Skip to main content
Outdated Browser

For the best experience using our website, we recommend upgrading your browser to a newer version or switching to a supported browser.

More Information

Nonfiction

The Deportation of the Northern Sámi

By Elin Anna Labba
Translated from Swedish by Fiona Graham
Journalist Elin Anna Labba collects stories of the sirdolaččat, the Sámi people who were forcibly displaced from their summer homes on Norway’s Atlantic seaboard to a region where they had no family ties or claim to land.
Black and white photograph of Sámi people traveling with reindeer
Swedish National Heritage Board, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons

Since time immemorial the Sámi people have lived in northern Fenno-Scandinavia and the far north of western Russia, in Arctic lands known to them as Sápmi. Once, the only boundaries of any consequence were natural ones—until the national borders separating Norway/Denmark from Sweden/Finland were drawn in 1751. Yet an addendum to the border treaty, the Lapp Codicil, recognized the Sámi as a distinct people with the right to pursue activities including hunting, fishing, and reindeer herding in the lands where they had traditionally lived.

But all this changed with Norwegian independence in 1905. The migration of Sámi reindeer herders between their winter pastures in Sweden, and the Norwegian coast, where they summered, became a bone of contention between the two countries. The issue was “resolved” to the satisfaction of Norway and Sweden through the Reindeer Grazing Convention of 1919, which limited the numbers of reindeer permitted to cross the border.

Indirectly, the agreement also sealed the fate of numerous Sámi people who were obliged to leave their summer homes on Norway’s Atlantic seaboard and trek across country to a region of the Swedish county of Norrbotten where they had no family ties and no claim to land. This forced displacement was known in the Northern Sámi language as the Bággojohtin, and the first people to be deported called themselves the sirdolaččat, the displaced.

This went on throughout the 1920s and into the 1930s. Links with the traditional lands of the Northern Sámi were severed, as were ties with extended family. The forced displacement also undermined and partially destroyed the culture of a nomadic people speaking a Finno-Ugric language that was entirely different from the Northern Germanic languages around it.

A century on, journalist Elin Anna Labba collected stories, photographs, letters, and lyrics to produce a documentary collage of that violent displacement. Her poetic history Herrarna satte oss hit (literally “the masters put us here”) brings the stories of individual sirdolaččat vividly to life.

 

I Will Not Travel toward Midnight

End of February 1920
Márggu Ántte Jouná (known as
Jon Andersson Blind in Sweden)

 

Jouná thrusts the pole down through the mantle of snow. It is barely knee-deep. The ground is hard, frozen, but not icy. Up in the mountains where it’s been blustery, there are dark patches of snow-free ground. “Right good forage, that is,” he thinks. This is the first winter for several years that the ground beneath the snow hasn’t been sheathed in ice.

Spring is likely to come early. Everyone says so. March is at hand, márjábeaivmánnu, and it won’t be long now till the sun begins to spread its warmth. His sleep has been restless of late. Will the ground hold firm throughout the journey? Will the spring overtake them? They should have set off earlier.

They meant to start their journey a few weeks ago, in fact, but postponed the ráidus’ departure at the last moment. A baby boy was born to Jouná’s elder brother Nilsá and his wife, Gusttu Iŋgá, just before Christmas. The baby was christened at home, and then again by the parson, but his name provided no protection. In early February, lying in his cradle, he drew his last breath. Another little winter baby. There was a sketchy question mark in the box marked “cause of death” in the church register. The child was far from the first infant the parson had seen die, but he was the first for Nilsá and Gusttu Iŋgá.

Jouná has kept the reindeer herd gathered together on a mountainside near Nearvá, and they have seen the other herds pass by. Jouná’s uncle on his father’s side, Márggu Biera, has already left. Gár Ántte Biera, Josvvá Biette, Bilttot, Guhturomma. They say the islands are empty now, all of Sážžá and Ráneš too. The people of Suolohasat have been sent away, and there will be more. It’s hard to know the truth of it. There’s been so much speculation over the last year. Voices whispering, to keep it from the children.

Their eldest brother is also among the first to start moving, but he regrets his decision at the last moment. Now he’s holding fire. And he is not alone, Jouná notes. “There’s many supposed to be leaving who can’t.”

