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Works by Elin Anna Labba


Common Knowledge




Meticulously researched, vividly descriptive and beautifully written, The Rocks Will Echo Our Sorrow: The Forced Displacement of the Northern Sámi by Elin Anna Labba (translated by Fiona Graham) is a powerful read.

The award-winning author, whose grandparents were among the sirdolaččat (“the displaced”) paints an intimate portrait of the Bággojohtin,-the forced displacement of the Indigenous Sámi community between 1919 to the 1930s. The author states that approximately three hundred people were displaced during this period and the displacements continued even until the 1950s in Sweden as people were moved from one herding community to another.

“One of the most frequently quoted Sámi proverbs says that the downy birch doesn't break in two; It merely bends. You bear your hurt alone, for breaking down want to make your daily life any easier. Your tears should fall unseen on your shawl. The philosophy of life revolves around the word birget- surviving and coping. Each year the reindeer must survive the winter: that is what matters not people's feelings.”

Traditionally, the Sámi reindeer herding community divided their time between the Norwegian coast in the summers and then migrated inland to their winter pastures in Sweden. The Reindeer Grazing Conventions of 1919 signed between Sweden and Norway restricted the number of reindeer crossing the border, which marked the beginning of the displacement of the community for whom reindeer herding was their way of life. The Norwegian government wanted the land for agriculture and more importantly, wanted a country for Norwegian citizens and they viewed the Sámi as “a red rag to the Norwegian state” whom they believed didn’t belong despite having lived there for generations.

Considered a “burden on the country” and “a race on its way to extinction”, the community not only lost their land and homes, many were continuously displaced for years on end, forcibly separated from their extended families and those they left behind and their herd and made to settle on land where they had to struggle for their livelihood and were subjected to discrimination and humiliating “racial- biology examinations”. Children were stripped of their names, language and heritage, and sent to boarding schools where the main goal was assimilation. With the Lapp Bailiffs appointed to oversee the deportations, the Sami had no say in the matter, their appeals falling on deaf ears. Though financial incentives were offered, they were barely enough to sustain families who lost loved ones and large numbers of their herds en route to their appointed destinations. Those unwilling to move were coerced, fined, forcibly removed and threatened with slaughter of their herd if they did not comply.

The author not only shares her experiences from her travels to the land that was once home to her ancestors but also explores her own connection to the same and how a history of displacement and loss impacts the generations that follow. The author draws from several sources - through personal accounts from families and their descendants, pictures, joiks (traditional songs) and poetry as well as archival documents, and newspaper articles, in giving a voice to her people and sharing their history with readers across the globe. This is an insightful, emotional and heart-wrenching book that sends a strong message, emphasizing how important it is to preserve and share the stories of those who came before us and have been ignored and deliberately erased from history books, so that they are not forgotten.

“For many, recounting the tale is a way to heal. In the language I love best, to remember and to tell a story are almost the same word: muitit means to remember, and to tell or to recount is muitalit. We remember those whose story we retell.”

Many thanks to the University of Minnesota Press for the digital review copy via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.
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srms.reads | 2 other reviews | Apr 23, 2024 |
The Rocks Will Echo Our Sorrow gave me more insight into the Sami people's history, which is unsettling to read. When the Northern countries of Sweden and Norway wanted firm boundary lines, the Sami were no longer allowed to cross country borders to take their reindeer herds to their traditional winter and summer lands. The reindeer herds caused damage to the farmer's crops.

The Sami were considered to be inferior in culture and as humans. The name Lapps came from a slur referring to their poverty. The governments instituted policies that limited where the Sami could live and how many reindeer they could own. Families were forced to move without regard to community and family connections, regardless if the new land was familiar or useful to reindeer herding, uncaring if these policies impoverished the Sami whose wealth was their herds.

Elin Anna Labba uses interviews, documents, photographs and the stories of specific people and families in her heart breaking history. It is an all too familiar story of indigenous people at the mercy of governmental powers who devalue their way of life, view them as lesser humans, instituting laws that amount to the destruction of a people and their culture. Most of the Sami endeavored to follow the laws, their appeals rejected. Pregnant women and small children were unspared, forced to walk to their assigned locations. They were measured, photographed naked, to prove their inferiority. Assimilation was forced with bans on speaking their language while they were also banned from moving into houses. No one defended their rights.

The time after that is a vacuum. They never wanted to talk about it. Now I know that my family is not the only one like this; the Sapmi where I grew up is full of people who have bound their wounds with silence.
from The Rocks Will Echo Out Sorrow by Elin Anna Labba

This is a deeply personal book for Labba who had family members displaced by these laws. "We remember those whose story we retell," Labba writes. "This is the joik I sing for you."

Thanks to the publisher for a free book.
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nancyadair | 2 other reviews | Feb 28, 2024 |
I knew almost nothing about the Sami peoples from Northern Scandinavia. I knew there had been forced displacements, but only a vague high-level idea of it. This book explores the history of the authors family and many others, and is told through archive images and documents as well as numerous interviews and collected stories and letters. It gives the history of forced displacements in the 1920s through the stories of individuals who lived through it and experienced it, and the recollections of their descendants. An important addition to First Nations history and literature available in English, for all of us to learn more about the history, politics, and current struggles.… (more)
amckie | 2 other reviews | Feb 8, 2024 |