Keynote speaker Mikkel Eskil Mikkelsen på World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education 2022

Keynote speaker Mikkel Eskil Mikkelsen på World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education 2022

Sametingsråd Mikkel Eskil Mikkelsen er nå i Adelaide i Australia og deltar som keynote speaker på utdanningskonferansen World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education 2022.

Buoris, buoris. Munji la stuorra guddnen ja stuorra ávon diehki boahtet, mån buorástahtáv dijájt divna, buoris.

I greet you all in my mother tongue, the Lulesami language by saying buoris – I say buoris from the Sámi parliament in Norway and the Sámi people to all of us gathered here on the on what I ackowlegde as the lands of the Kaurna people, the traditional custodians of the Adelaide plains. I give thanks for the welcoming to country that we saw yesterday and for sharing this all with us. 

I opened by joiking for you, our vocal tradition, I yoiked the big mountains in Sábme, about the green grass growing on the mountain, and how the reindeer calf is grazing. It was the big mountain's yoik.

The land of the Sámi people is full of large mountains. Greeting from our mountains and our lands and waterways to the organizers of WIPCE and thank them for the invitation and I pay tribute to the elders and patrons for making it possible for us all to meet here. The WIPCE feeling is just amazing

I also greet all conference participants, indigenous brothers, sisters and siblings from around the world  buoris. For me, it is a great honor to be invited to share the experiences of the Sami people and the work of the Sami Parliament with you all.

I thank those of you who are here in Tarndanya/Adelaide, for the work you have done in promoting indigenous education and the work to create space for decolonization, development and the establishment of indigenous practice and culture in our education systems. In Sábme we learn so much  of indigenous communities around the world, and you sharing has contributed to strengthening our work to preserve language and culture. Thank you.

I also thank WIPCE for WINHEC - and the accreditation of another one of our educational institutions this year - the Sami high school in Kárásjåhkå. I am immensely proud of the work they have done, through WINHEC, the international indigenous community is present with us in Sábme – that gives us strength, thank you.

My name is Mikkel Eskil Mikkelsen, I am a MP at the Sami parliament on the Norwegian side of the the border. I am a member of the Governing Council and for about 5 years I have worked on questions concerning sami education from kintergartens and higher education.

In the 5 years I have worked with education policy, my great wish has always been that Sami children and young people should be well equipped to continue the Sami languages and cultures.

I see that our collective responsibility today is to equip today's children to be able to carry on language and culture. The children in our kindergarten and school should therefore not only become familiar with Sami language and culture, but our goal is also for the education system to make them carriers of Sami language and culture, so that the children are equipped to pass this on to future generations. For us, there is a difference between knowing and truly mastering Sami language and culture in such a way that one is able to continue this.

I envision this future because if our children truly master the sami languages and cultures, they can pass it on, and on and on and on.

Dear friends, I was asked to come here to talk about exactly that, a future. So I will try to approach my talk by sharing with you how the Sami parliament is trying to work for a a education system which holds our future, where the practices of language and culture truly come healing and empowering.

I come here from Sábme – what we call the land of the Sámi people. I come from the areas that lie within the borders of the national states Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. 7 generations ago, there were no state borders that separated us Sami from each other. My ancestors lived in a world without borders. My own máttaráhko and máttaráddjá, grandparents and great-great-grandparents lived on the Norwegian side of the borders. I was born there, in Divtasvuodna, by ieddne and áhttje, mother and father who wanted my two sisters and me to learn the Sami language and build a strong Sami identity. They even started their own private Sami kindergarten when this was lacking. That’s why I speak the language of my ancestors, and its one of the greatest gifts I have received in my life.

But I am also a descendant of people who experienced colonization.

I am a descendant of those who were stripped naked and measured from the bottom to the top by western colonizers,

I am a decedent of people who’s sami housing was burnt to the ground by local Norwegian governments, I am my fathers son, who attended boarding school, and I am a grandson of people who had to fight in the school yards just for being a Sami, I am a descendant of people who stopped speaking the Sami language, and I got close relatives who do not recognize themselves as Sami, Sami language speakers and carriers of knowledge of land and culture.

