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My Sámi adventure

Maxine Jacobs (Ngāi Tahu) travelled to Helsinki, Finland, and Kautokeino, Norway,  as a student member of the University of Canterbury delegation to the Inclusive Journalism Initiative seminar in November 2015. Her participation was funded by the Ngāi Tahu Research Centre at the university.


Stepping off the plane into a country I knew little about excited me. Everything was new, the sights, the language, and the people. I was a young girl stepping into the unknown for the first time alone. I’m ready, I thought to myself. About 30 hours into my first international adventure and my first challenge was finding my way through Finland’s capital city, Helsinki. Cool air enveloped my body as I stepped out into the fresh air of Finland. Surprised by the sudden cool air I climbed into the borrowed oversized coat, drowning in its warmth. As I made my way to the city, the buildings leading up to the station reminded me of pristine artwork, curved to perfection, standing tall to be admired. Looking around I felt oddly at home, the familiar sense of a natural environment grounded my thoughts. But then I remembered where I was. Would they understand me? The familiar setting I had found comfort in now began seeping panic into my skin. Fortunately most Finns understand English so with the help of locals I found my fellow travellers.

maxine2It didn’t really hit me how far away I was from home until we reached Kautokeino, a town of 3000 people in northern Norway. Breathing in the frozen air reminded me that the summer of New Zealand was far from this arctic winter, which I embraced whole-heartedly, The food, people, environment, even the place names provided me with new opportunities to experience and learn things I never could have imagined. The Sámi Allaskuvla (University College) loomed above me, inviting us in to share our expertise regarding journalism in relation to indigenous people. As the lecturers from Denmark, Finland, England, and New Zealand spoke to the group I began to ask myself why I was involved in their meeting. As one of the few students there I was unsure what my purpose was, but as I listened to the each person I was filled with inspiration and excitement to learn more not only of journalism, but the Sámi people whose land this is.

maxine3Our group set out to learn more about the Sámi culture, leading us to the Sámi Parliament and museum in Karaschok. The Sámi parliament stands as a symbol of Norway’s acknowledgment of the indigenous people’s authority over the land of Sápmi within Norway, allowing limited power within the state. I found similarities between the Māori and the Sámi’s fight for recognition in their indigenous countries, as the parliamentary librarian Kåre Balto shared his people’s story. He spoke of issues relating to rights and ownership of land, as the Sámaxine4mi are traditionally nomadic people. At the museum, we saw how drastically the Sámi people had been effected by the implementation of Christianity, Traditionally bright clothing had been shed in favour of a dark, more conservative dress. This was the first visual mark of how deeply the vivid Sámi culture had been dimmed by the efforts of foreign forces, reminding me of the Māori conversion to Christianity by the missionaries. The woman on the right depicts traditional dress of Sámi women.

After what seemed like no time at all we were back in Helsinki, saying goodbye to the new friends we had made. It was a whirlwind adventure and came too quickly to an end. However the memories of this magical experience have bound us together. My arctic adventure has left me hungry for more, and I’m sure I will get another bite soon.

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