Author Archives: vbr019

Sami Week 2015

Sami Week 2015

Written by Vanessa Brune. Pictures by Björn Hatteng.


As part of Sami Week in Tromso and Sami National Day on the 6th February, UIT The Arctic University of Norway hosted the Barents Indigenous People’s Congress and the Barents Indigenous 2050 Conference Impacts of our footprints over February 4th and 5th. A delegation of Sami politicians from both Scandinavia and Russia attended the events, as well as representatives of the Nenets and Veps of Russia.

The congress marked the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Working Group on Indigenous Peoples (WGIP), which is part of the Norwegian Barents Secretariat, and which therefore also was the main organizer of the event. WGIP consists of six members of the Sami Parliamentary Council and other indigenous peoples’ organizations who are advisors to the Barents Euro-Arctic Council as well as the Barents Regional Council (more info here). Continue reading

Patrik Lantto discusses his work with Focal Point North

Patrik Lantto discusses his work with Focal Point North

By Vanessa Brune and Chelsea Mackay – Students in the Masters of Indigenous Studies program


Adjunct professor Patrik Lantto recently had time to sit down for an interview in Tromsø before making his way back to Umeå University, where he is a professor in History. You can watch an edited version of the interview here.

Bringing History to Focal Point North

Lantto has been working with Focal Point North for almost a year now. As an adjunct professor, he holds a 20% position, and splits his time between Tromsø and Umeå. He brings a historical perspective to the project, as well as a Swedish one. During his childhood, Lantto moved all over Sweden, from a small village near Piteå, to Stockholm and Malmö. He would start his university career in the field of Political Science at Umeå University. Eventually Lantto would move on to study history, but it would not be until beginning his PhD that he would start to specialize in Sweden’s Sami history. Continue reading

Interview with Wenche Spjelkavik

Interview with Wenche Spjelkavik – Focal Point North Contributor

By Vanessa Brune and Chelsea Mackay – Students in the Masters of Indigenous Studies program

Wenche Spjelkavik

Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your background.

My name is Wenche Spjelkavik, and since 2009 I have been employed as the head of the Sulitjelma mining museum, and the Sulitjelma visitor’s mine. I am educated as a journalist and have majored in economic history, but I have also been a miner for several years.

Tell us about your work. 

I was born and raised in Sulitjelma, and it was after the mining stopped, that I started to study. I worked for several years for a newspaper, before I became a freelancer and had a part-time job at a public library. After that I have been working at Nordlandsmuseet in Sulitjelma.

Having responsibility for a visitor’s mine is a big challenge, and as a historian, I am proud to have been able to renovate the mine, and to create a good mineral exhibit at the mining museum.

How did you become interested in Sami history?

My interest in Sami history has always been there. I grew up with a father who was a good storyteller, and he told us a lot about the lives of famous Sami people in our area. I can remember the first time I realized that there were children living in the mountains around Sulitjelma. I was about five years old, and was sick with the mumps. My aunt, who ran a small hotel for the mining company, came to visit me. She told me then that the same day, a little Sami girl had arrived from Staloluokta, a small place behind the Sulitjelma Mountains. The little girl came to the hotel, riding on the back of a reindeer; she had something in her eye, and the eye had become inflamed. The nearest doctor was at the mining company’s hospital. I dreamt of becoming friends with the girl, and to join her at her home behind the mountains. But before I recovered from the mumps, the girl had left Sulitjelma. Five years later, a small airplane disappeared in the Sulitjelma Mountains. The whole community listened to the radio for news, and after a few days we heard that the airplane was found. It had crashed into a mountainside and the pilot and a family had died. Many years after this I learned that the girl I dreamt about, had died in this accident. Continue reading

Focal Point North Awards Scholarships to Master’s Students in Indigenous Studies

Focal Point North Awards Scholarships to Master’s Students in Indigenous Studies

By Vanessa Brune and Chelsea Mackay – Students in the Masters of Indigenous Studies program


Pictured from left to right: Lukas Kosner, Simon Pavall and Siv-Eli Vuolab

In fall 2014, Master’s students Lukas Kosner, Simon Pavall and Siv-Eli Vuolab were awarded Focal Point North scholarships. The students, who started the Masters of Indigenous Studies program at the University of Tromsø in August of 2014, come from different backgrounds, but share a love for the North.

