at this event and Anja Kitti was selected unanimously as the first chairperson of the group. Mel Mattson was an important organizer of this event.

1996 (June 22-24) – Ironworld, (now the Minnesota Discovery Center) Chisholm, Minnesota. This event marked the opening of the Sami goahti and camp at Ironworld. Cari and Charlie Mayo and Anja Kitti worked with Ilmari Mattus and his son Anssi on the Sami Camp. In the following years, other events took place at Ironworld usually in conjunction with Finn Days including the art exhibit Buohkat. Gladys Koski Holmes later served as an interpreter there.

1996 (June 22-24) – A gathering and campout with lavvus of SSNA and friends at Mesabi Park, near Chisholm, MN, an old red Finn camp on Lake North Star. Everyone came over from Ironworld, and others joined us! (The same happened in August 1997).

1996 (December 7- April 15 1997)The Sami People: Lives of Adventure and Beauty exhibit opened at the Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum, Decorah, Iowa. It was a first Báiki curated exhibit on Sami culture, and also borrowed from the Vesterheim collection. This effort lead to the Alaska Sami exhibits.

1997 (January 15) – Opening of the “Saami Baiki Office” in downtown Oakland, California, in conjunction with the offices of SAIIC (South American Indian Information Center). For the next five years, a center of Sami American activities and home to Báiki.It was the first contemporary stand alone Sami American center to open in North America.

1997 (February 28-March 2) – ’97 Gi∂∂adálvi Siiddistallan on Spirit Mountain, Duluth, Minnesota. This was another winter event, which also featured the first Sami-American art exhibit, Buohkat: An Exhibit of Sami American Art, which was held at the Superior, Wisconsin, Public Library with 22 artists participating .

1997 (June 26-29) – Participation at Fargo/Moorhead’s Hjemkomst Scandinavian Festival with reindeer and Sami camp lavvus.

1998 (January 9-11) – Siiddistallan as part of the Winter Festival, North House Folk School, Grand Marais, Minnesota. A very special event with cold temperatures, snow crunching underfoot and             lavvus on the lakeshore. An art exhibit took place there also, as did reindeer races (a first)!

1998 (April 17-19) – First larger Sami comminity participation and Siiddastallan at the Scandinavian Festival, California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks, California (near LA). A hugely successful event with guests from Sápmi, that set the future participation of our community on an annual basis.

1998 (June 27-30) – Centennial reunion of the Manitoba-Alaskan Sami descendents, family and friends in Poulsbo, Washington, near Seattle, at the home of Earl and Norma Hanson.Coordinated by Jan Henrik Kesketalo, twenty-five Sami family members came from Norway to participate, as did smore than 150 family and friends from Alaska, the west coast, and elsewhere. A very memorable event!

1999 (January) – Heikinpäivä, Hancock, Michigan. There was a parade complete with reindeer and a Sami camp. There has been an annual Sami component at subsequent Heikinpäivä celebrations.

1999 (March) – Sami gathering at the American Swedish Institute, Minneapolis, Minnesota. This was a winter event that featured a lavvu on the lawn and a gakti fashion show, and guests from Sapmi. (There have been several other events at ASI including in 2013 a Sami crafts exhibit. Seaberg art exhibits were shown there also. And additional events in 2014, 2015.)

1999 (December-January) – Sami exhibit at Christmas holiday time in Union Station, Washington D.C. curated by Nathan Muus and the Smithsonian Museum. A goahti tent, sled, large flag, figures in traditional clothing, tools, crafts, and photos were featured for two months. (In Dec. 2004 another Sami exhibit was featured here, and this time guests included Harold Gaski and Faith Fjeld, among others).

2000 (Summer) – Grandmother’s Gathering at Mesabi Park, northern Minnesota, near Hibbing. A Sami women’s gathering and campout weekend of sharing together of stories and recounting the past ten years. This event was organized by Gladys Koski Holmes, Marlene Wisuri, and Faith Fjeld with participants from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Alaska, California, North Dakota, and Canada.

2000 (September 8-10) – We held a Siiddastallan in conjunction with the Nordicfest in Libby, Montana, complete with lavvu, local Native participation, guests from Sápmi, knifemaker Eric Bergland, and reindeer. This was our second group participation there, the first being 1994.

2000 – Anja Kitti hands chairperson title of Sami Siida North America over to Cari Mayo, our tradition is that the chair changes every five/ six years…

2003 (June 8) – Circumpolar Culture presentation at Fort Mason, San Francisco, California. Featured guests: Ande Somby, Harold Gaski, Rauna Kuokkanen, Rose Marie Huuva and others. What a gathering. Packed crowd, and related events the entire weekend. Our guests visited our house/yard/lavvu in West Oakland for dinner!

2004 (April 5-30) – The first Sami Reindeer People of Alaska exhibit opened in Bethel, Alaska at the Yupiit Piciyarait Museum, the first of 14 exhibits across Alaska and greater North America. Co-curators are Nathan Muus and Faith Fjeld, with substantial input and participation from Alaska Sami families, including Lois Stover, at every event. As well, Ruthanne Cecil was a major researcher and exhibit organizer. (Other Alaska venues not already mentioned here included: Kodiak, Nome, McGrath, Kotzebue, Homer, and Haines Alaska).

2004 (May 9 to September 17) – The Sami Reindeer People of Alaska exhibit is at The Alaska Native Heritage Center, where both Faith Fjeld and Cherie Biddle spent several summers as Sami cultural interpreters with a lavvu set up outside.

