Thursday, March 31, 2011

Discrimination and Health

Ketil Lenert Hansen, Marita Melhus and Eiliv Lund conducted a study to examine the effects of ethnic discrimination and socio-economic status among the Sami.

Objectives: The main goal of this study was to identify the prevalence of poor self-reported health among Sami and non-Sami populations living in Norway, investigate whether ethnicity is associated with poor self-reported health and determine if such associations could be explained by factors such as ethnic discrimination and socio-economic status.

Study design: Cross-sectional questionnaire.

Methods: This study is based on data from population based study of health and living conditions in areas with mixed Sami, Kven and Norwegian majority population (SAMINOR), for which data were collected during 2003 and 2004. The present study included 12,265 individuals aged between 36 and 79. Questions about ethnicity, experiences of ethnic discrimination/bullying, current health situation and socio-demographic characteristics were collected by means of three questionnaires.

Results: Sami respondents reported inferior health conditions in comparison to the Norwegian majority population. The most unsatisfactory conditions were reported by Sami females living outside the defined Sami area. Females typically reported less favourable health conditions than males. Health inequalities varied by age and were more apparent in persons aged in their mid-50s or above.

Across ethnic groups, respondents with the highest education and household income were healthier than others. Furthermore, those reporting to have been frequently discriminated against were more likely to report poorer health than those who did not; the odds ratios. When discrimination was included in the logistical model, the increased risk of poor self-reported health decreased to non-significance for Sami respondents. The estimated risk decreased further when the socio-economic status was taken into account.

Conclusions: This study has found Sami ethnicity to be associated with poorer self-reported health status when compared to the Norwegian majority population. The frequent experiences of ethnic discrimination appear to partially explain inequalities in self-reported health between the Sami and the general Norwegian population.

This study has revealed that social factors such as ethnic discrimination may contribute to ethnic inequalities in self-reported health. The finding directs awareness to ethnic discrimination as being central to understanding the role of social health inequalities among the Sami population.

Members of the Sami population are more likely to face ethnic discrimination and bullying in comparison to the Norwegian majority population. Discrimination may act as a stressor that adversely affects health. Moreover, the Sami population, having experienced colonization and assimilation, could suffer from acculturative stress. Acculturative stress refers to coming to terms with the majority population, including the burden of dealing with two sets of cultural skills, identity issues, self-esteem and despair. Such experience lead to disadvantages that may translate into health conditions.

Hansen, Ketil L., Marita Melhus, Eiliv Lund. “Ethnicity, Self-Reported Health, Discrimination and Socio-Economic Status: A Study of Sami and Non-Sami Norwegian Populations.” International Journal of Circumpolar Health 69 (2010): 111-128.

Language and Education

Experiments using the Sami languages in primary schools began in 1967. Sami is now both a medium of instructions and taught as a subject in secondary schools. The first Sami language senior secondary school opened at Karasjok in 1969, and a vocational senior secondary school operates in Kautokeino. The vocational school emphasizes on Sami traditional crafts and “modernization” of traditional occupations, like the breeding and marketing of reindeer. Two universities offer Sami languages as a subject, and the Teachers college at Alta offers courses in Sami language and culture for both Sami and non-Sami. In large towns like Kautokeino and Karasjok, Sami language is used as the everyday language by almost all Samis.

As the status and the use of Sami language increased, the use of Norwegian by Samis is decreasing. For some Samis, Norwegian is considered as a second language. Parents in Sami areas now choose to have their children educated in Sami rather than in Norwegian. There is other concrete evidence of cultural resurgence:
-Sami language newspapers
-Sami museums
-School textbooks produced by the Sami Education Council

The Sami Language Act

In 1990, the Norwegian parliament acted to strengthen official use of Sami, and to declare Sami and Norwegian as equal languages with equal status. The purpose of this act was to enable the Sami to safeguard and develop their language, culture and way of life, and to give equal status to Sami and Norwegians.