Taking out his big knife, Jouná scrapes snow off the lower part of the sleds. The thick fabric of the goahti is folded up and the tent poles lashed to a sled at the tail end of the ráidu. A sooty, rather battered little coffee kettle is the last item they pack. Gusttu Iŋgá warms a smooth, round hearthstone found under a fallen pine. Pulling off her gloves, she checks the stone isn’t too hot before sliding it into the children’s roavgu, a woolly sheepskin sewn up like a sack at the foot end. She lifts the children in so that their feet rest on the warm stones, swaddles them, tucks them in, and cushions their heads with woollen shawls. Through the opening for their faces, you can see the mist of their breath. Tying her shawl about her shoulders, she fastens the draft reindeer’s leather reins over its back and inserts her shoes into the bindings.

They move along, for longer stretches on some days and shorter on others, stopping where forage is available. The reindeer herds go first, with the ráidu following in their tracks. They have to go somewhere, after all. Just how far seems to be less important to the Superintendent of Lapp Affairs than the fact that they are leaving. What matters is their leaving.

The Superintendent, Mr. Holm, has informed them that everything is better further south. “There is unoccupied land.” He has promised them fine pastures for their reindeer. “There’s room enough for herds numbering several thousand. You will receive all the help you need. If you move now, you can choose your own land. But if you hold back, you will lose that opportunity.”

What is left for them if they stay? Stay on, and they’ll be forced to leave at some point anyway. The first time the powers that be wanted them out of the way, Jouná wasn’t even born. He doesn’t know anyone who has prospered in recent years. His own family has lost a third of its livestock in just a few years. Since the borders were closed, life has become increasingly unbearable. Their grazing lands have been restricted for too long, with too many reindeer on enclosed pastures. You can scarcely even reach the ground with an ax now. A few dozen kilometers to the south, a pack of twelve wolves have been hunting together. They have been breaking up the herds, isolating and separating the reindeer. One bellwether after another has fallen silent. “It’s impossible to live here. There’s not enough land for the herds in Rosttu. The reindeer will die off.” Jouná and Nilsá have discussed matters during the winter and decided against trying to stay on.

The reindeer are grazing outside Vazáš, and the next day they continue their journey southward along the winter route toward Vealkevárri. The boat-shaped sleds grind over the snow. The trail hasn’t been plowed, but the snow has been flattened by horse-drawn carts and reindeer hooves. Nilsá is just where he needs to be; when one man stops, the other takes over. They scarcely need to speak to each other. They know that if they lose the reindeer now, they may never find them again.

Both Jouná and his brother have the features of the Márggut clan, sharply delineated. Fair as mountain birches, with luxuriant mustaches. Jouná is a head taller and less vain than his brother. He too can strike up a luohti when he’s in the forest, but he hasn’t inherited Nilsá’s love of joiking or his higher voice. They were born into this life and bred to it, side by side. First they learned to slaughter calves, then full-grown animals. They would take turns carrying out the bones after meals and vie with each other over who was handiest with a lasso. They began to migrate with the reindeer herd as soon as they had the stamina for it. Their father kept a large herd, and their mother, Ánne, took care of their home when she was up and about. They learned to keep quiet about her illness. Ever since their birth, the light of spring has made Ánne ill. While others long for the sun, she trembles. She is having a hard time now, with the sun shining at full strength.

“It’s as if the spring sunshine melts my heart,” she’ll say. “Any clear ideas run out of my head and down into my backbone, into the very marrow.” Ánne has remained alone since their father’s death. There was no question of her staying behind, for who would look after her?

East of Giron (Kiruna) they catch up with Márggu Biera, their father’s brother, and his family. They have put up their goahtis next to a wide, snowy bog. The dogs yelp and someone swears at them to keep quiet. There are many people in their uncle’s siida, and they are bound for the same place. They let their herds merge. As the siidaisit, their uncle has employed a guide. “I’m paying him out of my own pocket,” he says. He isn’t prepared to wait for the guides promised them by the Lapp Administration. Offers of help are no use if they never materialize.

They decide to buy provisions in Giron. There are traders in the mining town, and no one knows whether there is food where they are going. They harness reindeer to empty sleds and purchase provisions for a whole year: flour, coffee, sugar, tar. The ráidus are so heavily laden that they have enough to last until autumn at least.