My story is not unique, nor is the way I acquired the Sami language unique. Many of us as blessed to we have parents who have fought a battle to give the gift of language to us children. Sami education initiatives often have that starting point. It start as a fight against colonialism and assimilation among individuals and even today there are individuals and especially parents who want and demand  Sami-language teaching for their children and take the initiative for Sami education in kindergartens and schools.

All this shows us that we are a resilient people that we are resilient as a people.

Because the Sami people today, we speak around 8 languages, some estimates tell us that there are 15000 speakers of the north sami language, 300 speakers of the Skolt saami language, and 1000 speakers of the language I speak, the lulesami language, and only 10 speakers of the pitesami language.

The school system in Sábme today is a western school system, it has been and still is a narrow system wherein we try to teach in our ways. Like parents taking initiative to language and culture teaching for their children. Sami kindergartens, Sami schools and Sami higher education are the result of individuals taking a fight within this western system. These persons are our teachers who every day in kintergardens, schools and in higher education work hard to teach the sami way in an Scandinavian education system.

Me personally have many people to thank for teaching me Sami from kindergarten all the way to higher education. There has often been this one person who has invested time and energy, fought, in order for me to receive language education. Like my áhkko – my grandmother - I am eternally grateful for her work and effort in teaching the sami language and writing teaching materials in sámi.

Many Sami communities have a long history of education, not only that which Sami children have received from close family, relatives and their surroundings, but also from institutions that have entered our areas and started their business, for better and for worse. The history of the Sami people and western educational institutions contains experiences with boarding schools as in many other indigenous communities. Sami children were sent away from their parents for long periods of time.

It was in 1905 that a large-scale development of boarding schools in Sami areas began, which coincided with instructions to the schools that the teachers should check that the children do not use Sami. It was a stated, deliberate policy that the Sami were to be assimilated. It is no longer an active policy to assimilate us, and despite this active policy and its aftermath, there has been a development of a Sami education sector in the last 60-70 years.

We have the Sami University of applied sciences, a Sami university we are immensely proud of, which stands as a cornerstone in the Sami society. I am happy to be here in Adelaide together with representatives from the Sami University and thank the University for their work and contribution to the Sami societies. We also have 9 Sami schools from primary to upper secondary level on the Norwegian and Swedish side of the border.

So we have local schools where the Sami children are in a majority, and where Sami language is the spoken language and the language of instruction. But the most common is that the Samis are in the minority, especially since the students all over Sweden, Finland and Norway more and more are individual students who receive education in the Sami language at digitally, at distance. All together, students and pupils are in different communities rural and urban, with different language situations and different number of hours where Sami is the language of instruction.

A total of around 4,000 pupils receive education in Sami in primary and secondary school in Norway, Sweden and Finland. And we have approximate 26 kintergardens – It is difficult for me to give you exact numbers as it all depends on how you count. 

Anyways, this was a small, small extract of Sami educational history, and some figures that give you all a picture of how it is today, but here comes more.

We experience an average of 30% dropout from the classes in Sami languages, 30% dropout in primary school (ages 6-16). And our experience shows that even with 13 years of schooling and training in Sami, our students do not always become fully Sami-speaking. And at the same time, based on the figures I have presented earlier, projections based on the number of students learning Sami show a loss of language at around 65%. The number of Sami speakers in Norway will decrease by 65%. 65%, it is massive. That number scares me and it tells me that the education in Sami languages and culture is having difficulties.  

In these gloomy statistics, the have the Sami Parliaments, as representative bodies for the Sami people in each of our countries. We do not run schools; we do not appoint board members, we are not local og regional school authorieties.

When the Sámi Parliament today neither owns nor runs a kindergarten or a school, we have few financial or human resources, how can we succeed in shaping an education policy on the premises that we want and how are we going to get this implemented in the education sector? How do we establish a education which holds the next 7 generations? How do we work with future in this setting.