The New Language act amends the former education act, and is interpreted as providing the following for children living in “Sami areas”:

(a) All children have the right to receive instruction in Sami, or through the medium of Sami, in all subjects.
(b) Until the seventh grade, parents have the choice of whether their children will receive instruction in or through Sami.
(c) From seventh grade, the pupils are able to decide this for themselves.
(d) Children receiving instruction in or through Sami are exempted from instruction in one of the two forms of Norwegian
(e) Local education councils may allow children with Sami as their mother tongue to be taught through the languages for all nine compulsory years.
(f) Local education councils may allow children with Norwegian as their mother tongue to have Saimi as a subject.

In short, Magga observes: “Norway now appears to be a pioneer in indigenous and minority affairs”; but he adds, “other minorities in Europe have much better legal protection for their languages than what the Sami in Norway now have.” This is largely because the educational system “has had too little time and too few resources to equip us to meet the many challenges we are confronted will.”

Anto Hoem noted a paradox in these policies. The creation of the Sami parliament and the Education Council, as well as other institutions aimed at empowering the Sami may instead finish off the assimilation process, and accomplish the rapid induction of Sami into European modernity. These new “Sami” institutions are modeled on Norwegian precedents, and leave little room for distinctively Sami ways and values.

Corson, David. “Norway’s Sami Language Act: Emancipatory Implications for the World’s Aboriginal Peoples." Language in Society 24 (1995): 493-514.

Social Problems

David Corson's article about the Sami Language Act provides valuable insight about the social problems faced by the Sami today. Cultural assimilation in the past and the demands of the present times add pressure to the Samis to forsake their traditional lifestyles in order to integrate themselves to the modern world. High levels of unemployment and the pressure of maintaining their cultural identity in the modern world contribute to their anxiety and emotional disorders.

Unemployment: Unemployment (above 20%) is the leading social problem for Sami communities. This problem particularly affects older people who are less educated. As the need for traditional sources of employment such as reindeer herding has declined, large-scale adult re-training programs have begun. However, these programs have enjoyed moderated success, since they threaten the cultural interests and family livelihoods of people who are used to traditional customs.

Single Mothers: The number of unmarried mothers is unusually high, which is partly due to the established Sami customs of having children at an early age.

Shortage of teachers: There is a high demand in Norway for educated bilingual and bicultural Sami. However, this creates another problem for Sami culture: high job turnover. Although many Sami teachers are graduating each year, the wide choice of jobs available for them, in bureaucracies, policy agencies and politics means that relatively few of them enter teaching.

Sami cultural identity: The maintenance of Sami cultural identity is a central concern inside and outside the Sami community. Recently, a revitalization of Sami identity and culture followed the building of modern towns on the ruins of war. Sami people now prefer to describe themselves as Sami first, and only second as citizens of Norway. A new image of Sami person has developed, integrating the modern world into the traditional culture to make the Sami more self-confident and secure in their identity. However, today pressure to sustain identity is mainly coming from language, and less from traditional activies.

Corson, David. “Norway’s Sami Language Act: Emancipatory Implications for the World’s Aboriginal Peoples." Language in Society 24 (1995): 493-514.

Ethnic Identity

The influence of parentage and ethnic community context on ethnic self-identification, ethnic attitudes and behaviour were examined in 245 indigenous Sami adolescents in northern Norway. The study found that ethnic identity was strongly related to both parentage and type of ethnic community. Monoethnic adolescents at the coast (with great integration and assimilation) identified themselves mostly as bicultural or Norwegian. In contrast, monoethnic adolescents in the highland (with strong ethnic support), they identified themselves strongly as Samis.

The family and the ethnic community provide important cultural contexts for ethnic identity. The current study explored contextual factors in the ethnic identity of the Samis in Norway.

The family’s handling of ethnic topics and its ethnic attitudes are important in establishing ethnic identity in children. Inter-ethnic marriages forms an important structural aspect in family contexts. Inter-ethnic marriages have been assumed to weakedn ethnic ties, but little research exists on this topic. Because of the possible pull from more than one culture, multiethnic adolescents may not feel as strongly attached to either parental ethnic group as monoethnic peers. Moreover, adolescents are more susceptible to external factors such as their peers or educational institutions.