The guide leads them on to Gáláseatnu. “Keep going over the mountains straight down to Gáidum,” he says, pointing southward, then Jouná watches him turn back.

The mountains in front of them are rounded, like the bottom of a wooden cup, but to the west, frozen peaks point skyward. The traces of avalanches are visible from afar. They discuss where to stop. “This is like crawling headfirst into a sack,” says Jouná. “We don’t know a thing about the land where we’re bound; we’ve never been there to see what it’s like.”

The reindeer herd spreads out as they move onward. They travel during the early hours and sleep during the day. Every time they stop for a rest, Márggu Biera skis on to see what lies ahead. On his return, he tells them about the mountains that await them. The only sounds along the way are the barking of dogs, the clopping of hooves, and the creaking of skis. The dogs that need a rest lie whining on the sleds. The children ask where they are going. They, too, have begun to grasp that they are not heading home. From time to time someone sings a luohti, but even the group of girls who are fondest of joiking are unusually quiet. Márggu Biera’s daughters, Elle and Márge and Gár Ántte Biret, are always laughing and singing joiks, especially when they’re near the reindeer. They joik to the mountains when they are about to move on. They joik to the people they meet—but here nobody knows their names. No one knows the notes for these lands. But each time they finish another leg of the journey and let the herd free to graze, the girls sing a joik of relief. They have gotten through another day.

The sun softens the snow, and the night freezes it to a crust of ice. The reindeer lie down to rest with their heads facing northwest. When one gets to its feet and sets off toward the north, the whole herd gets up. At night, they follow old reindeer that break loose. Jouná keeps watch on the north side. There’s barely any need to watch the south side; no reindeer are inclined to go south. “We never let them out of our sight. But we do lose some—bulls and older geldings, they wander off . . .” The females, too, turn toward the northwest; the place where they usually calve lies 500 kilometers further north. They can feel in their bones that they are not where they should be.

After two months’ travel they arrive at Mávas. The massif to the west reminds them vaguely of the north. It is the first of May and the sun hardly ever rests now; he disappears for barely an hour or so at night. Jouná narrows his eyes in the sharp, increasingly warm light. They burn in the snow mantle’s glare. Though he has pulled the peak of his cap down, it provides scant protection. They put up the goahtis. Whose land is this? Is there enough forage for them to stop here? Maybe they can see the sea from those distant peaks, whose names he doesn’t know.

Day by day they observe the mountains and the valleys, the land that is rapidly reappearing as the snow thaws. The patches of naked ground are sodden with meltwater, and the brooks are in spate again. When it is Jouná’s turn to rest, he dries the sedge that lines his shoes by the fire inside the goahti.

Their mother fetches brushwood to keep the fire going. When she sits down, her beaska rides up in folds over her legs. Her face is deeply lined, tanned and careworn. It must feel empty on her side of the goahti, yet she seldom speaks of Jouná’s father. He was the very first to register for relocation. If he had been here now, Márggu Ánte, what would he have had to say? Jouná was twenty the first time his parents decided to move on to new pastures. Láhku could not provide for all the people living there. Leaving the district and their relatives there, they moved to Dápmotvuovdi. The borders were closed, and overcrowded lands have no future to offer. People exist only as long as their reindeer survive, that was his father’s view. The land must be able to sustain them. Jouná knows he no longer had any faith in a life in Rosttu.

“If you want a life with reindeer, you have to try to find better conditions, try to do better. That’s how I see it.”

If these lands will not take them in, he will travel on further. He fears nothing now. His whole body is restless; it’s as if he is constantly on the move.

“A man who’s left his lands no longer has a home. He no longer has his feet on the ground. That’s how it feels to me. That man no longer belongs to the land.”

Márggu Jouná will not look back. “I’ll not travel toward midnight—I would rather walk on toward the day.”

