SDÁ 1-2008: Rauna Kuokkanen

Sámenissonat, «árbevierru» ja veahkaválddi hámit

Rauna Kuokkanen (University of Toronto)

Viečča artihkkala dás (pdf).

The autonomy of Sami women, tradition and forms of violence

In indigenous communities worldwide, patriarchal ways of thinking and laws have changed traditional gender roles in many ways. Patriarchal thinking has often first made inroads to indigenous communities by means of Christianity. This article considers some of these changes in relation to Sami women in the context of individual and collective autonomy. More specifically, the article critically examines the notion of tradition, especially the ways in which it is employed to the roles and expectations of indigenous women to sometimes consciously limit women’s societal and political participation. As an example, the article discusses Sami women’s political participation in some contemporary Sami bodies such as the Norwegian Sami Parliament and argues that “tradition” can become an effective form of symbolic violence while patriarchal political discourses and practices can represent a form of structural violence.

Another context where the notion of tradition is employed to often dismiss indigenous women’s concerns is violence against women and sexual violence, largely a taboo in contemporary Sami society. Particularly due to Christianity, the sexuality of women has been a major taboo in Sami society. Because of the shame surrounding sexual violence and the tendency to blame women, incidences of rape and sexual harassment have largely remained unreported. The article considers the recent incidents of sexual abuse of Sami girls and some of the public responses and reactions to them, some of which seek to explain them through Sami traditions and traditional upbringing. The article contextualizes violence in indigenous communities as a part of larger legacy of colonialism that, to a large extent, remains unexamined in Sami society. The article concludes with a brief discussion on equality, power and empowerment and points out possible directions for future research in this area.