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Hidden Heritage

Scandinavian Festival will draw attention to the Saami, an indigenous people.


Have a craving for Swedish meatballs and krumkake? Then the place to be is Cal Lutheran University's Scandinavian Festival, which will be a bigger-than-usual bash this year to mark the event's 25th anniversary.

To get things rolling, an Ingrid Bergman film series starts Tuesday on the Thousand Oaks campus. The festival, April 18 and 19, is a smorgasbord of music, dance, theater, arts and crafts, market, and, of course, a real smorgasbord of Scandinavian delicacies.

The event, which drew 6,000 people from all over the U.S. last year, features something special this year. For the first time, Scandinavia's less visible populace, the Saami, will be represented.

Homeland to these indigenous people is above the Arctic Circle in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia's Kola Peninsula, in a region sometimes called Lapland. The Saami--the terms Lapps and Lapland are considered politically incorrect these days--are best known for their rugged, nomadic reindeer-herding traditions.

At the festival, Saami living in the U.S. and perhaps some from Scandinavia, will set up a small encampment depicting traditional Saami life. They'll erect a tepee-like structure made of canvas along with another dwelling, an earth hut. Visitors will see Saami attire, reindeer hides and a reindeer milking bowl, along with demonstrations of knife-making, weaving and embroidery.

It will be a slice of Saami life--without the live reindeer. But the event will have the next best thing. Norwegian photographer Grete Kvaal has lived with a Saami family that still herds reindeer, and she has compiled a show that documents women doing everything from castrating reindeer to slaughtering the animals and preparing their fur to be made into shoes.

Kvaal is bringing her photography to the festival, and films will be shown, as well, that document the discrimination and hardship the Saami have endured over the centuries.

"It was a shame to be Saami, kind of a hidden heritage," said Henrietta Koski, one of the local festival organizers whose grandmothers were both Finnish Saami.

"They have a lot in common with Native Americans," she said. As Christianity was pushed on the Saami by the Scandinavian nations, their religion was banned as witchcraft and their language was forbidden in schools. Their lands were taken and their culture was threatened by assimilation.

Today perhaps only 10% of the Saami still herd reindeer. With the arrival of snowmobiles, many live in houses and commute to their herds. Those who can get more conventional modern jobs generally do.

With fewer than 100,000 Saami remaining in Scandinavian countries, a push has been on in the last two decades to raise awareness and save the culture. The Saami now have their own parliament. And, in a stunning move last October, Norway's King Harald V issued an apology to the Saami people for the government's attempts to wipe out their culture.

In California, an Oakland-based organization formed in 1991 to further the cause through its publication "Baiki--An American Journal of Saami Living" and to provide a connection to Americans with Saami roots.

How many live in this country is chancy to even guess. "It's hard for Saami to trace their background," said Koski, whose grandparents all came from Finland.

Koski, who has worked as a teacher and librarian, among other professions, made a rather daring move two years ago that brought her closer to her Saami roots. After losing a job as a result of downsizing, this mother of three grown children sold her Pasadena home of 20 years and vowed not to get another.

"I've been a wanderer--I have no home," she said. She moves about, staying with friends, sometimes in Thousand Oaks, and with family. Her belongings--what remains of them--are in a 10-by-15-foot storage unit.

"The Saami are nomads at heart," she said.

She doesn't know how many Saami will come overseas to the festival, which has been expanded from its usual one-day format this year.

"They live on Saami time," she said. "If it happens, it happens."

At the festival, the Saami won't be the only ones with an encampment. Next to them will be a Viking encampment, with demonstrations of spinning, blacksmithing, leather working, combat reenactments and games. A 16th-century Swedish royal court will also be reenacted.


Cal Lutheran University's Scandinavian Festival will be held April 18-19 at Kingsmen Park on the Thousand Oaks campus, 60 W. Olsen Road. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. $5 for adults, $1 for children 10 and under, $7 for a two-day pass. (805) 493-3191.

The Ingrid Bergman film series starts Tuesday with "Joan of Arc" at Overton Hall, followed by "Anastasia" on Wednesday, "Golda" on Thursday, and "Autumn Sonata" on Saturday. 7 p.m. $2.

Photographer Grete Kvaal's exhibit opens Tuesday at CLU's Kwan Fong Gallery of Art and Culture and runs through May 10.

On Friday, the University Concert Band and Jazz Band will perform an all-Scandinavian concert at 8 p.m. in Samuelson Chapel.

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