 ***

Were you forced to move?
Yes, indeed we were. There were so many people in Gárasavvon.
Was that a sad time?
It was sad to begin with, yes, but once we arrived things went well. Of course, it’s always sad to leave a country.
And to leave your friends behind?
We left our friends behind and came here, where we saw Swedish people everywhere, though there were one or two Sámi here too. There were Sámi in Virihávrre; in fact, they were relatives of ours. We came straight to Mávas, and there were two other families in the place where we ended up.
Could you understand each other?
They spoke another kind of Sámi, and Swedish, so we couldn’t understand a thing to begin with, but we did manage to learn.
Was it unfamiliar country?
Unfamiliar country and unfamiliar people, but they were decent folk. They were good people all right.

Márggu Biera Elle (Elsa Omma), daughter of Márggu Biera, deported in 1920

***

“In the course of the year, a very large number of the district’s reindeer-herding Lapps have been transferred from their place of residence to other areas. The largest relocation was from Karesuando, but a number of Lapps have also moved from Saarivuoma and Talma. The Lapps have willingly carried out these relocations (necessitated by the provision in the 1919 convention to the effect that a far smaller number of reindeer may enter the county of Troms during the spring and summer), despite the many difficulties, the costs incurred, and the losses associated with such a displacement.”

Johan Olof Holm, Superintendent for Lapp Affairs, in the annual report for 1920 of the Swedish Lapp Administration

 ***

It was a real caravan. Reindeer after reindeer . . . we arrived here in 1923. I was ten years old . . . In 1922 the County Governor came to Karesuando and told us when we were to leave. They had letters of application, they’d taken names. We weren’t allowed to go to Kvaløya island . . . the Norwegians had vetoed that. The reindeer were spoiling their crops . . . the vegetation. That was off limits. So the only option was to send us further inland into Sweden.

And there was weeping and wailing . . . and religion. It was all the same to us, we were just children, but I was with Grandmother when she attended the prayer meetings in the fjords, and there’d be weeping and preaching about sin and blessings. It was terrible when you think about it! All the way, on the journey down here to the area around Kiruna and other places, they did nothing but weep and bid farewell to bushes and trees and stones . . . and the path they’d traveled along . . .

Hurre Liisa Sára (Sara Harnesk, deported to the Sámi community of Sirges in 1923)


From
Herrarna satte oss hit: Om tvångsförflyttningarna i Sverige. © 2020 by Elin Anna Labba. Published 2020 by Norstedts. Translation © 2022 by Fiona Graham. Forthcoming from University of Minnesota Press. By arrangement with University of Minnesota Press. All rights reserved.

English

Since time immemorial the Sámi people have lived in northern Fenno-Scandinavia and the far north of western Russia, in Arctic lands known to them as Sápmi. Once, the only boundaries of any consequence were natural ones—until the national borders separating Norway/Denmark from Sweden/Finland were drawn in 1751. Yet an addendum to the border treaty, the Lapp Codicil, recognized the Sámi as a distinct people with the right to pursue activities including hunting, fishing, and reindeer herding in the lands where they had traditionally lived.

But all this changed with Norwegian independence in 1905. The migration of Sámi reindeer herders between their winter pastures in Sweden, and the Norwegian coast, where they summered, became a bone of contention between the two countries. The issue was “resolved” to the satisfaction of Norway and Sweden through the Reindeer Grazing Convention of 1919, which limited the numbers of reindeer permitted to cross the border.

Indirectly, the agreement also sealed the fate of numerous Sámi people who were obliged to leave their summer homes on Norway’s Atlantic seaboard and trek across country to a region of the Swedish county of Norrbotten where they had no family ties and no claim to land. This forced displacement was known in the Northern Sámi language as the Bággojohtin, and the first people to be deported called themselves the sirdolaččat, the displaced.

This went on throughout the 1920s and into the 1930s. Links with the traditional lands of the Northern Sámi were severed, as were ties with extended family. The forced displacement also undermined and partially destroyed the culture of a nomadic people speaking a Finno-Ugric language that was entirely different from the Northern Germanic languages around it.

A century on, journalist Elin Anna Labba collected stories, photographs, letters, and lyrics to produce a documentary collage of that violent displacement. Her poetic history Herrarna satte oss hit (literally “the masters put us here”) brings the stories of individual sirdolaččat vividly to life.