A key in our future is our voices. To let our voices be heard, and the telling of truth. To tell everybody that if we don’t change the way we work, we will lose language, we will lose future. An important part of this telling the world that we are losing our future.

As a politician I talk a lot about the situation of our languages. And I have noticed a difference in the way we talk about different issues that we meet. as an example, As indigenous people around the world, the Samis are losing important land areas to road development, power lines, construction and more so on. What is often voiced in such cases is the loss of the future. We lose the traditional practices, culture and language when we lose our lands. Loss of a future that we are trying to preserve and protect the next 7 generations to come.  

But when I look at what is most often voiced and what is the truth-telling in education system back home, it has a slightly different focus. It often has a focus that educational rights must be strengthened and fulfilled, but very significantly, we do not take the next step in voicing that when one child does not receive language training, that is also a loss of future. There is a different way of talking about these issues, and when it comes to language, we don’t use the same words even though there is a crises.

And perhaps there is an understandable explanation to why we dont communicate a loss of future? And one explanation might be that right now we are fighting for students in school at the moment. For them to have their rights fulfilled today. The Sámi Parliament receives so many inquiries about the lack of language training in kindergartens and schools, about children who do not get their rights fulfilled, it keeps us busy. This means that in my everyday work, the greatest joy is seeing Sami children receive good training in Sami languages and cultures. We are often busy communicating, talking about the needs of the present. And sadly, sometimes, some parents, some students have given up, lost their voices in demanding sami language teaching. The troubles of the present can be too demanding for us to voice our futures.

The loss of future is also a due to the lack of policy and understanding on the part of the Norwegian government, local, regional and state government. And it is perhaps understandable that we celebrate and rejoice that children's rights are fulfilled today when I know that we are facing a 65% decline in language speakers, and some of our languages only have 10 speakers left.

In the struggle of present, where there often is no time to talk about future, lies a realization that the education sector is often western and its history is a colonial history that was used to assimilate us samis. The result is a school system that is driven by what the Norwegian governments thinks the student should learn, what the student should be measured by, what goals in teaching are set in the policy making. We can see this in the reforms that have been made from national authorities' perspectives and our needs and our vision of the future are not given free rein.

Our right to self-determination is not safeguarded. So voicing the future therefore becomes essential, when the premises for education policy are not laid by us Samis ourselves. Giving a voice to the future we want is a way of standing up for ourself and our children.  

I share with you what I have learnt, that the sami voice in the education system must emphasize the loss of the future in a way where we tell the truth about what about to happen with our languages. But this voice does not only require us to tell the truth about what is actually happening, we have to tell and share how we want it to be. To exercise our right to self-determination and sovereignty. We have voice an alternative vision for our children than the one of loss of furture. We have to establish our own goals and work towards them. That vision, that goal, that perspective, that future of 7 generations which holds the past, the present, the future, where the children in our kindergarten and schools should not only become familiar with Sami language and culture, but to make them carriers of Sami language and culture, so that the children are equipped to pass this on to future generations.

I would like to share with you how we are working to establish this perspective and vision, how we try to carve out a space for sami good practices in teaching language and culture . Because even though we do not run schools, we don’t educate teachers, we are still able to make a difference. But first, let me give you some background to the law regulating all teaching in Sami languages and cultures in Norway and also parts of the Sami Parliament in Norway, what have been our milestones and history as a parliament.

The Sami Parliament on the Norwegian side of the border was established in 1989 after a massive uproar, hunger strikes by samis in protest to the loss of lands. It is still fairly young parliament up against a system which is over several hundred years old. But we have had some break-throughs. In 2005, the Sami Parliament and the Government of Norway agreed on a consultation agreement. An agreement which indicates that the government has a duty to consult with the Sámi Parliament in all matters concerning or might concern the Sámi people. This agreement was enacted into law in 2021. The Consultation Act is today a central tool in our interaction with the Norwegian government.

