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Sápmi Pride and queer Sápmi organization

For those of us who grew up in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, as queer and Sápmi, it felt like we were alone in the world. But of course we were not. Queer lives in Sápmi is no modern phenomenon.

By Dávvet Bruun-Solbakk, board member of Garmeres - Norwegian section and works at NRK Sápmi
Elisabeth Stubberud, leader of Garmeres - Norwegian section and Researcher at NTNU and Nordland Research Institute (translated by Reinert Skumsnes).
This text was first published in 2019.

Within feminist indigenous studies, heterosexism and patriarchal societal structure are thematized as a result of the colonization process (Arvine, Tuck og Morill 2013). In this perspective, it is heterosexism and homophobia, and not queer life, that are the modern phenomenon. Indigenous feminism also thematizes how heterosexism and patriarchal gender structure in indigenous communities are connected to the internalisation of the western and bourgeois gender structure. The focus of this literature is most often North American indigenous people, and alternative family structures and sexuality cultures, both historically and contemporary (TallBear 2018).

Also in Sápmi gender and sexuality have been practiced in various ways, with different meanings than what is perceived as traditional today. It was for example Norwegian laws, not Sámi ones, that deprived women on the Norwegian side of Sápmi of their succession right. Although we lack good sources as to whether doing gender and sexuality in alternative ways have historically been linked to the noaide role in Sápmi, we allow ourselves to speculate. It is, for instance, well known that the Sámi multi-artist Nils-Aslak Valkeapää/Áillohaš (1943-2001) had sexual relations with both women and men. Norwegians perhaps know Áillohaš best as the noaide in the movie Veiviseren. When his unique position in Sápmi is explained in the documentary Áilu – solens sønn, the way he lived, and practiced sex and sexuality, becomes part of the explanation as to how and why he could belong to the entire Sámi people.

Read more about Minoritet innenfor minoriteten: Kan man være både queer og same?

Queer Sámi organization

Queer Sámi organization has a relatively short history. The network for gay and lesbian Sámi was established in 2002, and pioneers in the organization included Risten Ravna Heatta and Lemet Ánde Stueng. Those who were open queer early on risked a lot, including being bullied in public, but they also met those who harassed them with appropriate response. Much has also happened in a short time in terms of organization: a handful of people stood on the barricades when no one else dared, shouting to the public about verbal and physical violence, harassment, discrimination and suicide. Their openness and work prepared the ground for what was to come over the next ten years. They showed a fighting spirit that reminded those of us who came after that we have the right to be here.

Many open queer Sámi have followed the lead, including Sápmi politicians such as Mikkel Eskil Mikkelsen, Runar Myrnes Balto and Anne Henriette Reinås Nilut. And also cultural figures such as Erlend Elias, who was named gay of the year in 2015, and musician Sven Henriksen, have become important voices in the queer Sápmi public. As we write this, there are more queer Sámi who are open and visible to the public than we can mention in one article. It has not been that long - only a few years ago we could be counted on one hand. Meanwhile, extensive activist work among queer Sámi has changed the situation significantly.

Bildet kan inneholde: Colorfulness, Linje, Grafisk design, Font.
The new Sápmi Pride flag. Illustration: Timimie Märak / Sápmi pride

Extensive activist work

In 2013, the book Queering Sápmi – indigenous stories beyond the norm was launched in Ubmeje/Umeå (Sweedish side). The book project, which also became a touring exhibition, tells the stories of a selection of queer Sámi from different places in Sápmi. It is paradoxical that the initiators of Queering Sápmi are not themselves Sámi, but worked to create room for queer Sámi visibility on Sápmi's own premises. During this period, alliances were made that became important for the organization of the first Sápmi Pride in Giron/Kiruna (Sweedish side) in 2014. Among those involved were Queering Sápmi, Tobias Poggats and Timimie Märak. It was decided that Pride should alternate between the Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish sides of Sápmi.

In 2015, Sápmi Pride was organized in Karasjok (Norwegian side). The newly established organization Queer Sámit/Bonju Sámit was responsible for the organization. Queer Sápmi was also the focus of the indigenous festival Riddu Riđđu this year. The Queer Sámit organization did not have a long life, but Sápmi Pride has played a central role both as a meeting place and as a political mobilization arena.