2005 (October 7-November 13) – The Sami Reindeer people of Alaska exhibit is at the Nordic Heritage Museum, Seattle, Washington. In conjunction, a large extended family reunion of descendents from the Alaska Reindeer project met outside of Seattle for a weekend of cultural and family sharing.

2005 (August 10-14) – Grand Finnfest, Marquette, Michigan. We met Sami friends from Finland, gave presentations and had a Sami camp with reindeer. Marlene WIsuri became the new SSNA chairperson, taking over from Carri Mayo.

2008 (March 14-30 ) – Manitoba Alaska Sami families held a huge reunion at Eastertime in Guovdageaidnu/Kautokeino in Finnmark, Sápmi. About 25 participants are from USA (Alaska/Washington/California). A wonderful meeting of with relatives lasting several weeks.

2008 (July 23-27) – Finnfest and Siiddistallan in Duluth, northern Minnesota. A huge Sami American presence, and large camp with reindeer. We were an important part of the opening program and held many Sami presentations. A very memorable weekend. The 2008 Finnfest featured an art exhibit, Honoring Tradition: Finnish and Sami-inspired Textiles at Tweed Museum of Art, Duluth.

2009 (January 22 to February 20) – The Sami Reindeer People of Alaska exhibit at the Finnish American Historical Archive and Museum, Hancock, Michigan. Faith Fjeld attended and gave presentations including at the school in Hancock.

2009 (Summer) – A Siiddastallan was held in conjunction with the Hjemkomst Scandinavian annual gathering in Moorhead, MN. We had several lavvu, reindeer, and many cultural presentations, as well as guests from Sápmi. (Previously we were there in 1997 as a presenting group and Sami camp).

2010 (Summer) – A Siiddistallan was held in Duluth, MN at chariperson Marlene Wisuri’s home and outdoor camping area. It was perhaps the first stand alone Sami American Siiddistallan, and new and old friends met.

2011 – The idea for The Sami Cultural Center of North America is born in Duluth, MN by Marlene Wisuri and Faith Fjeld, and others. A board is assembled, and the thought is to have a physical space where activities, classes, and gatherings for Sami culture can occur. A facebook page is also put up for the organization. The idea met with some initial opposition, but soon this turned to excitement from the overall community as a real office and gathering place with activities was opened in August 2014.

2011 (Summer) – John Xavier is appointed SSNA chair following the resignation of Marlene Wisuri, who became the chair of the Sami Cultural Center of North America.

2012 (July 6-8) – Siiddastallan at Stacy, Minnesota, near Minneapolis, was organized mainly by the Minneapolis Siida. A new set of by-laws were enacted, not without some controversy in the larger group. John Xavier was elected chair, along with a slate of new officers. New offices had been set up in the by-laws. Social media had become a factor in the makeup of the group by this time with several pages and groups having been set up. Facebook continues to be a strong component of SSNA activities.

2012 (December 1- November 14, 2013) – The Sami Reindeer People of Alaska exhibit is assembled at the Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum, Decorah, Iowa. For the opening, assembled speakers and special guests included: Faith Fjeld, Cari Mayo, Lois Stover, Pearl Johnson, Marlene Wisuri, Nathan Muus, and Nancy Olsen.

2013 (June 19-23) – Finnfest, Houghton/Hancock, Michigan. There were many Sami related presentations by both North American Sami and Sami from Sápmi. Highlights of the Sami programming were the concert and programs by the Sámi Jienat choir. About 40 visiting Sami were part of the choir.

2014 (May 5-August 31) – The Minnesota Discovery Center (formerly Ironworld), Chisholm, Minnesota, featured the exhibits The Sami Reindeer People of Alaska and Sámi: Walking with Reindeer, Photographs by Erika Larsen. Hugh Beach of Uppsala University and National Geographic photographer Erika Larsen presented lectures in May and June 2014. The Sami goahti was restored and re-dedicated on August 30, 2014.

2014 (August) – Opening of the Sami Cultural Center of North America in Duluth, northern Minnesota. On August 31, there was an opening ceremony and dedication with Faith Fjeld participating by phone. Since then classes, films, and other activities have been presented.

Finnfests

There has been a strong Sami presence at many of the annual FinnFest celebrations, which are held in different locations each year. This has included Sami programs, camps, and community get togethers. Including: Duluth, Minnesota, 1992, 2008; Houghton/Hancock, Michigan, 2013; Minneapolis, 2002, 2014; Marquette, Michigan, 1996, 2005; Naselle, Washington and Astoria, Oregon, 2006; and Sault St. Marie, Ontario, 2011 (we’re not sure of the total Sami participation at this event, since there were border-crossing issues with some of the Sami group).

Most of these gatherings took place as part of an ethnic or town festival. They were all open to the public as educational events, as well as Sami American gatherings. Reindeer were brought to most of them by Tom Scheib and there were usually lavvus furnished by Chris Pesklo of Northern Lavvu and others. All ages participated. We have seen a number of children grow up in the siida and a baby was even born in a lavvu in CA.

Other Gatherings

In addition to the events that have taken place in the Midwest, there is a long history of gatherings and siidastallans in other parts of North America including at Thousand Oaks, Skandifest, and Norway Days in California; Toronto, Ontario; the Pacific Northwest; and Alaska, where gatherings have often been part of family reunions and the openings of exhibits.

There have been countless school and church presentations, book signings, musical events, movie nights, women’s gatherings, visitors from Sápmi, exhibits, classes, pub gatherings—all contributing to the reawakening and sharing of Sami spirit. The Sami North American community has found many creative, positive ways to connect, share, and learn together and undoubtedly will continue to do so in the future.