Easter is the biggest thing in this town, and the only time of the year when something really happens. It’s been like that if not from the time immemorial, at least for several hundred years – a time when people gather for a márkan. Márkan marks a time of the year when Sami from different regions traditionally used to gather together for an annual market and to carry out business and pleasure: socialize and visit with relatives and friends, meet new people, change news, discuss topical issues, gossip, trade, and later also go to church and deal issues with non-Sami authorities such as priests and police. In Kauto, the márkan time is Easter and now that the town has both a permanent church and police station, people can focus on pleasure instead of business.
This year I missed the film festival (I was out of town) that takes place the week before the Easter. It’s a festival that screens Sami and other indigenous film production, some in the open-air drive-in ‘ice cinema’. If you don’t have a snowmobile to drive in, there’re some seats (of ice, of course) too.
The staples of Kauto Easter festival include reindeer racing, snowmobile racing, a song and yoik contest the Sami Grand Prix, a number of other concerts, art and duodji exhibits and a church service, all packed in four days. No wonder it can get a bit hectic especially if you also want to go x-c skiing on top of all the other excitement.
This year there were also special guests in Kauto for the Easter. Some of the descendants of those Sami who left for Alaska with their reindeer at the end of the 19th century came to visit and reconnect with their relatives and Sami culture. Their visit was named after the “Manitoba Expedition,” the boat that shipped their ancestors and their reindeer to North America. (You can also watch a brief interview of two of the visitors here: The Manitoba Expedition Reunion)
At our home we were hosting Faith Fjeld, the editor of Báiki, American Sami Journal that has played a central role in raising awareness of the ancestry of the descendants of Sami in North America. (Faith’s interview about the Manitoba Expedition” available soon.) Many of those who emigrated and started a new life in the “New World” hid their stigmatized Sami identity. As a result, often their off-spring had no idea about their background and went on living as Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish Americans.
This is an interesting history that has not been studied much thus far. A lot of Sami ended up in Minnesota and Washington. In Minnesota there is a term for off-spring of Finns and Ojibways: Findians. I came across some ‘Findian’ names in Ontario when I read about First Nations chiefs who had Finnish last names. In Poulsbo, Washington, there is a waterfront park with a row of Scandinavian flags, including a Sami flag. We visited the town once without knowing much about it’s Sami presence and were quite surprised to stumble upon a Sami flag – in a part of the world where one usually has to give a detailed explanation about the Sami people. The town also had a neighbourhood called Little Norway – unfortunately it didn’t cross our minds at the time to go and visit the graveyard to see which Sami were buried there. Maybe I would’ve found my great grand uncle Elias Balto’s grave – he left for British Columbia in the early 1900s, returned to Deatnu Valley for a short period in the 1920s, after which nobody seems to know where he went and whether he had family in Canada or in the US.
But back to Kauto Easter. It wasn’t too difficult to decide to skip both the reindeer and snowmobile racing as well as the church service, but we joined in pretty much everything else. On Long Friday after a gathering with the Manitoba Expedition guests, we headed to Ingor Ántte Áilu Gaup concert and a CD release. The venue was packed as always at Easter but we felt that he didn’t really got going until the very end, and then it was all over. Probably a very common feeling at Easter in Kauto. So much going on, so many people to meet, so little time.
On Saturday was the Sami Grand Prix at the local sports hall. With about 1500 tickets sold, it was packed and the show started in a very prof like with smoke, lightshow and deep voiceovers. The contest is in two parts, first those who do traditional yoiks take the stage (this year there were ten), and later, it’s the song contest (six songs this year). All the contestants are Sami and they also yoik and sing in Sami. (Last year’s song contest winner caused a bit of a scandal for not having proper words in his song and many thought that he had won because of his exceptional – at least on local terms – stage performance.) This year’s biggest surprise was the emergence of the Sami Bon Jovi aka Mikkel Gaup, the local film star from the 1980s hit Pathfinder (he also played a leading role in the recently premiered Kautokeino Rebellion, another movie by Nils Gaup). His rock’n’roll song about the historical Sami figure who was executed as a consequence of the Kautokeino rebellion of 1852 took many by surprise, including himself (in the local paper he notes that he didn’t know he can sing until recently). Some were also offended for his choice of a song, as I later heard. In any case, it was fun to watch and at the end we were laughing with disbelief – personally it was good to see a local Sami guy who doesn’t take himself too seriously. It was probably good that he didn’t win.
The song contestant winner was Elin Kåven, a young Sami woman from Karasjok, whom I had met a couple of months ago in Oslo. She had introduced herself as a Sami gothic bellydancer and it certainly showed in her stage performance. Her song about loneliness in a big city was beautiful, wistful and ethereal and her subtle bellydance movements complemented her song wonderfully.
The odd thing about the Grand Prix was the way it was organized: there wasn’t an intermission where people could’ve mingled (and showed off their new Sami outfits – a big part of Kauto Easter). One would’ve expected at least one half an hour break but the two parts ran one after another with no break whatsoever. Mingling afterwards was only for those who didn’t mind doing it outside in freezing cold of minus 25 Celsius.
On Easter Sunday we went for a walk to town (it was sunny but too cold to x-c ski) and came across a hat sale. Faith remembered that Easter bonnets used to be a tradition in the US, at least in New York where ladies showed off their new headware after the church service at Easter. Well, we missed the service but got our bonnets! P.S. Check out Faith’s funky antenna!