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My Family History

My family is Sámi on my mother’s side. My grandfather Algot is from the old Sámi family Pokka. The Pokka family was believed to be great jewelry makers back in the days, which I find very interesting as several of our family members are still working with Sámi handcraft, duodji. Algot’s nomadic mother Maria grew up herding over 300 reindeer moving between roadless mountains and forests in Northern Sweden above the arctic circle. Maria some of her closest members in the Pokka family settled down in the quiet and roadless Juoksuvaara (part of the Sámi district Ängeså sameby). Juoksuvaara was a village of only 7 houses hidden in a thick forest and most people here were our family. Juoksuvaara became a very unique mixture of Sámi, Finnish, Swedish cultures. Reindeer herding, small sized farming, and forest work. All combined in one tiny place. They mainly spoke Sámi and Finnish (Meänkieli). Maria married Hjalmar Jönsson and they had 7 children, where Algot being the youngest born in 1922. My grandfather loved living this simple life in harmony with nature and far away from civilization. He often told me all these amazing stories about their simpler way of living and all the adventures he went on. Algot and his aunt Selma Pokka helped each other to care of the reindeer herd, about 35 reindeer at the time. They used their reindeer for forest work, farming, meat, leather, and milk. The Pokkas were also known to make delicious reindeer cheese, and Hjalmar was a true master at crafting with leather. Algot had his own pet reindeer called Jakob that he was very found of. My grandfather told me stories of skiing behind the reindeer, riding on them, and driving them to pull heavy loads in the forest. They basically used their reindeer like farmers would use draft horses as the reindeer is very agile on snow.

My grandfather was pulled away from their lifestyle and reindeer farming and had to leave his home in Juoksovaara in the late 1940s. New restricted reindeer herding legislation made it hard for our Pokka family to keep their reindeer a few years prior, and Algot needed to start providing for his wife and new born, my grandmother and my uncle. It was tough to live life in the reindeer farming industry as these new laws made it more difficult, as well as the industrialization and colonization started to take place. In the 1960s almost everyone had left the small village, and many moved to Narken. This is where my grandfather found his new happy place and built the cabin that we still have today. My family and I spend as much time as we possible can there, it’s our sacred place. My home in Sweden. The Sámi people’s situation worsened when both the land and culture were being threatened by forest industry, mining and colonization. The forest industry began clear cutting, and installing hydroelectric dams, constructing highways and railroads. Also the fact that people kept moving into the areas where reindeer used to roam freely made it all very difficult. Today the fight to save the land and the Sámi culture is ongoing. Despite all the hardships we once faced, we still have reindeer herding in our Pokka family today which we are very proud of. And my grandfather kept working with duodji (Sámi handcraft) throughout his whole life. My mum’s cousin Sixten Keisu live of reindeer farming and Sámi handcraft in Pyhäjärvi (in Korju Sameby). Sixten also just won the Nordic Championship with one of his stunningly engraved sámi knives in 2019. Read more about Sixten here ( Sixten is also a big inspiration for me and he has taught me a lot about Sámi culture and Sámi handcraft. I’m forever thankful for Sixten, my aunt Lisbeth, and my grandfather Algot for teaching me everything that I know about our family history, doudji, Sámi bracelet designs, and for always being very supportive and inspirational to me. Thank You! Giitu! I love you all so much.

Blessing from Sixten Keisu

“I’m very proud of Anna. She is a very talented jewelry maker and make beautiful pieces. And even most importantly, she has her heart in the right place

Short History of Sámi People

We didn’t come from anywhere, we have always been here, and we were here way before anyone else was. We are the people of the land, we live and feed of what nature has to give us, and we leave no visible trace behind us

Possibilities and difficulties, power and resistance, rights and unrighteousness. Pride and hope. Some 370 million people identify themselves as belonging to an indigenous people in the world today, descended from a population inhabiting a particular area before current state boundaries were established. The Sámi are one of these indigenous people and recognized as a national minority in Sweden. Their history begins long before the states of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia existed. There are at least 20,000 Sámi in Sweden today, and about 70,000 in total in Northern Scandinavia. Most live in Northern Norway. We know for certain that the inland part of Northern Sweden was inhabited some 10,000 years ago by people who may have been the ancestors of the Sámi. The Sámi people (called “Lapp” or “Lapplanders”, not very nice terms, back in the days by foreigners) have inhabited the northern portions of Scandinavia, Finland and eastward over the Russian Kola Peninsula since ancient times. These countries now claim territories that is regarded as Sápmi (the land of the Sámi). Sápmi used to be a land where Sámi and and their reindeer herds could travel freely across the boarders (there were no boarders for the longest time).

The Sámi have lived in relative co-existence with their neighbours for centuries, but for the last two hundred years, especially during the second half of the 20th century, there have been many dramatic changes in Sámi culture, politics, economics and their relations with their neighbouring societies. During the mid 1900th century the freedom of moving across the boarders within Sápmi got more restricted and controlled by each country’s government. The Sámi were commonly being taxed by 3 countries! Throughout these years the Sámi were getting discriminated and their rights more restrained.

Sami Landscape

The landscape has always been part of the Sámi.

Every creek, forest, cliff, hill, river has a name and spirit. The Sámi way of life is based on respect for nature and to very gently use nature to serve their needs. Go anywhere but leave no trace behind. Today’s ownership of land and water as well as climate change are crucial issues for the future of the Sámi and Sápmi. The reindeer herding that is the foundation of the Sámi culture is now being threatened by the environmental changes, mining, forrest industry and clear cutting, hydroelectric dams, as well as even more colonization and also the pipe-lines on the Russian side. During the late 20th century, modern conflicts broke out over the construction of a hydroelectric dam, the reaction of which created a reawakening and defence of Sámi culture in recent years. The fight about Sápmi and the right for the Sámi to use the land is still on-going today. In the course of history, the Sámi have suffered a lot of discrimination, and they have joined forces both within and across national boundaries to defend their rights and to keep the cultural alive. Today the pride of being Sámi is growing stronger for everyday. And a revolution is taking place to keep Sámi culture and traditions alive and strong. The National Sámi day is celebrated on February 6th. 

