Samekvinna med skog i bakgrunden.

Testimony about language and loss of identity

Julia Rensberg testifies of loss of language and identity.

My name is Julia Rensberg, I’m 26 years old. I grew up in Mora and am a member of Ruvhten Sijte sameby (Sami association), but now live in Jokkmokk.

I regularly read posts on social media where people talk about the difficulties they have in searching for a Sami identity. Who is a Sami? Who is allowed to wear a Sami gákti? Can you be a Sami and not live in Sápmi? Do you have to know a Sami language? These are major, complex issues that need to be looked at from several perspectives and in different contexts.

Grief and emptiness became traumatic 

The complexity of the issue stems from the historical abuses suffered by the Sami. These continue to affect many people.

People are searching for a Sami identity that has been lost for one or two generations. The grief and emptiness that arose as families moved to towns and cities and lived according to the norms of the majority society has become a trauma that carries over into the present. Many have never dared to tell their children about their Sami upbringing.

We need to learn more about history in order to heal. We need to highlight stories on subjects such as boarding schools, the failings of the Church and some priests, the role of schools in the loss of language, the theft of land and much more.

Sami is the language of my heart

Swedish is now my first language, but Sami is, and will remain, the language of my heart and I find the language in the lands. I myself have struggled to reclaim my Southern Sami mother tongue. Speaking Sami never feels as natural as when you are out in the forests and on the land, and especially when engaged in the practical work inherent in our Sami livelihoods.

The language is resting in our lands, waiting to tell its tale and support its revitalisation.

In De historiska relationerna mellan Svenska kyrkan och samerna (The Historical Relations between the Church of Sweden and the Sami), a book published in 2016, we can read that, from the 14th century onwards, it was not uncommon for the birkarls, a settler group that controlled taxation and commerce, to ruthlessly exploit the privileges they were given by the Church, and this led to direct abuse.

In 1340, a charter of freedom was issued, giving Christians who spread the faith and those who had been Christianised the right to take possession of land for themselves and their heirs in Lapland, i.e. Sápmi.

Direct colonisation and forced Christianisation continued until the 20th century.

Without the lands we lose our culture

Today, the Church of Sweden is one of Sweden’s largest forest owners, and about 40% of this is on our traditional lands. In the Church constitution, this is referred to as returnal revenue on donations made to the Church, which are to be managed so as to provide the best possible return. In 2015, the General Synod agreed that new management models should be developed for forestry.

So 6 years have passed, and as far as I know the work has not progressed ... As long as the Church considers itself entitled to control Sami territory, it will allow colonisation to continue.

Without the lands we lose our culture, identity, language and traditional livelihoods. I hope that, with this apology and through identifiable action, we will enter into a reconciliation process together as allies. 

Samiska vittnesmål – på flera språk

Vittnesmålen berättar om vad det samiska folket har utsatts för. Läs dem på svenska, nordsamiska och engelska.