 

I Will Not Travel toward Midnight

End of February 1920
Márggu Ántte Jouná (known as
Jon Andersson Blind in Sweden)

 

Jouná thrusts the pole down through the mantle of snow. It is barely knee-deep. The ground is hard, frozen, but not icy. Up in the mountains where it’s been blustery, there are dark patches of snow-free ground. “Right good forage, that is,” he thinks. This is the first winter for several years that the ground beneath the snow hasn’t been sheathed in ice.

Spring is likely to come early. Everyone says so. March is at hand, márjábeaivmánnu, and it won’t be long now till the sun begins to spread its warmth. His sleep has been restless of late. Will the ground hold firm throughout the journey? Will the spring overtake them? They should have set off earlier.

They meant to start their journey a few weeks ago, in fact, but postponed the ráidus’ departure at the last moment. A baby boy was born to Jouná’s elder brother Nilsá and his wife, Gusttu Iŋgá, just before Christmas. The baby was christened at home, and then again by the parson, but his name provided no protection. In early February, lying in his cradle, he drew his last breath. Another little winter baby. There was a sketchy question mark in the box marked “cause of death” in the church register. The child was far from the first infant the parson had seen die, but he was the first for Nilsá and Gusttu Iŋgá.

Jouná has kept the reindeer herd gathered together on a mountainside near Nearvá, and they have seen the other herds pass by. Jouná’s uncle on his father’s side, Márggu Biera, has already left. Gár Ántte Biera, Josvvá Biette, Bilttot, Guhturomma. They say the islands are empty now, all of Sážžá and Ráneš too. The people of Suolohasat have been sent away, and there will be more. It’s hard to know the truth of it. There’s been so much speculation over the last year. Voices whispering, to keep it from the children.

Their eldest brother is also among the first to start moving, but he regrets his decision at the last moment. Now he’s holding fire. And he is not alone, Jouná notes. “There’s many supposed to be leaving who can’t.”

Taking out his big knife, Jouná scrapes snow off the lower part of the sleds. The thick fabric of the goahti is folded up and the tent poles lashed to a sled at the tail end of the ráidu. A sooty, rather battered little coffee kettle is the last item they pack. Gusttu Iŋgá warms a smooth, round hearthstone found under a fallen pine. Pulling off her gloves, she checks the stone isn’t too hot before sliding it into the children’s roavgu, a woolly sheepskin sewn up like a sack at the foot end. She lifts the children in so that their feet rest on the warm stones, swaddles them, tucks them in, and cushions their heads with woollen shawls. Through the opening for their faces, you can see the mist of their breath. Tying her shawl about her shoulders, she fastens the draft reindeer’s leather reins over its back and inserts her shoes into the bindings.

They move along, for longer stretches on some days and shorter on others, stopping where forage is available. The reindeer herds go first, with the ráidu following in their tracks. They have to go somewhere, after all. Just how far seems to be less important to the Superintendent of Lapp Affairs than the fact that they are leaving. What matters is their leaving.

The Superintendent, Mr. Holm, has informed them that everything is better further south. “There is unoccupied land.” He has promised them fine pastures for their reindeer. “There’s room enough for herds numbering several thousand. You will receive all the help you need. If you move now, you can choose your own land. But if you hold back, you will lose that opportunity.”

What is left for them if they stay? Stay on, and they’ll be forced to leave at some point anyway. The first time the powers that be wanted them out of the way, Jouná wasn’t even born. He doesn’t know anyone who has prospered in recent years. His own family has lost a third of its livestock in just a few years. Since the borders were closed, life has become increasingly unbearable. Their grazing lands have been restricted for too long, with too many reindeer on enclosed pastures. You can scarcely even reach the ground with an ax now. A few dozen kilometers to the south, a pack of twelve wolves have been hunting together. They have been breaking up the herds, isolating and separating the reindeer. One bellwether after another has fallen silent. “It’s impossible to live here. There’s not enough land for the herds in Rosttu. The reindeer will die off.” Jouná and Nilsá have discussed matters during the winter and decided against trying to stay on.

The reindeer are grazing outside Vazáš, and the next day they continue their journey southward along the winter route toward Vealkevárri. The boat-shaped sleds grind over the snow. The trail hasn’t been plowed, but the snow has been flattened by horse-drawn carts and reindeer hooves. Nilsá is just where he needs to be; when one man stops, the other takes over. They scarcely need to speak to each other. They know that if they lose the reindeer now, they may never find them again.

