A student in a snowsuit sitting on a sled with gas canisters

Culture / Norway

Story by Logan Turner, Fabian Fröhlich and Maria Jose Athie Martinez

For thousands of years, the Sámi people have lived off the land — fishing, hunting and, for many families, herding reindeer. In Norway, they are a small minority and have had to fight to maintain their culture and languages. Education has often been used as a way to force Indigenous communities to assimilate. But there is an effort to build a stronger education system for Sámi people — one that respects their traditional values.

The Global Reporting Program travelled to Norway in February 2020, just before travel restrictions were imposed in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The team met with educators, politicians, parents and students to look at how they were working to change the path for Sámi students. Our story begins above the Arctic Circle in Norway.

Two students arriving at their cabin with snowmobiles parked out front
First-year high-school students in the agriculture, forestry and fishing program at the Sámi Reindeer Husbandry School are heading out to learn about herding reindeer by snowmobile. This is part of a three-day land-based learning workshop in the Sáitejávri area of the Norwegian Arctic tundra. (Photo by Logan Turner)
A student leaning on his snowmobile
Piere-Åvla M. Bransfjell, a first-year student at the Sámi Reindeer Husbandry School, says the snow is too deep for the class to reach the reindeer herd on February 18, 2020. The snowfall has been unusually high this year, which can pose health risks for the reindeer and make it more difficult to reach the herd by snowmobile. Instead of getting to work with the herd today, the students repeatedly get stuck in deep snow and shallow streams. (Photo by Logan Turner)
Concentrating on the card game
Piere-Åvla M. Bransfjell, 16, enjoys a card game while swapping stories with other students about herding reindeer in their hometowns. Piere-Åvla travelled more than 1,000 kilometres north from his home community of Røros in central Norway to enrol at the Sámi Reindeer Husbandry High School. (Photo by Logan Turner)
A teacher pointing out letters of an alphabet
At her home in the Arctic Sámi village of Guovdageaidnu, reindeer biology teacher Oddbjørg Hætta Sara points out some of the Sámi posters she has displayed in her kitchen. As a teacher, Oddbjørg says she is always thinking about how to create an educational curriculum that includes Sámi culture and traditions. (Photo by Britney Dennison)
Relaxing in the cabin
Niillas Heaika Sara, the 11-year-old son of Oddbjørg Hætta Sara, shows off traditional Sámi ski boots made from reindeer hide at his home in Guovdageaidnu. (Photo by Britney Dennison)
The Arctic Sámi village of Guovdageaidnu, also known as Kautokeino
The sun rises over the Arctic Sámi village of Guovdageaidnu (also known in Norwegian as Kautokeino). Guovdageaidnu is home to just under 3,000 people and is located on the Norwegian side of Sápmi — which is referred to as “the land of the Sámi” and includes parts of Norway, Finland, Russia and Sweden. (Photo by Logan Turner)
Three reindeer crossing the path
Three reindeer cross the highway between two major Sámi villages, Guovdageaidnu and Kárášjohka, on February 20, 2020. Reindeer herding is a traditional way of life for many Sámi people, one that is still practiced as a primary economic activity by many families across Sápmi. (Photo by Britney Dennison)
Gathering branches near a recently slaughtered reindeer
Local elder and reindeer herder Káren Màrjà Eira Buljo, is leading a two-day workshop for students from the Sámi allaskuvla (Sámi University of Applied Sciences). The students in attendance are from the university’s kindergarten teacher training program. (Photo by Britney Dennison)
An elder cutting through the skull of a reindeer with a saw
During the workshop, elder Káren Màrjà Eira Buljo (right), teaches students the traditional methods for reindeer slaughtering. Here she works with student Elle-Helene Siri (left) to saw through the reindeer skull. Students like Elle-Helene are being taught how to use every part of the reindeer. They are working together to prepare reindeer brain cake, which Káren Màrjà says is a nutritional snack for young children. (Photo by Britney Dennison)
An elder preparing a traditional meal
At the end of the two-day workshop, students, teachers and staff share a meal featuring the traditional reindeer dishes they prepared, including bidos (reindeer soup), liver patties, reindeer meat and blood sausage. (Photo by Britney Dennison)
A man with a red shirt in a library
Mikkel Eskil Mikkelsen, an elected member of the Sámi Parliament, stands in the library at the Sámediggi (Sámi Parliament) in Norway. Mikkel is a member of the Sámi Parliament's Executive Council, and is responsible for overseeing Sámi education. He says two challenges facing Sámi education are the limited number of Sámi teachers and the lack of educational resources available. (Photo by Fabian Fröhlich)
Teaching vocabulary to young students
Marit Berit Eira is teaching a vocabulary lesson to the first- and second-grade Sámi classes at the Prestvannet school in Tromsø, the only school offering a Sámi stream in the Norwegian city of around 77,000. (Photo by Logan Turner)
A young student working on a poem
Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day and Grade 2 student Agnes Ballari Høyer is working on her five-line poem about friendship in the North Sámi language during her class at Prestvannet. (Photo by Britney Dennison)
Kids trudging through the snow
Sámi students from the Prestvannet elementary school are heading to a Sámi after-school program. Giellariššu, also known as the language shower, is a weekly program that provides Sámi students living in Tromsø an opportunity to practice the North Sámi language and culture in their daily life. (Photo by Fabian Fröhlich)
A woman guiding students through the snow
Kristin Solberg, the project coordinator for Giellariššu, says the value of the afterschool program is to increase the frequency with which Sámi children speak, learn and play in the North Sámi language. (Photo by Britney Dennison)
A young student learning to lasso reindeer
Seven-year-old Agnes Ballari Høyer learns to lasso reindeer with her schoolmates at the Giellariššu after-school program. Adding a twist to the game, Agnes grabs the reindeer antlers and runs around the school yard pretending to be a reindeer. (Photo by Britney Dennison)
A young girl hanging up her coat inside
Agnes Ballari Høyer hangs up her coat at Giellariššu in Tromsø. One of the games Agnes plays at the program is called Alias, a guessing game where a student has to describe an object in North Sámi without saying its name. (Photo by Britney Dennison)
Mom and daughter at home working on math homework
At their home, Berit J. Ballari sits at the kitchen table with her seven-year-old daughter Agnes as they work on her math homework. Berit is a Sámi lawyer who grew up not speaking North Sámi, but says she is now reclaiming the language through her children and their education. (Photo by Britney Dennison)
A mom with her baby son in the kitchen
Berit J. Ballari holds her one-year-old son Osvald as her seven-year-old daughter Agnes walks into the kitchen for dinner. Berit says she hopes her children can grow up to be proud of their Sámi heritage. (Photo by Britney Dennison)