The purpose of the study was to examine how family and contextual variables influence ethnic self-identification and ethnic attitudes and practices. The study intended to explore how community context and parentage were related to ethnic identity. The study was conducted in Finnmark, the northernmost county of Norway. The area is sparsely populated by both Samis and Norwegians.

Coastal communities: Adolescents with monoethnic parentage mostly identified themselves as bicultural or Norwegian. Adolescents with mixed heritage labeled themselves strongly as Norwegians.
Highland communities: Most adolescents identified themselves as Sami. Those with mixed ancestry frequently identified themselves as bicultural.

This study revealed that the manifestation of ethnic self-identification in indigenous Sami adolescents is closely related to contextual factors. Ethnic self-identification was strongly related to the ethnicity of the parents. Children from monoethnic parentage make their first identifications with parents representing one ethnic group. However, adolescents with mixed heritage face the challenge of dealing with at least two cultures. The results, however, indicate that even though strong ethnic socialization is more likely in monoethnic families, nearly half of the adolescents from mixed families still identified with their ethnic group of origin.

Coastal communities: Strengthened their Norwegian identity among their multi-ethnic peers.
Highland communities: Strengthened their monoethnic identity as Sami.

Moreover, the ethnic labeling in both monoethnic and mixed Sami adolescents showed flexibility and variation with the context. The results show that indigenous Sami adolescents can develop bicultural competence whether they live in multicultural communities or in more culturally homogenous ones. The pressure of being more “ethnic” in the Highlands and being more “dominant” at the coast may describe the cultural challenges these adolescents face. In addition, adolescents embedded in the dominant Norwegian culture at the coast may lose their cultural identity because of limited support from the ethnic group. The dominant identification may indicate assimilation, where the cultural identity is lost.

Kvernmo Siv, Sonja Heyerdahl. “Ethnic identity in Aboriginal Sami Adolescents: The Impact of the Family and the Ethnic Community Context.” Journal of Adolescence 19 (1996): 453-463.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

More on Suicide among the Sami

In this study, the prevalence of suicide attempts and associated risk factors such as sociodemographic conditions, emotional and behavioral problems were examined among 591 indigenous Sami and 2100 majority adolescents in Artic Norway. The purpose of the study was to explore the possible ethnic differences in patterns of associated risk factors. However, the study found no significant ethnic differences in suicide attempts. In both ethnic groups, anxiety, depression, eating behavior was associated with suicide attempts.

During the last three decades, a process of integration and increased ethnic revival has gradually replaced a history of forced assimilation and colonization by the Norwegian government. In the 1980s, the suicide rates were particularly high among the Sami. The suicides were assumed to reflect mental problems in Sami areas due to identity issues and cultural change. The estimated suicide rates for the period of 1981-1990 among the Sami were 42 per 100,000 persons.

Here is a list of risk factors associated with suicide attempts among the Sami and majority adolescents:

-Single parent families
-Emotional and behavioral problems
-Delinquent behavior
-Anxiety and depression
-Attending vocational studies
-Eating disorders
-Alcohol intoxication
-Involvement in romantic relationships.
-Lack of parental care and paternal overprotection

The main finding in this study was that there were no ethnic differences in prevalence of suicide attempts between indigenous Sami adolescents and their majority peers. The findings of the study contrast sharply with other research, which generally indicate a higher prevalence of suicide attempts among indigenous adolescents than among their majority peers. During the last three decades, Sami in Norway have been in an ongoing cultural revitalization process. Today, the Sami have achieved cultural equality and are less socially disadvantaged when compared to other indigenous people in other parts of the world. The lack of ethnic differences in prevalence of suicide attempts may be explained by these cultural and socio economic circumstances. Moreover, this study indicates that the prevalence of suicide attempts among indigenous Sami adolescents is relatively low compared to other indigenous peers.

