Tiina Sanila-Aikio isn’t your everyday president. The 34-year-old is the head of the Sámi people in Finland, the only indigenous population recognized in the European Union. She is also the creator of the world’s first Skolt-language rock albums. Skolt is a Sámi language spoken by just 300 people.
Although the Sámi population numbers at least 75,000, their languages are dying out. The Sámi are made up of nine different tribes across Norway, Sweden, Russia and Finland and speak various dialects. The lack of Sámi language education means young Sámis are growing up not speaking their mother tongue.
“I’m very sad to say the number of people who speak a version of Sámi as their first language is going down, and fast,” Sanila-Aikio said. “At the same time, the Sámi population is growing.”
In the 1960s, 75 percent of Sámis spoke the language as their mother tongue, according to records at the Sámi Cultural Centre Sajos. Research from 2007 revealed only 24 percent of Sámis were native speakers, and some dialects have already disappeared. Out of the 11 dialects, nine are still spoken, and Ter Sámi is spoken by just two people.
Sanila-Aikio is a Skolt Sámi and grew up in the village of Sevettijärvi, where the Skolt culture and language are still very much alive. She was so passionate about reviving her language she became a teacher and taught at the Sámi Education Institute in Inari, a unique vocational upper secondary education school, which teaches in Finnish and Sámi and promotes Sámi culture throughout the area.
“I was very worried about the trend, and I wanted to do something about it,” she said. “We have the Sámi Language Act — which covers situations where Sámis have the right to use their language when dealing with authorities. First of all, the authorities should have staff who speak the Sámi languages, and secondly, they can have interpreters if they don’t. But in reality, this doesn’t happen.
“It is a big struggle.”
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