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A little background information

For those of you who have stumbled into this little corner of the blogosphere, I suspect a bit of an explanation might be appropriate.  This journal has been created to document a three-week study tour to Sweden, hosted by Eastern Connecticut State University's Honors Program. For this particular adventure, seven students will be accompanying me to a small village, Jokkmokk (pronounced "Yoke-moke"), which is situated approximately 20 miles north of the Arctic Circle. We'll spend nearly two weeks there attending a course entitled Indigenous Traditional Knowledge, taught by my friend and colleague, Dr. Krister Stoor of Umeå University, Sweden's northernmost university.  In preparation for this, the students were enrolled in my Introduction to Sámi Culture course this past semester (Spring 2010).  I have a feeling, however, most of you reading this still have very little idea where we're headed or why.  Therefore, at the risk of being overly professorial, let me take a few more moments to introduce you to the Sámi and try to clarify the purpose of this adventure to the far north.

The Sámi represent one of the last indigenous populations found in Europe, constituting no more than about 80,000 people in total.  Formerly known as "Lapps" or "Laplanders", these folks were the original inhabitants of what we now identify as Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia (specifically the Kola Peninsula).  Despite at least 1500 years of contact with their neighboring Norwegians, Swedes, etc., the Sámi retain a distinctive culture, one that is most stereotypically represented by their practice of herding reindeer, and their penchant for very colorful clothing that stands in marked contrast to the rather stark environment of the arctic and sub-arctic regions where many of them still live.  As a result of these stereotypes, however, it usually comes as quite a surprise that the Sámi are a thoroughly modern people, fully integrated into the societies where they live, and employed in every conceivable occupation.  Nevertheless, some 10% are still actively engaged in reindeer husbandry, a lifestyle that demands full-time attention, and usually involves the entire family for at least part of the migratory cycle. 

I won't bore you with the details of how I came to be involved with these folks, but suffice it to say that I've been working with Sámi populations since the late 1980s, primarily focusing on their distinctive vocal music called joik (pronounced "yoik").  This research has happily entailed a great deal of travel back and forth and quite a few extended stays, primarily in Sweden, ranging from a few weeks to a year at a time.  In each instance, I have had the great privilege of meeting and working with people whom I now reckon among my closest friends, so it is particularly gratifying to introduce my students to many of these same individuals.

As mentioned above, the official purpose of this trip is to take advantage of a course offering, unique not only in its content, but its location in one of the few communities in Sweden with such a sizable Sámi population.  While the title of the course is rather broad ("indigenous" encompasses a lot of different cultures), Dr. Stoor has made arrangements to draw on local Sámi elders and their knowledge of traditional practices, so the students will receive an in-depth exposure to Sámi culture that I trust will complement what they've already learned in my course.  In addition, Dr. Stoor grew up in a Sámi family with strong ties to reindeer herding, and is an expert joik singer, so the students will have the benefit of his experiences, as well.

And there you have it.  For the next three weeks, I'll be logging in as often as possible with updates, photos, observations and anything else that I can come up with to keep readers informed of what promises to be an unprecedented and exciting experience for every one of us partaking in this adventure. 

RJB

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