“Mommy, I want to be a Sami,” was my six-year old daughter’s wish last week at the dinner table.
“Honey, I’m sorry, but you can’t be. I’m American and Pappa’s Norwegian.”
“Can you give me away then… to a Sami family?”
“Umm, no. But you can learn the language and we can look for some Sami clothes if you want.” That seemed to satisfy her.
The dinner conversation continued with my 5-year old son and 4-year old daughter joiking.
And all of their enthusiasm for the Sami culture is thanks to this energetic and talented man, Mikkel Gaup.
Mikkel Gaup is a Sami actor who broke into the industry in 1987 in the Oscar-nominated film, Veiviseren, The Pathfinder. He has an extensive acting background in theater, film and television. Currently, he can be seen on the tv mini-series, Hjerterått. (Maybe another reason my daughter wants to be Sami :)).
And before you read any further, I encourage you to watch this music video that was made for the tv series – it’s a mix of Sami joiking, as well as Norwegian and Sami rapping, and it shows some beautiful scenes from the landscape and wildlife in the Finnmark region. FYI: Out of the 80,000 views this past month, my kids have contributed to about 200 of them (not kidding)…
Mikkel arrived a week before the Sami National Day, and in collaboration with Perleporten Kulturhus, throughout eight days, a 30-minute play and joiking workshops were held for over 500 local preschool and elementary students. In addition, he held a joiking workshop for adults, which culminated in a mini-concert on Samefokets dag, right after the lasso throwing competition.
It was a week packed with activities, and as my children can attest, Mikkel’s theatrical performance made a strong impression on his audience. Mikkel has been running this type of program for over four years now, in schools and at summer camps.
When I asked Mikkel why he decided to start holding these workshops, he said he felt the curriculum in the Norwegian schools fell short when it came to teaching about the Sami culture. He wanted to find a way to share about the rich heritage of the Sami people.
In the play he performed, the story told about a young couple who were reindeer herders, and elaborated on the importance of reindeer in the Sami way of life. The importance of joiks was also emphasized. My youngest daughter’s favorite was the joik lullaby sung to lull the small baby to sleep.
Like most indigenous people groups, the Sami people have experienced oppression and racism. Education is key in stopping such destructive attitudes. Mikkel’s experience with racism has been more subtle. He remembers feeling looked down upon for wearing his kofta , the Sami national costume, when he was confirmed.
In addition to teaching children about the traditional way of life, Mikkel believes there are many positive results from participating in joiking workshops. It’s social and inclusive, participants have to dare to step out of their comfort zone, and it’s a healthy way to express oneself. He believes joiking can build children’s confidence.
So now I’m looking forward to the next time Mikkel’s in town. What will be our topic of conversation at the dinner table?