Both Jouná and his brother have the features of the Márggut clan, sharply delineated. Fair as mountain birches, with luxuriant mustaches. Jouná is a head taller and less vain than his brother. He too can strike up a luohti when he’s in the forest, but he hasn’t inherited Nilsá’s love of joiking or his higher voice. They were born into this life and bred to it, side by side. First they learned to slaughter calves, then full-grown animals. They would take turns carrying out the bones after meals and vie with each other over who was handiest with a lasso. They began to migrate with the reindeer herd as soon as they had the stamina for it. Their father kept a large herd, and their mother, Ánne, took care of their home when she was up and about. They learned to keep quiet about her illness. Ever since their birth, the light of spring has made Ánne ill. While others long for the sun, she trembles. She is having a hard time now, with the sun shining at full strength.

“It’s as if the spring sunshine melts my heart,” she’ll say. “Any clear ideas run out of my head and down into my backbone, into the very marrow.” Ánne has remained alone since their father’s death. There was no question of her staying behind, for who would look after her?

East of Giron (Kiruna) they catch up with Márggu Biera, their father’s brother, and his family. They have put up their goahtis next to a wide, snowy bog. The dogs yelp and someone swears at them to keep quiet. There are many people in their uncle’s siida, and they are bound for the same place. They let their herds merge. As the siidaisit, their uncle has employed a guide. “I’m paying him out of my own pocket,” he says. He isn’t prepared to wait for the guides promised them by the Lapp Administration. Offers of help are no use if they never materialize.

They decide to buy provisions in Giron. There are traders in the mining town, and no one knows whether there is food where they are going. They harness reindeer to empty sleds and purchase provisions for a whole year: flour, coffee, sugar, tar. The ráidus are so heavily laden that they have enough to last until autumn at least.

The guide leads them on to Gáláseatnu. “Keep going over the mountains straight down to Gáidum,” he says, pointing southward, then Jouná watches him turn back.

The mountains in front of them are rounded, like the bottom of a wooden cup, but to the west, frozen peaks point skyward. The traces of avalanches are visible from afar. They discuss where to stop. “This is like crawling headfirst into a sack,” says Jouná. “We don’t know a thing about the land where we’re bound; we’ve never been there to see what it’s like.”

The reindeer herd spreads out as they move onward. They travel during the early hours and sleep during the day. Every time they stop for a rest, Márggu Biera skis on to see what lies ahead. On his return, he tells them about the mountains that await them. The only sounds along the way are the barking of dogs, the clopping of hooves, and the creaking of skis. The dogs that need a rest lie whining on the sleds. The children ask where they are going. They, too, have begun to grasp that they are not heading home. From time to time someone sings a luohti, but even the group of girls who are fondest of joiking are unusually quiet. Márggu Biera’s daughters, Elle and Márge and Gár Ántte Biret, are always laughing and singing joiks, especially when they’re near the reindeer. They joik to the mountains when they are about to move on. They joik to the people they meet—but here nobody knows their names. No one knows the notes for these lands. But each time they finish another leg of the journey and let the herd free to graze, the girls sing a joik of relief. They have gotten through another day.

The sun softens the snow, and the night freezes it to a crust of ice. The reindeer lie down to rest with their heads facing northwest. When one gets to its feet and sets off toward the north, the whole herd gets up. At night, they follow old reindeer that break loose. Jouná keeps watch on the north side. There’s barely any need to watch the south side; no reindeer are inclined to go south. “We never let them out of our sight. But we do lose some—bulls and older geldings, they wander off . . .” The females, too, turn toward the northwest; the place where they usually calve lies 500 kilometers further north. They can feel in their bones that they are not where they should be.

After two months’ travel they arrive at Mávas. The massif to the west reminds them vaguely of the north. It is the first of May and the sun hardly ever rests now; he disappears for barely an hour or so at night. Jouná narrows his eyes in the sharp, increasingly warm light. They burn in the snow mantle’s glare. Though he has pulled the peak of his cap down, it provides scant protection. They put up the goahtis. Whose land is this? Is there enough forage for them to stop here? Maybe they can see the sea from those distant peaks, whose names he doesn’t know.

