by Niillas Holmberg and Jenni Laiti
All Photos by Johannes Samuelsson
Sápmi, our homeland, has been colonized and exploited. We, the Saami people, have been dislocated and disconnected from the land and from each other. We are struggling to hold on to the remains of our self-determination, our territorial and cultural rights. Without having the rights to exist and determine our future, we are unable to live as a distinct society. Sápmi encompasses northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola Peninsula of Russia. The Saami people are the only Indigenous people in Europe. However, our Indigenous rights remain unrecognized and the Saami issues are still not taken seriously on national political agendas. A result of this situation is that we are not living; we struggle to survive.
A group of Saami artists conducted a direct action at Jokkmokk Winter Market, one of the biggest gatherings in Sápmi. We chose to make the Saami rights movement more visible and to express the objectives of Saami protest artists through a manifesto. The idea was to clarify an answer to a simple question: Why do we do this? Because we have to.
With the good winds blowing our way, Alice Bah Kuhnke, the Swedish Minister of Culture and Democracy, scheduled a visit to the Winter Market this year. We now had the chance to demonstrate to the Minister in person!
We choose to fight the power as a response to our people feeling powerless. When we resist, we reconnect. When we reconnect, we grow stronger. This is the story of our non-violent direct action called The Saami Manifesto 15. It shows how peaceful resistance can be powerful, healing and encouraging.
We gathered outside of the hotel where the Minister was heading. Dressed both in modern and traditional clothes; we wanted to show ourselves as we are today, squeezed in between different cultures. The Minister arrived. One of us sat down to recite the manifesto after asking the Minister’s attention. Another one stepped behind her and cut her long hair off with a knife, while we all performed improvisational music, a mix of violin and yoik, the traditional Saami way of singing. Act symbolized losing our spirit and ourselves, but also circle of life. We as humans have responsibilities to take care of our sisters and brothers and all living.
The Minister was touched by our action and stated afterwards to the Swedish newspaper NSD: “– This was a very good act. It was calm, serious, sad, clear and had strong words. It had a feeling of desperation. A lot has to be endured before one acts like this.”
Pictures and videos of our performance went viral and reached the audience of half a million people through all kinds of media. Mission accomplished!
We believe there will be no change without protest, and The Saami Manifesto 15 is only one of many actions in the current Saami rights movement. The manifesto is at the same time a part of something bigger. It is a part of a movement that grows, spreads, reaches, changes and inspires.
We need to push governments all over the world to promote Indigenous rights, and this action was one way to do it. Through telling about our work, we wish to encourage other Saamis and Indigenous peoples to take part in the fight for our lives. Everyone has the means to resist, protect, mobilize and challenge.
Niillas Holmberg and Jenni Laiti are Saami artists. They both come from the Finnish side of Sápmi, but now live in Norwegian and Swedish sides of Sápmi.
The Saami Manifesto 15
We live and work for this:
1. Because we have to. Because this is the only way of life we know.
2. Because everything begins and ends with Eanan, mother, land. Eanan is the base for everything. Eanan is the question and the answer. Nothing defines us better than her. Our survival depends on her. It is our responsibility to protect, respect and take care of our mother, so that we, and all the generations to come can live as one with her. Reconnected.
3. Because we have the inherent right to self-determination and freedom in our land. Without these rights we are suffering. It is the time for our people to start living instead of just surviving. We want to live, not die.
4. Because our mother tongues are the mirrors of our worldviews and an essential part of our identity. By preserving and developing our mother tongues we preserve and develop our identities as well as ourselves. Weakened state of language undermines the ability to communicate. The Sámi languages are endangered today. We therefore demand that all the Sámi are given the needed resources and the respect in order to preserve and develop the Sámi languages. When a language is disappearing it is a sign of the nature and the animals disappearing with it. We demand protection for our Eanan, land, culture and our Indigenous languages in order to be able to develop the same way as all other peoples should be allowed to develop.
5. Because we are disconnected from the mother Earth and therefore we feel powerless. When reconnected, we avoid self-destructiveness through love for life and freedom to act for it. The power is to be able to preserve and develop life. We need to reconnect with Eanan, the Earth. People all around the globe should reflect on their relationship with nature. One neither gains the freedom in life until one is given the freedom to live, nor does one gain the freedom in death until one is given the freedom to die.
6. Because non-existent people are not granted any rights. We do not want to be ignored anymore, we want to be respected as an Indigenous people also by the Swedish and Finnish governments in these national areas. Sweden and Finland should ratify the ILO 169 and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples. Respect Indigenous peoples´ rights to self-determination and existence. Exploiters and their supporters shall know that the shamefulness of their doings will not be kept in silence.
7. Because we believe there will be no change without protest. We all have the power to act and change things today. This is a call for gathering, mobilization and action, revolution and decolonization. It is time for liberation.
8. Because our connection to the land should be passed on to our offspring. This is essential in order to follow the old path of light. We do this for freedom, justice and a better future. These are human rights.
9. Let our voice be followed by the waves of echoes. Let courage encourage courage.
6/2 2015, Jåhkåmåhkke, Sábme / Jokkmokk, Sweden
Learn More about The Saami Manifesto 15 on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/samimanifeasta