Sami people: a blueprint for other cultures

A group of Sami people. | Photo courtesy of

The Association for the Advancement of Scandinavian Studies in Canada (AASSC) will be having their 38th annual conference at the University of British Columbia (UBC) from June 3–6.

One of the speakers who will be giving sessions this year is Matthew Etherington, PhD, professor and director of the Institute of Indigenous Issues and Perspectives at Trinity Western University.

The Sámi people

Etherington’s session on June 4 is about the Sámi people, an indigenous people of northern Europe – parts of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia – that inhabit the cultural region called Sámpi. Etherington speaks highly about the Sámi people and says they have developed a culture that consists of intergenerational knowledge, skills and activities that local self-sustaining Indigenous communities depend on to exist.

“Within their cultural commons, they teach one another such activities as the skill of face to face communication or how to prepare and share a meal together, healing practices, creative arts, narratives and ceremonies, craft knowledge and skills, games and outdoor activities and even political traditions such as civil liberties and democratic debate,” says Etherington. “This conference was an obvious place to start that

Etherington hopes that people can appreciate that the Sámi culture, one of the oldest cultures, is especially vital to understand today. He believes the cultural commons of the Sámi can provide a blueprint for other cultures as it conserves the non-monetized intergenerational knowledge, skills and activities that have enabled their people to live more mutually supportive
and less money-dependent lives. He says people can and should learn from how the Sámi people live their lives as a cohesive unit.

A calling

Etherington was a teacher for thirteen years in the public
education system, but felt he still had more to explore and learn.

“I enjoyed that experience immensely; however, I had such a desire for learning that it brought me to places and ideas that were well outside my discipline, which helped me to appreciate the complexity of issues from different perspectives,” he says.

This desire for learning led Etherington back to school to get his master’s. He started his studies at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, later completing his degree at UBC. He says the final push for him to go and get his PhD happened when he had a summer job on Granville Island selling and renting sea kayaks.

“The owner asked the staff to think of ideas to make the store more attractive to customers. I went straight to the local library in Vancouver and started researching everything there was to know about paddling technique and water currents,” he says. “The next day I suggested that every staff member takes home one of the books I had borrowed, read up on one aspect of kayaking and then come and share it with the other staff members so we can discuss and debate the ideas. My employer looked at me with a smile and said, ‘Matthew, they won’t do this; you know, not
everyone is like you.’ It was that day when I truly knew that higher education and becoming a professor was for me.”

Etherington’s involvement with
ASSCA comes naturally as he already has a close relationship with the Scandinavian Community Centre in Burnaby, and also because of his visits to numerous Finnish schools over the last few years interviewing school teachers about their pedagogy and philosophy of learning.

“I usually present in the education societies at Congress, however my interest and involvement with Finnish education has led me to new exciting areas in Finnish learning. I presented a paper last year at Congress in Regina on the emotion pride and how Finnish educators understand the notion of pride. From this experience, it was evident that the Scandinavian Studies Society consisted of a welcoming and diverse group of people, always willing to share their insights and knowledge.”

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