In 2016, Sápmi Pride was supposed to take place in Anár/Enare (Finnish side), but was relocated in the last minute to Guovdageaidnu/Kautokeino (Norwegian side), after the Kautokeino local congregation council decided that they would not carry out same-sex marriages. Among the key promoters in 2016 were Dávvet Bruun-Solbakk and Lemet Ánde Stueng. In 2016, the Sápmi cultural festival Márkomeannu also made a festival poster showing two Sami boys kissing, and although the poster was torn down in some places in Sápmi, the organizers reported about overwhelmingly positive response.

In 2017, it was finally the Finns turn, and Sápmi Pride was held in Anár/Enare. Anne Olli, who was one of the central organizers, was named "Activist of the Year" in 2018 by QX, which is the largest gay magazine in the Nordic region. In 2017, the festival Riddu Riđđu even had its own Queer Lávvu with a tightly packed queer festival program.

In 2018, Sápmi Pride had established itself as an important political arena and the only permanent meeting point for queer Sámi. This time the event was held in Staare/Østersund, with Timimie Märak taking the lead. New as of this year, was that the celebration was organized in collaboration with Østersund Pride with close to 3000 participants. Here, Sápmi Pride was at the front of the parade, and it became the most significant sign of queer Sápmi visibility so far. And although this Pride did use the old Sápmi Pride flag, Stina Aletta Aikio drew a new flag, which includes the trans flag, as well as brown and black colours, symbolizing the racism and violence experienced by non-white Sámi and indigenous people.

Read Gir Sápmi pride-flagget flere farger. Read also Det är en skillnad att vara queer i Sapmi.

In 2019, Sápmi Pride took place in Tråante/Trondheim, and thus for the first time in the Norwegian southern Sápmi territory. The Sápmi youth organization Noereh organized the event together with the organizing committee consisting of Dávvet Bruun-Solbakk, Elisabeth Stubberud and Ole-Henrik Bjørkmo Lifjell, among others. Sápmi Pride 2019 was organized in collaboration with Trondheim Pride. It is the largest Sápmi Pride to date, with over 300 attending Sápmi Pride's own event, which spanned three days, along with more than 6000 participants in the parade. A new queer Sámi organization was also formed during the Sápmi Pride 2019, namely Garmeres. Garmeres is a southern Sámi word and means "proud". The organization works across national borders.

Sápmi Pride is absolutely crucial

Work on Sápmi Pride has been run without permanent support from any particular organization. Creating the only meeting place for Sámi queer people is a demanding task that depends on a lot of voluntary work. The number of people that actually shows up fluctuates: Sápmi is large, and many rely on travel reimbursement in order to have the opportunity to come. The meeting place is nevertheless crucial. Not only is it a place to physically meet other queer Sámi people. The organization of Sápmi Pride also improves the understanding of the lives and living conditions of queer Sámi, both among straight Sámi and in the queer and straight population in general.

Read Sápmi may be a quiet place for queer people. Read also the report Unge lhbt-personers bruk av kommunale helsetjenesterl. Den eneste skeive i bygda?

NRK Sápmi and other Sápmi and Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish media use the opportunity to focus on queer Sámi issues during Sápmi Pride, and politicians and others travel from near and far to participate. There is also work underway led by Mikkel Eskil Mikkelsen of the Sámi Parliament on the Norwegian side of Sápmi to create the first LGBT plan.

For us, Sápmi Pride is an opportunity to develop knowledge and politics about transphobia, racism and homophobia in general, and how this is related to indigenous issues in particular. And all the attention around Sápmi Pride can help young queer Sápmi growing up to understand that they are not alone.

Those who took up the fight before us had to scream. We have multipled, and do not have to scream so loudly, but we must still work to be visible, for the sake of ourselves and those who come after us. We meet to party, but also to think critically and to build knowledge about colonization, gender and sexuality. Despite the attempts to take away our history, it does not mean that it does not exist.

Published June 12, 2020 2:59 PM - Last modified Sep. 21, 2021 10:35 AM