Queering Sámi

Tim Boddy

2018 - Ongoing


The indigenous Sámi people inhabit a cultural region known as Sápmi (an area that encompasses predominantly Northern Scandinavia), who have been subjected to discrimination and oppression by dominant cultures and states for centuries, and prejudice exists to this present day. Within the Sámi community there have been endeavours since 2010 to make visible people who identify as both LGBTQ+ and Sámi. This is the space that this project seeks to operate in.

The Sámi people have increasingly fought to have their voices heard over recent decades following colonial suppression, with debate on the subject reaching national level in recent times. In 1989 the first Sámi Parliament (Sámediggi) was set-up in Norway; Sweden and Finland following suit in the 1990’s. These Parliaments focus on the specific needs of the Sámi - numbering between 80,000 and 100,000 - such as self-determination, language recognition, funding, land rights, human rights, and other heritage concerns.

Traditionally, Sámi LGBTQ+ have had a difficult time being open and visible in regards to their sexuality or expression of gender, due to the conservative aspects of Sámi culture; which leads to a ‘double violence’ against this minority group within a minority. However progress is being made. In 2014 the first Sápmi Pride took place in the Swedish town of Kiruna, and three openly gay Sámi members of Parliament have been elected since 2016 - thanks to the help of a Queering Sámi project and various organisations from within the community to help protect and empower queer Sámi people. Younger members are more likely to feel more comfortable in their sexual and gender identity than years gone by, while some consider themselves activists for Sámi and LGBTQ+ rights. However, these remain complex ideas in regards to identity, and acceptance within the community is not always easy.

I’m keen in my practice to highlight issues centered around LGBTQ+ culture and identity, an issue close to my heart, and use my voice to bring a spotlight to marginalised groups. While documenting the Sami community is a very specific example (and one that absolutely is of importance in itself), I believe there’s also a universality to the project in relation to the broader LGBTQ+ community.

It is my intention to meet figures within the LGBTQ+ Sámi community, including Sámi members of parliament, and to take portraits and document individuals in their home or wherever they feel comfortable in. This will entail set-up portraits, with potentially the participants wearing the gákti (traditional Sámi clothing) if of relevance to the individual, alongside candid shots of participants in the project, and documenting details of relevance to Sámi and LGBTQ+ identity based around conversations. I hope the images result in positive images of queer identity. There are numerous Sámi tribes across Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Murmansk Oblast (Russia), with the aim of this project to document a cross-section of individuals from differing backgrounds. It’s also of importance to include a diverse range of people from across the LGBTQ+ spectrum to further provide visibility within the Sámi community.

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  • Anne Henriette Reinås Nilut is one of three openly gay members of Sámi Parliament (Sámediggi), elected for the Norwegian Samers Riksforbund from the West Sea constituency in 2017; she also runs Márkomeannu Festival.

  • The NSR (of which Runar is president of), is a Norwegian-Sami cultural organisation established in 1968. It's also a political party and today has 18 of 39 representatives in the Sami Parliament. The black gákti symbolises his leadership of the organisation.

  • Timimie is fiercly poltical and a strong voice on indigenous and LGBTQ+ issues. They are gender non-binary and reside in Stockholm, where they regularly perform

  • Queering Sami was a landmark project that began in 2010 by Elfrida Bergman and Sara Lindquist, where norms about gender and sexuality within the Sami community were challenged. This is in Anne Henriette's home, although all participants in this series own a copy.

  • Anne-Henriette outside of her new Alta home. While she lives alone, Anne Henriette regularly meets with other Sami; such is the spread-out nature of the Sami people, she considers a three-hour drive to meet a friend as "popping down the road".

  • Runar trying out one of his many gákti in his Trømso home.

  • Runar Myrnes Balto has been President of the Norwegian Sámi Association (Norgga Sámiid Riikasearvi or NSR) since 2018, and is also a Sami member of Parliament. Runar was elected at the same time as Anne Henriette and also identifies as LGBTQ+

  • Timimie Märak is a queer Sámi activist, poet, and artist.

  • Alta is a remote town in the far North on Norway in the Arctic Circle, and is close to the heart of Sapmi. The town receives no daylight for months in the winter and night doesn't fall for months in the summer. This is on Anne Henriette's street. The street in the remote town of Alta, Northern Norway, where Anne Henriette lives. This is just before noon in mid-December - the lightest point of the day. There is no daylight for months in this part of the world, which is the heart of Sapmi.

  • "Ole-Henrik comes from Hemnes in Northern Norway and now lives in Oslo, where he studies. He is politically active and was one of the leaders in the struggle to save the Sami school in Hattfjelldal - and following this became leader of the SUPU.

  • Various gákti in Runar's wardrobe. Gákti is the Northern Sámi word for a piece of traditional clothing worn by the Sámi.