The Rocks Will Echo Our Sorrow
The Forced Displacement of the Northern Sámi
by Elin Anna Labba
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Pub Date 02 Apr 2024 | Archive Date 19 Mar 2024
University of Minnesota Press, Univ Of Minnesota Press
The deep and personal story—told through history, poetry, and images—of the forced displacement of the Sámi people from their homeland in northern Norway and Sweden and its reverberations today
More than a hundred years have passed since the Sámi were forcibly displaced from their homes in northern Norway and Sweden, a hundred years since Elin Anna Labba’s ancestors and relations drove their reindeer over the strait to the mainland for the last time. The place where they lived has remained empty ever since. We carry our homes in our hearts, Labba shares, citing the Sámi poet Áillohaš. How do you bear that weight if you were forced to leave? In a remarkable blend of historical reportage, memoir, and lyrical reimagining, Labba travels to the lost homeland of her ancestors to tell of the forced removal of the Sámi in the early twentieth century and to reclaim a place in history, and in today’s world, for these Indigenous people of northern Scandinavia.
When Norway became a country independent from Sweden in 1905, the two nations came to an agreement that called for the displacement of the Northern Sámi, who spent summers on the Norwegian coast and winters in Sweden. This “dislocation,” as the authorities called it, gave rise to a new word in Sámi language, bággojohtin, forced displacement. The first of the sirdolaččat, or “the displaced,” left their homes fully believing they would soon return. Through stories, photographs, letters, and joik lyrics, Labba gathers a chorus of Sámi expression that resonates across the years, evoking the nomadic life they were required to abandon and the immense hardship and challenges they endured: children left behind with relatives, reindeer lost when they returned to familiar territory, sorrow and estrangement that linger through generations.
Starkly poetic and emotionally heart-wrenching, this dark history is told through the voices of the sirdolaččat, echoing the displacements of other Indigenous people around the world as it depicts the singular experience of the Northern Sámi. For her extraordinary work, Labba was awarded Sweden’s most important national book prize in 2020, the August Prize for Best Nonfiction.