- With the Lapps in the High Mountains: A Woman among the Sámi, 1907–1908 by Emilie Demant Hatt
With her latest translation, Barbara Sjoholm, an award-winning writer and translator, brings Danish ethnographer and artist Emilie Demant Hatt’s gem, Med lapperne i højfjeldet (Nordiska Bokhandeln, 1913), into English for the first time. The new edition features an introduction written by Sjoholm and a foreword by anthropologist Hugh Beach. Both outstanding essays contextualize the work within Demant Hatt’s own life experiences, in relation to her collaborations with famed Sámi author Johan Turi, [End Page 229] and in terms of her ethnography’s historical and contemporary critical reception. This translation is an elegantly written ethnographic narrative, which documents Sámi folklife and customary practice around the turn of the twentieth century and diplomatically fosters a political discourse that advocates for Sámi rights in the contentious debates of the era.
With the Lapps in the High Mountains chronicles the span of one year, from summer to summer of 1907–1908, during which Demant Hatt lives with two separate mountain Sámi families (Aslak and Siri Turi; Anne and Jounas Rasti) as they migrate with their reindeer from their low summer pasturelands to their wintertime grounds in the high mountains. Demant Hatt had long been enamored by Sámi culture. On her first visit to Swedish Lapland with her sister in 1904, Demant Hatt met the wolf-hunter Johan Turi on a train. He wanted to write a book about the Sámi people, and she wanted to live as a reindeer herder. Their collaborations eventually produced Turi’s classic Muitalus sámiid birra (Nordiska Bokhandeln, 1910; Thomas A. DuBois, trans., An Account of the Sámi, Nordic Studies Press, 2011), the first secular work written in a Sámi language, and the subsequent Sámi deavsttat (Lappish Texts, Johan Turi and Per Turi, Bianco Lunos Bogtrykkeri, 1918–1919). Demant Hatt remained in touch with Turi and studied the Sámi language before returning with the intent of migrating with a Sámi family in 1907.
Although Demant Hatt’s contribution to Sámi ethnography is often overshadowed by Johan Turi, Demant Hatt’s work stands on its own merits. As a woman, Demant Hatt had unique access to the women and children of the siida (a Sámi reindeer-herding community); many of her male contemporaries did not have such access, or paid scant attention. Sámi men were often deeply involved with the reindeer, and routinely away from the goahti (tent home or turf hut) for extended periods of time. Demant Hatt captures the social dynamics present at the home, in particular in her observations of textile arts, foodways, customary manners, domestic work and play, childbirth, childrearing, and education.
Politically, Demant Hatt takes on many issues. She details the struggle between herders and farmers, during which hefty fines are often unjustly levied against herders for crop damage on traditional reindeer pasturelands. She criticizes the closed-border policies in the far north, which left the Rastis’ reindeer on the brink of starvation and within reach of forbidden but abundant fodder within Finland. She actively dispels many stereotypes of Sámi people as “primitive.” She critiques the emergent tourist economy along the Norwegian coast: the way tourists treat Sámi like animals, and how tourism blindly cheapens the value of quality handicraft and undermines traditional aesthetics. [End Page 230]
Most adamantly, however, Demant Hatt is concerned about boarding schools. At the time she wrote, Sweden was in the midst of a great policy debate concerning Sámi education. Under the auspices of improving the quality of Sámi life, Sámi children were forced into boarding schools, which proved to be enormously destructive. Disease, neglect, physical abuse, the disruption of traditional herding knowledge, and the emotional impacts of separation from one’s family for nine months created a lost generation of Sámi people. Demant Hatt witnessed these impacts and pressed diplomatically...