Youth from northern communities separated by the Atlantic Ocean now understand each other better after coming together to share stories about one thing they have in common: their indigenous identities.
The Canadian students are from Nunavut Siviniksavut, an eight-month college program in Ottawa for Inuit students that teaches them about their history, culture, and politics. The program also trains students for careers with the Nunavut government.
Throughout the year, the class fundraises for an international trip by putting on cultural performances. This year, the class voted to come to Norway to learn about the local indigenous people.
Celebrating cultural similarities
Martha Kyak is an instructor with Nunavut Siviniksavut. She says the exchange helps her students feel a sense of belonging.
“Every culture, indigenous culture, seems like they all went through the same history, and that they’re not the only ones different,” Kyak says. “There’s people like (the Inuit students) out in the world that have similarities like them.”
Ashley Aupaluktua-Burton is a 20-year-old Canadian student who has discovered many similarities between the Inuit and Sami cultures.
“We’re both trying to focus on education and language,” Aupaluktua-Burton says. “It’s important because it’s who we are and we don’t want to be forgotten.”
Sagka Marie Fjellheim Danielsen, 25, is a Sami Youth Leader who says it is important to learn how traditional culture impacts present identity.
“Because it’s who we are,” Danielsen explains. “It’s difficult to be someone else.”
There are up to 60,000 Sami in Norway and as many as 100,000 within Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Russia. The Sami are the only indigenous group in the EU.
The Norwegian Sami parliament was formed in the late 1980s. In 2012, it received 368 million NOK (€48.7 million) from the Norwegian government. The organization has no law-making power. Instead, the elected representatives participate in discussions with the Norwegian government on issues related to the Sami.
The Inuit live in the United States, Canada, Greenland, and Russia. The Canadian students’ home, Nunavut, officially became a separate Canadian territory in 1999, after the people of the Northwest Territories voted in favour of separation in a 1982 referendum.
The Sami and Inuit share a history that goes back more than a hundred years. In the 1890s, Sami reindeer herders introduced reindeer to Alaska, through a project started by a Presbyterian minister. The idea was to train the local Inuit in reindeer herding, and thereby prevent starvation.
When the American government handed complete control of the reindeer industry over to the American Natives, the Sami had to sell their herds. There are about 30,000 people of Sami heritage in North America today.
The Canadian students are continuing their two-week trip in Kautokeino, Norway, and are returning to Ottawa later this week. The Norwegian Embassy in Canada helped to organize the trip.