Silviken, A. S. Kvernmo. “Suicide Attempts Among Indigenous Sami Adolescents and Majority Peers in Arctic Norway: Prevalence and Associated Risk Factors.” Journal of Adolescence 30 (2007): 613-626.

Suicide among the Sami

In this study, suicide mortality was examined between 1970 and 1998 in a cohort of 19,801 persons categorized as indigenous Sami in Arctic Norway. The purpose of this study was to investigate the suicide mortality between subgroups according to age, gender, cultural context, and traditional Sami core management.

The results show that a total of 89 suicides occurred in the Sami cohort. There was a significant increase of suicide mortality among young Sami aged 15-24 for both females and males.

Suicidal behaviour among indigenous people is most commonly explained by cultural factors such as the breakdown of traditional cultured structures and acculturation as a consequence of colonization and modernization.

The process of forced acculturation has caused acculturative stress, depression, suicide, and alcohol abuse among the Sami.

During the last three decades, a process of integration and increased ethnic revival has gradually replaced a history of forced assimilation and colonization. The outcome of the acculturation and the ethnic revitalization processes has varied in different regions inhabited by the Sami.

Coastal Communities: The assimilation has the greatest impact on the coastal communities where the Sami became a minority. Many Sami lost their identity and their language.

Highland communities: The majority of the Sami are concentrated in the Highland communities. As a result, they have retained their language and traditions. Several Sami institutions are resided here such as the Sami parliament, Sami research centres, and broadcasting. Education in the Sami language is offered in school and college.

Reflection: The study shows the socio-psychological impact of acculturation in the Sami community. Suicide mortality among the Sami has increased because of their loss of identity and traditional structures. However, assimilation has the greatest impact on the coastal communities, where Samis are few.

Silviken, A. T. Haldorsen, S. Kvernmo. “Suicide among Indigenous Sami in Artic Norway: 1970-1998.” European Journal of Epidemiology 9 (2006): 707-713.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Sami Today

The video gives a brief overview of Sami history and culture. The Sami are presented as a distinct ethnic group in Scandinavia. In this video, the Sami are depicted as modern Indigenous people. In a short time, the Sami has made the transition from a hunter-gatherer society to a modern lifestyle and paid work.

The Samis in the video are portrayed as part of modern society. They play extreme sports such as motocross, use the computer, cell phones and modern kitchens to cook their food. Moreover, the video presents a blend of their traditional and modern world.

However, the video gives a superficial overview on the Sami. It does not include the negative sides of assimilation. It only shows that the Samis are now part of the modern world. It does not show the process or the implications of the assimilation of the Sami. To a certain extent, the video romanticizes the lifestyle of indigenous people in the modern world.

History of the Assimilation of the Sami

Henry Minde separates the History of Sami Assimilation into four different phases. The history of the Sami provided useful background information to my research because it analyzes the causes which impelled the policy of assimilation in Norway, the process of the assimilation and its effects.

Below is a summary of the four phases:

The Transitional Phase (1850-1870)

The first generation of senior civil servants who made contact with the Sami, put the Sami language on an equal footing with Norwegian. They believed that it was a human right to be able to speak one’s native tongue. Clergyman N.V Stockfleth translated and published several books in Sami for the use in school and churches. Stockfleth received support from the senior civil servant’s party in the Storting (Norwegian Parliament). However, the language policy was opposed by the Norwegian upper class of Finnmark. In 1848 and subsequent sessions of the Storting, Stockfleth's line in language policy was vehemently debated. The discussion heralded a tougher stance by the authorities in respect of the northern minorities.

Clergyman N.V Stockfleth

One of the first measures applied by the Storting was the creation of the national budget (Finnefondet) in 1851 in order to promote the teaching of Norwegian in the transitional districts and to ensure the enlightenment of the Sami people.

