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Capturing Sámi Stories and Knowledge – How Marina became a documentarist

Marina filming in Vuontisjärvi. Picture: Arto Saijets

When the Dialogues and Encounters in the Arctic (DEA) project started in March 2020, the original plan for the project was to invite and bring together people from the Sámi community, academies and other institutions that are collaborating in the Sámi region to discuss about the challenges affecting in the Arctic and the future of traditional livelihoods centering Sámi knowledge and culture. The objective was to initiate a model for community-based research and collaboration in the Arctic. However, soon after the start of the project, the COVID-19 pandemic started, which led to shutting schools and restrictions on gatherings and traveling inside Finland, but there were also restrictions on cross-border mobility. This had an impact on the settings and the locations of the DEA project.

Arto Saijets, a duojar (a traditional Sámi crafter), a traditional knowledge holder and a crafts teacher at the Sámi Education Institute (SAKK) in Ánar was hired by the project to make material and crafts for DEA. When SAKK had to close it's doors due to the COVID-19 restrictions, he had to find other ways to keep the process going for the project. Arto ended up building a traditional sledge in his yard, doing all the work by hand without access to the SAKK educational space where all the woodwork machinery and equipment were located. His wife Marina Falevitch’s work in SAKK as an coordinator for international collaborations and projects with Russia, was also temporarily paused due pandemic. As Marina was following Arto’s work in their backyard, she came up with the idea that she could contribute to the DEA project by documenting the process of making the sledge.

She began by taking pictures depicting the different phases of Arto’s work, but she soon realised that pictures wouldn’t be enough to capture the whole process and all the relevant information, so she took her iPad and started documenting the process by filming. Marina filmed Arto’s process of making the sledge and his step-by-step instructions given in his native language North Sámi, Arto’s mothers tongue. While filming Arto, Marina became aware of the extent of Arto’s knowledge and skills: Arto knew how to make duodji (traditional Sámi crafts), how and where to get the material for it, and he had knowledge about the local environment and the land, the traditional livelihoods, e.g. fishing, and how to prepare traditional foods. Soon Marina wanted to extend the documentation process to cover traditional knowledge and Arto’s know-how more extensively, but especially to capture the language. She thought that it would be important for future generations.

Documenting in Ánarjohka. Picture: Mari Viinikainen
Marina’s films has played a big role in the Dialogues and Encounters in the Arctic project and showed a way how to center Indigenous knowledge, local skills & creativity and storytelling as a base for cooperation.

Based on Marina’s material there are five short documentaries produced about traditional fishing and food preparing: net fishing, cooking fish soup and smoking meat. The films portray the relation to the land and local environment. Originally the short films were produced for a workshop by DEA about Sámi food cultures and food security and they have worked as a base for cross-border collaborations around traditional fishing between the Finnish and Swedish side of Sápmi. As a result the films will be shown in the national television in Sweden. The filmed material will also be used in educational purposes in SAKK and in Sámi Museum Siida as an exhibition material in the future.

Marina is motivated to continue with the documentation process and she has even thought about studying film making in order to get better at documenting. So far, Marina has over 100 hours of filmed material about traditional knowledge and livelihoods, local environmental observations, making duodji, preparing traditional foods and so on. She thinks that it is important to continue with the documentation process, as there are not that many  Sámi elders and traditional knowledge holders left who inherited the knowledge through oral traditions and traditional ways of living. She wants to document traditional knowledge through storytelling and dialogues without asking too many questions, but rather letting the knowledge holders, elders and storytellers share their stories and knowledge in a way they want their voices and stories to be heard.

Written by Mari Viinikainen, University of Lapland

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