Another important milestone was the education act of 1998. The result of meetings between the sami parliament and the government was a breakthrough. It established an individual right to teaching in Sami languages for all Sami students(age 6-16) for 2 or 4 hours a week, an addition, in some municipalities all pupils were given the right to receive education with sami languages as the language of instruction in every subject. A major victory for us at the time.

The Sámi Parliament holds the responsibility for developing and determining curricula for special Sámi subjects, and authority to determine Sámi content in national curricula. Ill repeat this one, because its quite important, we have the authority to determine Sami content in national curricula, but we do NOT have authority to determine Sami content in Sami curricula.

Last week, I met the Minister of education for consultations on a new education act. The authority to determine sami content in sami curricula was of course one of the issues we discussed. The consultations have been going on for the last year, there have been several meetings. The consultations, im sorry to say, have been demanding, and I do not think we will get reach an agreement on the new education act. After last week’s meeting, I was sad, angry, frustrated. Ive been mourning the missed opportunities to better the rights of the samis children, the missed opportunity to get into place a law that makes learning sami languages easier. To give the Sami people the authority to decide what we should learn about ourselves. So that is me learning that having a place around, or near the table is not always enough, having a voice is not always enough. But I find comfort in knowing that the Sami Parliament's proposals would have helped make the future for the Sami languages more secure, and that I have clearly used my voice in several consultations with the Ministry of Education about the loss future if we do not also take legislative action now.

I have to add one last thing, in consultation with the minister I called upon the power of the worlds indigenous peoples coming together to talk about education here at WIPCE. I asked the minister “are you really going to say no to all our proposals, are you really going to send me to WIPCE with the message that the Norwegian state governments is denying Sami children the right to learn their languages in a meaningful way? I got no clear answers back from here, but we agreed on not ending the consultation process and have another go later on.

So, when the legislative action takes time or is not happening, when the Sami Parliament does not run school, when the rights of sami children aren’t fulfilled in daily life, what do we do? How do we make a future out of this?

Well, we try as best as we can to work around it, to establish a voice that is heard, to empower the ones who are not letting their voices be heard, we keep going, and we allow ourselves to learn from the work we do.

And learnt we have, especially in developing curriculum.

In Norway, we have two curriculums. The national curriculum body, and the Sami parallel equivalent curricula. In 2015, it was decided that we were to develop new curricula in schools in all of norway. The Sámi Parliament was, of course, heavily involved in the work. The process took several years. When I stand here, I allow myself to ask whether we succeeded in working with new curricula. Did the Sami Parliament make the most of our deciding authority in this field? To some degree we did, but at the same time there are things we could have done better.  

Curriculum work started with large, heavy documents such as parliamentary reports, evaluations, frameworks and more from the ministry of education. From the Sami Parliament's side, we of course consulted on all this and got some important principles into the deciding documents in which the process was outlined.

However, what we did not do to some degree, was to create our own principles or deciding documents for what we wanted the new curricula to be. And that is quite important, even though we have our own parliament, authority, we always need learn from what we do.

Because, Although the governing documents for the new curricula were clear that there must be Sami content in each subject, this was tried to be watered down in the curriculum groups.

We had appoited sami representatives to each curricula group in every subject. And wow I must tell you, the sami teachers, the Sami teachers who worked in the curriculum groups are well established in the local Sami communities and in their subjects did the best of work. Because while the total number of targets goal, competence aims in the curricula decreased, the Sami targets goals, competence aims, did not. That’s an achievement, that Sami teachers from all over Sábme helped us achieve. (although, we did not get the word assimilation into the curricula this time, the word Norwegianization was used.)

But we did not start of the process of new curricula work with our own foundation, our own documents, principles. We had discussions, seminars, talks of course, but there was not a document that clearly what our objective was, there was only the Ministy of educations documents on which we consulted.  

And in many ways this sums up the status of how the Sami parliaments in Norway, Sweden and Finland across the states borders work. It stresses the need for us come together and start developing policy in which the foundation is the Sami languages, our cultures, our way of life. And it highlight the fact that the Sami Parliaments, as political bodies, just abour 30 years old are still working and establishing ourself as a parliament, also in the education sector. We need to prepare for the next time there is a big change coming to the curriculas.

