Last weekend our almost complete research team of the ORHELIA project (only Roza was unfortunately missing) went to Lovozero, the Sami ‘capital’ of Russian Lapland. It was probably my shortest field trip ever, with only one full day at our disposal and almost two entire days spent in a car. The main goal this time was not to gather as much information as possible but, on the opposite, to spread ORHELIA’s voice. It is the goal of our project to have such meetings in all our field sites. We already had one before in Sevettijärvi (Finland) and our next one will be in December in Naryan-Mar.
In Lovozero we organised an info meeting with local people from Lovozero, aiming to let them know about the goals of our project and what benefit it might bring to them as the beneficiary owners of the “raw material” we are working with. This meeting took place in the “Chum”, which is officially called “National Culture Centre” – with ‘national’ meaning ‘indigenous’, the latter being banned from official soviet terminology. Thanks to the organisational support of Valia Sovkina we could manage to gather quite a bit of people.
In the first part of the meeting everybody shortly told about their field site. Our accounts were overarched by Florian’s presentation in which he outlined our comparative approach and the centre-periphery concept: Decisions about the Northern ‘peripheries’ are taken far away in administrative and political centres like Moscow or Helsinki. But is it so evident what is the periphery and what the centre? Doesn’t it depend on where one lives? Aren’t capital cities all too often little-knowing peripheries sending decisions to people’s lifestyle nuclei?
The meeting was visually accompanied by slideshows and an exhibition of items from our different field sites. These visuals stimulated our discussions with many interested locals while having tea after the presentations.
For me, who is working with Russian Sami people, having my colleagues from the other field sites here in Lovozero was an important door-opener for my further work. Letting people know who we are and what we are doing creates trust and a feeling of shared interests. I have no doubt that this will reflect in future interviews. In the aftermath of the meeting several people expressed the wish to meet and share their stories with us.
Without any doubt, our most popular team member in Lovozero became Nuccio. While we all could communicate in Russian, Nuccio had a most unexpected common language ready for use: North Sami. A Sicilian in Russia who speaks North Sami with the locals. What an exceptional combination!
While Nuccio speaking Sami enchanted our audience, there is another remarkable fact making possible this unexpected way of communicating: North Sami, a language originally not used in Eastern Sapmi, in the past twenty years has become the second most spoken Sami dialect there, behind Kil’din Sami, but with much more speakers than the other dialects of Eastern Sapmi (see Scheller 2013, 409 f.) due to intense cooperation programmes especially with Norway. This example has shown in a nice way that North Sami has become a lingua franca in transnational Sami contacts.
Generally speaking, everybody of our team was overwhelmed by the openness and the interest of the attending people, regardless to the fact that Lovozero can be designated without any doubt as ‘over-researched’ in the past twenty years. We take this as a very encouraging feedback on our project. Thank you, Lovozerians!