Day by day they observe the mountains and the valleys, the land that is rapidly reappearing as the snow thaws. The patches of naked ground are sodden with meltwater, and the brooks are in spate again. When it is Jouná’s turn to rest, he dries the sedge that lines his shoes by the fire inside the goahti.

Their mother fetches brushwood to keep the fire going. When she sits down, her beaska rides up in folds over her legs. Her face is deeply lined, tanned and careworn. It must feel empty on her side of the goahti, yet she seldom speaks of Jouná’s father. He was the very first to register for relocation. If he had been here now, Márggu Ánte, what would he have had to say? Jouná was twenty the first time his parents decided to move on to new pastures. Láhku could not provide for all the people living there. Leaving the district and their relatives there, they moved to Dápmotvuovdi. The borders were closed, and overcrowded lands have no future to offer. People exist only as long as their reindeer survive, that was his father’s view. The land must be able to sustain them. Jouná knows he no longer had any faith in a life in Rosttu.

“If you want a life with reindeer, you have to try to find better conditions, try to do better. That’s how I see it.”

If these lands will not take them in, he will travel on further. He fears nothing now. His whole body is restless; it’s as if he is constantly on the move.

“A man who’s left his lands no longer has a home. He no longer has his feet on the ground. That’s how it feels to me. That man no longer belongs to the land.”

Márggu Jouná will not look back. “I’ll not travel toward midnight—I would rather walk on toward the day.”

 ***

Were you forced to move?
Yes, indeed we were. There were so many people in Gárasavvon.
Was that a sad time?
It was sad to begin with, yes, but once we arrived things went well. Of course, it’s always sad to leave a country.
And to leave your friends behind?
We left our friends behind and came here, where we saw Swedish people everywhere, though there were one or two Sámi here too. There were Sámi in Virihávrre; in fact, they were relatives of ours. We came straight to Mávas, and there were two other families in the place where we ended up.
Could you understand each other?
They spoke another kind of Sámi, and Swedish, so we couldn’t understand a thing to begin with, but we did manage to learn.
Was it unfamiliar country?
Unfamiliar country and unfamiliar people, but they were decent folk. They were good people all right.

Márggu Biera Elle (Elsa Omma), daughter of Márggu Biera, deported in 1920

***

“In the course of the year, a very large number of the district’s reindeer-herding Lapps have been transferred from their place of residence to other areas. The largest relocation was from Karesuando, but a number of Lapps have also moved from Saarivuoma and Talma. The Lapps have willingly carried out these relocations (necessitated by the provision in the 1919 convention to the effect that a far smaller number of reindeer may enter the county of Troms during the spring and summer), despite the many difficulties, the costs incurred, and the losses associated with such a displacement.”

Johan Olof Holm, Superintendent for Lapp Affairs, in the annual report for 1920 of the Swedish Lapp Administration

 ***

It was a real caravan. Reindeer after reindeer . . . we arrived here in 1923. I was ten years old . . . In 1922 the County Governor came to Karesuando and told us when we were to leave. They had letters of application, they’d taken names. We weren’t allowed to go to Kvaløya island . . . the Norwegians had vetoed that. The reindeer were spoiling their crops . . . the vegetation. That was off limits. So the only option was to send us further inland into Sweden.

And there was weeping and wailing . . . and religion. It was all the same to us, we were just children, but I was with Grandmother when she attended the prayer meetings in the fjords, and there’d be weeping and preaching about sin and blessings. It was terrible when you think about it! All the way, on the journey down here to the area around Kiruna and other places, they did nothing but weep and bid farewell to bushes and trees and stones . . . and the path they’d traveled along . . .

Hurre Liisa Sára (Sara Harnesk, deported to the Sámi community of Sirges in 1923)


From
Herrarna satte oss hit: Om tvångsförflyttningarna i Sverige. © 2020 by Elin Anna Labba. Published 2020 by Norstedts. Translation © 2022 by Fiona Graham. Forthcoming from University of Minnesota Press. By arrangement with University of Minnesota Press. All rights reserved.

Read Next

january-2015-kacper-kowalski-nanning
[class^="wpforms-"]
[class^="wpforms-"]