Reindeer in My Saami Heart


Janet Merewether
2016 | 70 mins
Country of Production: Australia
Countries/Cultures Featured: Sweden, Norway, Sápmi
North American Premiere | Director in Attendance
Sunday, October 16 | Noon | Program F18

Inghilda Tapio, a Saami artist from northern Sweden, has followed an arduous path to become a voice for her community. Born into a nomadic reindeer-herding family above the Arctic Circle, Tapio was taken into a Swedish government program in the 1950s that required nomadic children to attend residential boarding schools in a misguided attempt at cultural assimilation. Inghilda was a part of this “stolen generation,” forced from her teepee home at the age of seven, separated from her parents, and thrown into unfamiliar Swedish customs. In the nearly 70 years since, she has built a long and illustrious career as a poet and activist, championing Saami language and culture through her vivid writings. Her story illuminates how one of Europe’s last indigenous populations is regaining its voice and fighting for its land and way of life. 


Re:Frame, My Perspective

“When I met Inghilda Tapio, my collaborator in Reindeer in My Saami Heart, I was struck by the power of her autobiographical writing and poetry, which expressed her trauma and confusion caused by Swedish government education and ‘assimilation’ policies in the 1950s. Saami children as young as seven were removed from their nomadic families for extended periods, and they were forbidden from using their own Saami language at boarding school. Inghilda’s writing also expresses her positive memories of growing up in a nomadic reindeer-herding family, and this is an invaluable record as she is one of the last generation to have experienced both the nomadic and settled town life.

In my previous documentaries such as Jabe Babe—A Heightened Life and Maverick Mother, I have utilized performance and design in addition to observational filming, as it serves to reframe a personal story and extend it into the political realm, enabling the film’s participants to present their own story in their own words. It is particularly important for women to be given the opportunity to voice their subjective realities and struggles. This hybrid approach differs from conventional ethnographic films or television documentaries that commonly employ a detached, authoritative ‘Voice of God’ narration, or treat the participants as ‘exotic’ or ‘other’. Postcolonial theorists now recognize the need for academics and filmmakers to work as partners with communities where possible, and this may mean seeking feedback and approvals during the editing process. In Reindeer in My Saami Heart, I have incorporated Inghilda’s poetry readings, performed in her Northern Saami language and in English, into the film, and acknowledge her as a highly educated and accomplished speaker of multiple languages. Inghilda started writing as she saw her own language under threat in the 1960s and 1970s, so I felt that it was important for international audiences to experience the power of her writing through spoken word performance and graphic representation, without the use of subtitles, and for Saami audiences to be able to appreciate the film in their own language as well.”

—Janet Merewether | Director, Reindeer in My Saami Heart