Lukas Kosner, who originates from the Czech Republic, has a background in Norwegian and Finnish philology – the study of languages, literature, and culture. He plans to use this background to study language revitalization among the Sami in Finland, perhaps focusing on the Skolt Sami. In his Bachelor’s thesis, Kosner had already started to incorporate Sami perspectives, and he joined the Indigenous Studies program in order to deepen his understanding of Indigenous and minority issues, particularly in the North. He enjoys living in Tromsø, specifically for its size, natural beauty, and local culture, and he plans to stay here after graduation. Continue reading

Murder at Dieckagåhpe

The Murder at Dieckagåhpe

By Wenche Spjelkavik

Dieckagåhpe                                                                                                           Photo: Cato Hultmann

In the southernmost outpost of the Sulitjelma mountains, high above Saltdal’s smallholdings and patches of farmland, there was a murder in 1829. The incident has not become part of local folklore, and the name of the place where the murder happened, Dieckagåhpe, has been forgotten. Even the grave of the woman who was killed is hidden in a forgotten cemetery at Saltnes in Saltdal.

Through reading Petrus Læstadius’ book Fortsättning af Journalen öfver missions-resor i Lappmarken innefattande åren 1828–1832 (“Continuation of the Journal of Missionary Journeys in Lappmark during the Years 1828–1832”), I became aware of the mention of a murder committed in Norway, where the murderer was arrested by the Norwegian authorities. Since the books are about the people who lived in Pite Lappmark, which also includes the Sulitjelma mountains, I found it interesting that the incident was unknown, both in the local historical literature and among the people who had had great knowledge of this area for generations. Two of the Sami that were mentioned by name in this case were known from the local history of Sulitjelma. One was “Smoleck”, who has a small river in Sulitjelma named after him. The other, Jon Andersson Ljung, is strongly associated with the prediction of Sulitjelma’s establishment – and its decline, should the church tower ever have a spire. Continue reading

legend of Sulitjelma

The Shaman Family and the Legend of Sulitjelma

By Wenche Spjelkavik

The church and copper smelting works at Sulitjelma.
Photo credit: Sulitjelma Historical Society’s photo collection.

The legend of a Sami shaman’s prophecy of the creation and ruin of Sulitjelma is familiar not only to those who grew up in the mining town, but also to many from far away. In particular, many remember the prediction that if a spire were to be erected on the church tower, then Sulitjelma would “go under”. A spire was never put on the church and the legend remained alive. The name of the shaman, however, has been forgotten.

In the local narrative tradition, the legend of the future of Sulitjelma has been linked to a person, most often described as “a Sami”. The name of this person has not been widely known. The legend has been told as an event that really happened, and not a fictional story. It is unknown whether there are other stories and legends that have survived in the folklore of this area.

Continue reading

Sara Jonas

Sara Jonas

By Wenche Spjelkavik

Sara Jonas
The Sara Jonas Cave                                          Photo: Wenche Spjelkavik

In modern times, certain historical landmarks in the Sulitjelma mountains have attracted visitors due to their cultural significance, or for the “feeling” of being there. The Sami people have left their mark on the mountains over the centuries, but because of a lack of records and documentation these cultural heritage sites have been erased from folklore. However, there is still one place, far off the beaten path, that is still famous today. That place is the Sara Jonas Cave, located in a secluded cliff to the west of Lake Balvatnet. The cave is idyllically situated by a small, unnamed lake, where the trout feed on quiet summer evenings.

The cave is named after Jonas Andersson Bessett (1858–1916), colloquially known as “Sara Jonas”. There are many myths about Sara Jonas, such as that he buried a copper kettle full of money in this mountain area.[1] Jonas’ father is also said to have lived in this cave, and he is supposed to have buried two herring barrels full of silver goblets and brooches. In folklore, these stories have combined to become a large silver treasure trove that people have searched for but have never found. Continue reading

Greg Poelzer Visits UiT

Adjunct Professor Greg Poelzer Visits UiT

By Vanessa Brune and Chelsea Mackay – Students in the Masters of Indigenous Studies program


On October 22nd, 2014, Focal Point North held a lunch seminar at the Sami Centre at the University of Tromsø, entitled “Canadian and Swedish Indigenous Politics”. Presenting the challenges and opportunities facing the Sami in Sweden was adjunct professor Patrik Lantto, while Canadian Indigenous issues were represented by his colleague Greg Poelzer. Poelzer joined the Focal Point North team last spring, and this was his second visit to Norway since starting his position as adjunct professor. In this role, Poelzer will visit Norway two to three times per year and will be responsible for organizing seminars which will focus on northern issues such as climate change, globablization, Indigenous governance, etc. When he is not in Norway, Poelzer holds positions as an associate professor in Political Studies at the University of Saskatchewan, the executive chair of the International Centre for Northern Governance and Development and leads the UArctic Thematic Network on Northern Governance. Continue reading