Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Sami Heritage Language Program Models: Balancing Indigenous Traditions and Western Ideologies within the Norwegian Educational System

Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Sami Heritage Language Program Models: Balancing Indigenous Traditions and Western Ideologies within the Norwegian Educational System

Article excerpt


THE SAMI PEOPLE OF NORWAY have established heritage language programs in an attempt to revitalize their once dying language. Similar revitalization efforts have been implemented by a number of other indigenous and cultural groups throughout the world as well. While research conducted to illustrate the success of such efforts is limited, evidence suggests that many groups have not been as successful in their attempts to create and maintain successful heritage language programs as the Sami. In an effort to examine these successes, it appears worthwhile and necessary to explore the Sami language program models.

The effort of language revitalization for the Sami is not limited to Norway; Sweden and Finland have also developed similar programs. All three countries "have developed state-financed systems of promoting instruction in and through the medium of Sami" (Huss 1999:133). However, in Finland, the Sami-specific curriculum for these programs is still in many ways in the planning stages; in Sweden, the Sami-specific curriculum is not similar to that of the Norwegian Sami's (Huss 1999). Due to differences in the educational systems in both Sweden and Finland as opposed to Norway, this study is intended specifically to investigate just the program model used in the Norwegian Sami's efforts at language revitalization.

The initial study conducted was mainly descriptive and sought to explore four main aspects of Sami education in Norway: how the Sami school system functions, the role of the Sami Parliament's Educational Department, the nature and function of the Sami curriculum framework, the challenges that face Sami education in Norway, and what may lie ahead in Sami education. This article will focus specifically on the program models that are in place and how they compare to other models that are used in heritage language learning and language revitalization efforts worldwide.


The issues surrounding heritage languages (HLS), their program designs, HL challenges, classroom implications, and cultural identity have been widely researched during the past decade. However, a vast majority of this research is specifically geared toward Hispanic learners in the United States. While there is certainly a need for this research, it is important to note that not all findings from this type of research are applicable to all indigenous HL learners or programs. Indigenous HL learners and immigrant learners have different learning needs, and grouping the two can sometimes be problematic.

I intend to examine the definition of a heritage language learner (HLL) and the implications this definition has on indigenous HLLS. Since much of HL research is not applicable to indigenous learners, I have chosen to investigate the increasing amount of research that is intended for indigenous learners or is generalizable for indigenous learners. A majority of this research is geared toward immersion education and language revitalization programs. Within this context, I will examine the importance of learning an indigenous HL and the broad spectrum of program variations including immersion education. Finally, I will review what has been written regarding Sami heritage language instruction in Norway, give a historical overview, and discuss the major recent developments.


A first generation Mexican immigrant living in urban Dallas, Texas learns how to write in her first language in an urban high school. A fourth generation Norwegian-American attends college at St. Olaf in Northfield, Minnesota to learn Norwegian, the language of her forefathers. A Sami child growing up in Kautokeino, Norway, whose parents were denied first language instruction, learns Samigiella in grade school. These three situations are all examples of heritage language learning, yet any educator would likely agree that each of these learners has unique learning needs. …

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