The Sámi long lived by hunting, gathering, fishing and reindeer herding. Today about 10% of the Sámi are working with reindeer farming. New sources of income are handicrafts, tourism, media, art and music. Today, obviously, there are Sámi working in most vocational fields. Just like anyone else!

Sámi culture and identity is often demonstrated with a beautiful colourful traditional clothing (also called ‘kolt’ or ‘gákti’) and beautiful handcrafts. The style of the kolt varies between different areas within Sápmi and is an important symbol of identity and belonging. Handcraft in general is a strong symbol to express identity for the Sámi. Traditional Sámi handcraft is called duodji, and artists have to adapt to the natural materials rather than tearing the materials into a particular design. Roots, barks, plants, and the whole reindeer are common raw materials that are used. Hide is traditionally dyed with bark from trees like willow, birch, and alder tree. Hides, and some of the antlers, are a bi-products of a very small meat industry that is crucial to keep the Sámi culture and reindeer herding tradition alive. Everything from the reindeer is taken care of and nothing is wasted. Most antlers however falls off the reindeer naturally in a yearly shedding process.

“We need to get back to the path that we are meant to walk. We have to follow the trail that our ancestors set up for and stay on it. We are now living in a time where we are being reminded in many different ways that we cannot leave this path much further without struggling very seriously. We have to work with nature. When Earth suffers, we suffer…

I dream of a world where nature thrives and people live in harmony and balance with the land and the animals again. A green healthy planet! We are a proud generation now and voices are being raised. We need to build bridges among cultures. Stand up for what we believe in and come together. Now. And we will see a happy ending. I really want to believe that ” – Anna

“I’m beyond grateful that I started this project while grandfather Algot was still alive and healthy. I brought all my tools and materials with me when flying back to Sweden and Malmberget, and made bracelets on his kitchen table with him and grandma Märta watching me carefully. They both believed strongly in what I’m creating, and they proudly wore my creations. The supporting and loving handwritten letters from grandpa kept coming until the very end. Grandfather Algot passed away in September 14th 2019, 3 short days away from being 97 years old. Grandma Märta left us a few weeks later, October 20th 2019. They were happily married for 70 years, and I think that they couldn’t be without each other.

It makes my heart melt that my talented and lovely grandfather was very excited about my heart project Simply Sámi. He loved that I’m following my heart and passion with this ancient handcraft “that is so complicated to master” he kept saying. Algot was also very proud that I’m honouring both him, his Pokka family history, and the Sámi people by making reindeer bracelets all the way over here in Canada.

He said with a big smile that I’m putting Tornedalen on the world map, and standing up for the Sámi people and culture”

Thank you, grandfather, for everything that you have ever taught me. You’re my main inspiration for both Simply Sámi, and my life – Anna

Algot t pokka anna lengstrand

History of Pewter Reindeer Bracelets

Spun threads of gold, silver and bronze have been found from the Viking Age, which was used to decorate their belongings with. In Hågagögarna outside of Uppsala, fragments of spun gold threads have been found, approximately 300 years old. The technique using tin wire, however, came later. The oldest discovery so far is from Lake Furen in Småland. It is believed to be from the 11th century. Even in Gråträsk, Norrbotten, old tin wire has been found, which also dates from the 11th century.

Metals like silver and tin were originally introduced and adopted to the Sámi through trade with outsiders like the Vikings and other Europeans via the arctic shore line. Most commonly used was spun silver wire. The Sámi people soon started using tin/pewter, as it was easier to process and slightly cheaper, a so called ”poor man’s silver”. Today Anna works with a thread that is a combination of both metals. Tin thread embroidery has been widespread amongst the Sámi people since at least the 17th century. Eventually, the tin handcraft disappeared, even from the South Sámi areas. By the turn of 1800–1900 there was hardly anyone doing tin thread embroidery anymore and in the end of the 19th century the technique disappeared almost completely. This was probably because the tin (and even items in silver) was condemned by the Laestadian revival for some time. Someone properly faithful would not adorn themselves with ”ostentation an ornaments”. But in 1905 Andreas Wilks found his mother’s old tin wire tools and began experimenting. Eventually, he managed to both drag and spin tin wire. He did not do this the old way, instead of spinning it around a lendon he used a bear wire. He also simplified the actual spinning by replacing the old ”twister” to a kind of distaff that the Sámi people used to spin wool yarn with.

Andreas Wilk held 30 courses in Norrbotten, Västerbotten, Jämtland and Härjedalen. By doing this he saved a dying art form. Today, Sámi jewlery is produced by both Sámi people, and sometimes other craftsmen, mainly in Northern Sweden. Sámi bracelets are most commonly made of vegetable tanned reindeer leather, reindeer antler buttons and thread made of pewter with 4% silver.

The Sámi traditionally made the tin thread by cleaving a twig of birch or alder in half and then remove the pith. The twig was then tied together with string. In the hole, a mixture of melted tin and lead. The tin rods then got pressed through small holes drilled in reindeer antlers. Once the tin was thin enough it could be sewn into beautiful patterns. The tin thread Anna is using today for her jewelry is still handmade and ordered from Sápmi.

“Tenntrådsbroderier’” by Mona Callenberg
“The Sámi peoples of the North. A social and Cultural History” by Neil Kent
“The Sámi people – Traditions in Transitions” by Veli-Pekka Lehtola

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