Photo: Bertil Ericson / SCANPIX

Lack of Sami translations in northern Sweden

A Swedish Radio News survey shows that despite the one-year old law making it a requirement for the local governments in northern Sweden to provide information and services to the indigenous Sami population, only 2 of  14 bother to do this – sparkling angry reactions from those safeguarding Sami rights and culture.

For the indigenous peoples of the far northern Europe, the Sami language and culture have always been a serious part of the battle for survival - and the strong resistance to being swallowed up by the Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish or Russian lifestyles - for centuries downgrading the Sami language and their traditional yoiking or chanting as they followed their their herds of reindeer in the forests and mountain regions.

Christian churchmen moving into the newly conquered north ordered the burning of Sami drums considered links to the heathen gods of nature and devilish rituals.

A few years ago, the Sami language became one of Sweden's five minority languages - giving it a more protected status.

Not an unappreciated gesture for those where earlier generations were encouraged to ignore Sami and instead learn only Swedish in the schools. Youngsters were sometimes ashamed of their Sami background and some parents spoke only Swedish to their children – hoping to give them a better chance to succeed in the dominant Swedish society.

Earlier, only four local governments in the far north were required on paper to provide information and services to their relatively large Sami populations.

A year ago, this was expanded on paper to 14. But in reality: only two bother.

A new Swedish Radio News check up shows that a Sami calling the local government switchboard meets a linguistic brick wall in 12 cases.

One communal switch board does offer a kind of service - switching the Sami caller to a pre-school teacher speaking Sami but whose job is not translation.

David Jonasson, a member of the Sami Language Council bristles over the results of survey. He argues that a law should be obeyed - and that it's not right that as soon as we're dealing with a minority language with secondary status, the law doesn't seem to matter.

He points out that when the law ordered motorists in Sweden to switch from the left hand to the right hand side of the road, any motorist plowing against the traffic would face immediately and serious consequences.

But with the Sami language, this seems not so important.

Some of the local governments are trying to repair the lack of service for the time being by re-connecting Sami callers to those neighboring switchboards that offer the service.

No doubt the language council and others will be following developments to see just how long the law can be ignored - giving the Sami language and culture only token tribute.

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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