The Consolidation Phase (1870-1905)

The Storting began to tighten the policies of Norwegianization in the 1860s. Norwegian language was in decline among the Sami and Kven. While the measures in the first phase were motivated by civilizing and nationalistic purposes, security policies were decisive to both objectives and strategies during the second phase. National budget for Norwegianization doubled, and measures were gradually tightened in Education. Directors of Troms diocese instructed teachers to teach all Sami and Kven children to learn to speak, read and write Norwegian, while all previous clauses saying that the children were to learn their native tongue were repealed. The instruction of 1880 marked the final breakthrough for the strict norwegianization policy. Sami and Kven languages was to limited to what was strictly necessary, “as an aid to explain what is incomprehensible to the children.”

Norwegianization measures increased substantially in the early 20th century. The reason for this was the fear of the “Finnish menace,” and the national agitation surrounding the dissolution of the union with Sweden. New measures were introduced:

-The building of several boarding schools around Finnmark county, with the purpose of isolating the pupils from their original environments.
-The termination of courses in Sami and Finnish at Troms seminar;
-Tuition, scholarships for pupils with Sami or Kven background were abolished at the same school.
-Work prohibition for Sami and Kven teachers in schools.
-Teaching methods designed to promote assimilation were discussed at teacher’s conventions and demonstrated by the school superintendent himself.

According to Bernt Thomassen, Director of Schools, Norwegianization was “a matter of welfare for the vast majority of the North Norwegian Lappish and Kven population.” Norwegianisation paves the way for development and progress for these people. The authorities believed that they could maintain their objectives on behalf of the minority populations and for their good.

The Culmination Phase (1905-1950)

The Versailles Peace Treaty after the First World War changed the borders on the northern Fennoscandia. For Norway this resulted in a common border with both Russia and Finland. The security policy threat perceived by Norwegian authorities became stronger after the Russian revolution, but after a short period it was still “the Finnish menace” which was at the centre of attention. The inter-war years were therefore to be marked by a shielding off from Finland and - more relevant to our topic - an “inner offensive” against Kven and Sami.

Allocations for the above-mentioned Finnefondet had been considerably increased in the early twentieth century. The great increase was intended to cover the government's boarding schools initiative as a new and more efficient tool in the assimilation efforts. At first the boarding schools were built as border fortifications in Kven-dominated areas, but later Inner Finnmark county and Tysfjord were also included in the programme.

According to Brygfjeld, the assimilation of the Sami was considered a civilizing task for the Norwegian state, because of the Norwegians' racial superiority.

The Termination Phase (1950-1980)

In the termination phase, teachers were instructed to make sure that students never spoke Sami or Finnish.
In Tor Edvin Dahl's book report (1970), a teacher who came originally from Oslo states the following:
"Then we had to make sure the children never spoke Sami or Finnish, we had been told by the headmaster that they were not allowed to speak their native language, not even during breaks or after school hours. Norwegian was to be spoken, and no discussion about it."

Consequently, the self-image of many Sami and Kven pupils was degraded. At school, they were told that their native language and their cultural belongings were of little value.

Minde, Henry. “Assimilation of the Sami: Implementation and Consequences.” Acta Borealia 20 (2003): 121-146.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Subject of Research Portfolio

My research intends to examine how cultural assimilation endangered Sami way of life, language and culture during the 19th and 20th century, and how it sparked Sami opposition as a form of resistance against cultural assimilation.

Cultural assimilation has been an interest of mine ever since I took a course on Canadian Social History. In that class, I wrote an extensive research paper about the Confinement of Freedomite Children between 1953 to 1959. Two hundred Freedomite Children from the Kootenay region of British Columbia were systematically removed from their homes by the police and placed in the New Denver dormitory. The parents of these children were the Sons of Freedom, an extremist group of the Doukhobors. As a result of the maltreatment, those who were institutionalized in New Denver had a traumatic childhood, which lead them to suffer from the long-terms effects in their adulthood.

Therefore, I want to explore the effects of Cultural assimilation in other regions of the world. My goal for this Research Portfolio is to examine how cultural assimilation endangered Sami way of life, language and culture during the 19th and 20th century, and how it sparked opposition as a form of resistance against cultural assimilation.

In this blog I intend to write about my insights and personal reflections regarding the research material of the Assimilation of the Sami.

A Sami Family