Land-Based Participatory Pedagogical Experiment in Sami Language Distance Teaching: Maintaining Children's Relationships With Land and Nature

Land-Based Participatory Pedagogical Experiment in Sami Language Distance Teaching: Maintaining Children's Relationships With Land and Nature

Hanna Helander, Henna Aikio, Pigga Keskitalo, Tuija Turunen
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-5034-5.ch021
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This chapter discusses teachers' professional experiments with distance education in Indigenous Sami language with children aged six to seven years in Finland. The three Sami languages spoken in Finland have law-based status in the Sami domicile area. Outside of this area, where 75% of Sami children live, the Sami languages are taught as voluntary subjects online. This challenges teachers' culturally responsible land-based pedagogical practices, which are typical of Sami education. The case study investigates one teacher's professional creative experiment that focused on land-based online pedagogies using a participatory approach. The data consist of simulated recall interviews, a logbook, and Post-it® notes. The results indicate that, as reflective practitioner, the Indigenous teacher was able to maintain culturally and linguistically responsible pedagogies through experiment. This study carries a hopeful message for the future of minority communities: through educational experiments, teachers can provide language and culture survival tools for learners in diverse contexts.
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How can we recreate a connection with the land and nature, which are the basis of Sami culture and identity? These are important questions in Sami education. This article deals with this challenging question in a Sami1 language distance teaching setting—a context in which Sami is studied for two hours each week in a distance learning environment outside the Sami domicile area in Finland with small children aged six and seven years. This article is based on the results of a Finnish case study funded by the Academy of Finland—Socially Innovative Interventions to Foster and to Advance Young Children’s Inclusion and Agency in Society through Voice and Story (ADVOST). This article reports findings based on the study, the purpose of which was to investigate and find ways to strengthen children’s voices and agency and innovate new pedagogical models for providing culturally responsive Sami teaching. The research collaboration is connected to the Pilot project on distance education in the Sami languages. In educational experiments designed in collaboration with researchers, teachers’ aim, through different case studies, to test how various methods used in teaching, such as traditional storytelling, play and land-based pedagogy, can be utilised in distance learning. This article describes the land-based participatory pedagogy experiment as a case study carried out in the teaching of the Inari Sami language.

The situation of teaching Sami languages is influenced by the history of various processes of colonialism, which has led to assimilation and language loss and, as a result, weakened the minoritised languages’ linguistic heritages (Minde, 2005). These processes have led to Sami generations who have lost their native languages as children. For example, in Sami history, from the 1950s onwards, Sami children were often educated at boarding schools located far from children’s homes and cultural and linguistic surroundings. Before basic education was launched in the 1970s, education was provided in Finnish almost without exception, and children were not encouraged to speak Sami languages at school (Lehtola, 2012).

Traditionally, Sami people live in the middle and northern parts of Sweden and Norway, Northern Finland and the Kola Peninsula in Russia. Despite living in four countries, the Sami share close connections (Mikaelsson, 2016). Nowadays, more and more of the Sami live outside the core Sami areas, usually in larger cities. There are nine Sami languages, three of which are spoken in Finland: North Sami, Inari Sami and Skolt Sami (Moseley, 2010). All of these languages are endangered at different levels. North Sami is spoken in Norway, Finland and Sweden by less than an estimated 30,000 speakers (1,700 registered speakers in Finland). The seriously endangered Inari is only spoken in Finland; there are approximately 400–500 speakers of Inari Sami. There are approximately 300 speakers of Skolt Sami, some of whom live on the Kola Peninsula in Russia (Salminen, 2007).

In Finland, in 1995, when the Sami Parliament was established, the Sami people gained self-governance concerning Sami culture and languages (Act on the Sami Parliament 975/1995). This act defined the legally based Sami domicile area in Northern Finland, including the municipalities of Utsjoki, Inari, Enontekiö and the northern parts of Sodankylä. According to the Primary School Act (628/1998), Sami-speaking children and young people living in this domicile area have the right to receive most of their basic education in Sami languages. However, 75 percent of the Sami people live outside of the Sami domicile area and are not covered by Primary School Act. Municipalities that do not belong to the Sami domicile area can provide supplementary Sami education, with separate funding provided by the Finnish National Agency for Education. Currently, this supplementary Sami education reaches only about 10 percent of the Sami children and young people living outside the Sami domicile area (Sami Parliament, 2019).

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