And that we have done?

So now, the three Sami Parliaments, we have started the work of establishing a Sámi educational platform where Sámi values, Sámi pedagogy, Sámi upbringing and our principles for education are described. An educational platform that can describe that we have ambitions 7 generations into the future, a political educational platform that facilitates the Sami language and culture to be in full bloom in 7 generations.

The start of this job began in the kindergartens. We established a Sami kindergarten project where the objective is to answer what the practices of a Sami kindergarten are, how Sami pedagogy is practiced in the sami kindergartens. The project will be presented at a separate lecture at 10 o’clock today, so please attend that session if you wanna hear more about that work.  

But our work does not stop there. From the kindergarten we have moved into primary and secondary education with the same objectives. A project where our way of teaching, our amibtions, our future is central.

As a part of this work, not only is the establishing of values, principles in a sami educational, political platform, we are right now working together with schools and kindergartens in establishing language learning practices in their daily work. We talk about what organizational requirements are needed for the children to speak the Sami languages and not the Norwegian languages. This is all happening based on a report in which we examine how to be successful in making the children speak sami languages. And let me tell you, the feedback from school and kindergartens is a positive feedback, they say they feel empowered and hopeful, and there is nothing better than that.  

Together, the various projects can complement each other and take an important step forward in communicating what we want a Sami education sector to look like. The Sami Parliaments is soon set to have talks within the Sami communities on how to take the next step. We want to do this together with teachers, school owners and of course the Sami people. I want a community-based conversation where the Sami people can set the conditions for our further work.

I believe that the basis for success is the Sami people, that we empower ourselves for the future generation to come. That we do this even though the minister, the local governments are hesitant. The minister of education can always say no to proposed changes in laws, the local government can be hesitant in ensuring sami teaching in their schools, but that does not mean that we are able to create, form, and establish an voice good practices by indigenous peoples, for indigenous peoples.

I have come here to WIPCE to share the experiences and challenges we face in Sami society. At the same time, I try, based on our experiences with curriculum work, legislative work, the way we hope to establish good practices for language and culture, to point out a direction that can take us a step closer to a future the way we want it. I believe that we can bring about the changes we want, whatever they may be. Because we must remember that researchers tell us that it is possible to establish indigenous education and learning based on our languages and knowledge with bilingualism and equal educational opportunities in "mainstream" society. It is possible.

At the same time, I know that if this is to be successful, The Sámi Parliament must change the way we communicate and voice our future as an indigenous people through the education sector, we must create our own vision that involves the hope and dreams and ambitions for the next 7 generations of sami children.

I would like to begin my conclusion by quoting Lena Huss when she reflects on language revitalization: "Maybe it is time for us all to understand that revialization is just that, a struggle – sometinges onerous and frustrating, often healing and empowering – but still a struggle, without an end in sight.”

I have heard that quote several times in Sami  when talking about language. It is an acknowledgment that it is a battle, a fight. And in this struggle without and end in sight, I am not under the illusion that the parliaments will ever finish this work.

I consider the work to establish a 7-generation perspective in our activities at the Sámi Parliament as a continuation of a conversation that has been going on for several 100 years both at home in Sábme and among you, and that means that our work is a contribution to a conversation that will last the next 100.

But as Leena Huss says, we can choose to do the work in ways that are healing and empowering.

Dear indigenous siblings, brothers and sister - I turn toward you and I see that my hopes, values and ambitions for our people are reflected in between all of us. I find strength in between all of us here, and that strength is healing and empowering.

Thank you all for listening, many thanks to the organizers, the elders in all our communities, the youth who are here today. Edna gijtov muv åvdås. Mån gijtáv go lav besam muhtem bágojt didjij moalgedit dáppe Tarndayan gå lihpit gulldalam ja dahkam sajev same vásádusájda. Edna gijtov.