The Pioneers of Sámi Children’s Books
The “Mothers” Who Made the Invisible Visible
This article discusses the Sámi children’s books produced in the 1970s and 1980s during the Sámi political “awakening,” and which are part of the larger Sámi project of cultural self-determination. In the historical legacy of images of the Sámi that were part of the vast colonial apparatus employed by the surrounding majority cultures, Sámi children of earlier generations had been exposed to and internalized representations of themselves that reproduced a hierarchical social order in which they were on the lower rungs. Since the 1970s, Sámi children’s book creators have been actively engaged in decolonizing children’s literature from this legacy of settler colonization and assimilationist policies by not only foregrounding language and Sámi traditions, but also reappropriating stereotypes and images in a decolonizing gesture in order to reclaim their past and their identities. Because the first generation of Sámi children’s book authors and illustrators were women, Vuokko Hirvonen has termed them the “mothers” of Sámi literature (Voices from Sápmi). Their books also contain deeply feminist critiques, not only of the legacy of the majority culture, but of patriarchy within Sámi culture as well. By working and reconfiguring traditional narratives, their books have thus a dual mission of giving voice, visibility and agency to the Sámi while recouping the silenced female voice.
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