We Stopped Forgetting

Following is a book review by John Xavier, chair of the Sami Siida of North America:

In 1974, Sami writer and cultural leader Alf Isak Keskitalo published what has probably become his most important article, "Research as an Inter-Ethnic Relation," (latest reprint in 1994, in Arctic Centre Reports.)  Keskitalo addressed several issues on cultural and social research crossovers, a sort of questioning of insider-outsider exchanges.  He discussed issues which echo today, including that of research by non-Sami on Sami topics.  Keskitalo wrote of the Sami in the Nordic regions of the Arctic, Sapmi, as a trans-border people whose lives are carried on across political lines.  Other recent authors, including Kao Kalia Yang in The Latecomer:  A Hmong Family Memoir (2008), have developed similar themes of the state of trans-border (and transplanted) peoples.

Now comes Ellen Marie Jensen, with her intriguing new work, We Stopped Forgetting:  Stories from Sami Americans, as an outgrowth of sorts from the long-standing Keskitalo debate, and Yang' s dedication to writing about things that are meaningful.  Jensen, with dual U.S.-Norwegian citizenship, lives most of each year in Sapmi, teaches English there, and draws on her experience as a Sami American, and conducts research in Sapmi and the U.S. on Sami Americans.  Jensen has assembled a book which opens doors to readers seeking some basic understanding of the history of the Sami Americans.  She has one foot on each side of the Atlantic and revels in the process of self-discovery among her primary ethnic identity group, the Sami Americans.  At the same time, Jensen has drawn substantially on her Master's thesis at the University of Tromso, providing a solid academic foundation for her book.

Jensen explains in her Foreword that "...life stories reverse the process of assimilation through memory because assimilation depends greatly on forgetting."  She explores various aspects of ethnic and cultural awareness, starting with her own family and others (including a brief mention my own Xavier family), as well as the subjects of her Master's thesis.

Drawing heavily on many sources, Jensen summarizes the long reach of Sami immigration to the U.S. and furnishes readable chapters which are generously illustrated, with photos, reproduction of artworks, and maps.  Jensen's chosen stories are not at all limited to the main five research chapters of her Master's thesis.  I found it particularly endearing as a Sami American activist that much of her photo documentation draws on contemporary people and current efforts, such as those of the Lantto family, to illustrate her points.  Yet, Jensen gives proper credit to the early Sami American leaders of the 1990s, that is, those leaders whose efforts are now evident in the full flower of the several Sami American organizations that have grown up.

Jensen gives due attention in print and photo to such Sami American giants as Rudy and Sally Johnson, Mel Olsen, Faith Fjeld, descendants of the early Sami reindeer pioneers in Alaska and Canada, and others.  In giving proper credit, Jensen includes much more than the Norwegian roots of Sami America.  Examples include plenty of interviews and information on the Swedish aspects – Jensen recognizes the artistic and gifted Seaberg family; likewise, Jensen offers insight into the Finnish side of things, featuring, for example, publisher and cultural director, Jim Kurtti.  Jensen also points to some future topics for study, including the growing role of social media in the process of inter-ethnic relations.

There is much to like about Jensen’s book, and little to dislike.  For her future publishing efforts, Sami Canadians will want more attention, and a future project might include a printed or web-based compilation of articles from the two main Sami American periodicals, Baiki and Arran.  These two periodicals have furnished, despite appearing on a less-than-regular basis, valuable insight into the development of the Sami American communities.  For the electronic media enthusiast, a compilation of websites and Facebook pages might be of interest.  With these very minimal points just made, this reader concludes that for anyone interested in Sami America, this book is to be recommended without any reservations.

How to order according to Debbie at Ingebretsen's

The cost of the book is $30.  Our shipping cost is based on the amount of purchase and would therefore be $7.50, for a total of $37.50, unless we are shipping within Minnesota in which case there would also be tax.  Since the book isn't up on our website currently, the best way to order would be to call us...800 279 9333 (ask for the mail order department).  We'll be happy to take your order over the phone. Our store hours are 9:00 to 5:30 Monday through Friday and 9:00 to 5:00 Saturday (that's central time).