Kven language and culture (En)

Status report for Kven language and culture (Mars 2012).

This report gives an overview of the Kven language and culture situation in Norway today. The status report shows that there is, on all levels, a need for actions that can strengthen Kven language and culture. If Kven language and culture are to have the possibility to develop further, the following measures must be taken:

– Kven must be upgraded to level III in the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (ECRML)

– A Kven culture foundation must be established, in order to give low-threshold support to Kven culture, securing production and publishing of Kven literature and music

– Teaching materials that meet the needs of the entire course of the education must be developed

– Changing the Norwegian education act so there will also be a right to education in Kven

– Language centres must be established in each region, and given regional responsibilities so that the entire counties of Finnmark and North Troms are covered

– The media situation must be strengthened, so that the Kven conditions become more visible both in the Kven areas and the rest of the country

– The Kven institutions’ position must be strengthened so that they are able to perform the tasks they are supposed to perform

– Increased research on Kven conditions

– The possibilities within higher education regarding the Kven language and culture must be strengthened

– Constructing new facilities for Vadsø museum – Ruija kvenmuseum, making them able to fulfil their responsibility in a good way, as a national museum


For Kven language and culture to be able to live on and develop further, a certain number of actions need to be taken. The Norwegian Kven association has therefore found the need to prepare a short status report concerning the most important aspects of Kven language and culture. The situation for the Kven language is critical today, as the last generation of active users of the language is dying.

The status report will form a background for the measures we mean are necessary for future generations to get to know and be active users of Kven language and culture. We want Kven language and culture to be a resource both locally and nationally.

Most of the necessary measures must be taken care of by the Norwegian government, but they demand close cooperation with communes and county authorities.

The report is prepared in cooperation with relevant organisations and institutions, but the Norwegian Kven association is behind the final version of this report.

Rune Sundelin

Leader of the Norwegian Kven association


Preface p. 2

1 Historical background p. 4

2 International agreements p. 5

3 The Kven language p. 5

4 Kven organisations, institutions, and events p. 5

4.1 The Norwegian Kven association p. 6

4.2 The Kven Institute p. 6

4.3 The Kven Place Name Services p. 6

4.4 The Halti Kven Cultural Centre p. 6

4.5 Vadsø Museum – Ruija kvenmuseum p. 7

4.6 Storfjord Language Centre p. 7

4.7 Paaskiviikki, Kven culture days in North Troms p. 8

4.8 The Kippari Festival p. 8

4.9 Uuet laulut p. 9

5 Kven in nursery, in education, and in research p. 9

5.1 Nursery p. 9

5.2 Primary and secondary school p. 9

5.3 Upper secondary school p. 9

5.4 Higher education p.10

5.5 Adult education p.10

5.6 Research p.10

6. Kven culture p.10

6.1 Language centre p.10

6.2 Literature p.11

6.3 Available media p.11

6.4. Ruija Publishing house p.12

7 What NEEDS to be done?

1 Historical background

We first find the term “Kven” in Othere’s tales from the 800’s, along with the terms “Finn”, and “Norwegian”. We don’t have any written sources from before his tale. The Kvens have thus been an important part of the population of all documented historic times. Othere describes a people with their own language, culture and customs, setting them apart from the two other groups of people in the area. The area that the Kvens lived in was called Kvenland. The Kvens originally lived in a place called Kvenland, and which included the flat interior areas of the Bay of Bothnia.

Already in the 1400s the Norwegian state used Kven as a category. The Kvens became taxpayers, and the term Kven eventually became en ethnical term.

From the 1700s and onwards it became very important for nations to be able to document that their different regions were populated. The borders in the North were to be determined, and in that regard it was important to have Norwegians in those areas. The government of (Denmark-)Norway was nevertheless understanding and accepting that there were several cultures within those borders.

After a while, however, the Norwegian government set Norwegianisation as an explicit goal. Substantial measures were taken so that the Sami and the Kven people were to forget their history and their culture. They should all become Norwegians. Military and civilian surveillance was implemented, and some occupations were forbidden for Kvens. The Norwegianisation also resulted in actions connected to foreign and conditions of foreign and security policy, and to nutritional conditions. Additionally, racial conditions connected to social Darwinism were at times central elements in the Norwegianisation. Norwegians were of a higher race than the Kven people. After the Second World War, the Cold War left its mark on the government’s view on the Kvens, but lack of action and official policy on the Kvens must essentially be linked to the fact that, the way that the government viewed this, it wasn’t possible to take part in the society’s welfare if you weren’t Norwegian enough. Kven language and culture was an obstacle to taking part in the development, and the term Kven was not used publicly for decades.

When the ethnopolitical movement started growing in the Sami community, the Kvens were defined as immigrants by the government.

One can thus conclude that the Norwegianisation of the Kvens lasted much longer than for the Samis, and that it was much more extensive.

2 International agreements

The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, the language charter (ECRML), was adopted in 1992 by the Council of Europe to protect and promote minority languages, in order to preserve European culture in one united and complex culture.

The language charter obliges the nations to implement specific measures to conserve regional and minority languages, so that they become visible in politics, in law, and in practice. Norway ratified the charter 10 November 1993, but it only took effect 1 March 1998.

Norway ratified The Council of Europe’s Framework Convention regarding protection of national minorities. The Framework Convention was the first legally binding multilateral agreement on general protection of national minorities. The agreement includes Kvens as a national minority.

Norway’s obligations towards the Kvens are also linked to the UN Convention of 1966 on Civil and Political Rights. In this convention, we find the most basic regulations relating to rights of linguistic, religious and ethnic minorities in general: «In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with other members of their own group, to enjoy their own culture, to recognize and exercise their religion, or to use their own language «(Article 27)

In addition to this there’s the UN Convention of 1966 on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Norway’s obligations are also apparent in the UN Human Rights Committee’s interpretations of the conventions and protocols, ratified by Norway.

International agreements say that the Kvens’ cultural and linguistic rights are thoroughly rooted both individually and collectively. Because of this, the Norwegian authorities have a great responsibility when it comes to paving the way for the development of the Kven language and culture. An important reinforcement of the rights is that the three basic human rights conventions were incorporated into Norwegian law through the Human Rights Act of May 21, 1999. The Human Rights Act also stipulates that the resolutions incorporated in the conventions in the event of conflict shall supersede Norwegian legislation.

3 The Kven language

Kven is closely related to Finnish, but there are large differences in vocabulary and partly also in grammar. Many of these differences are not identified.

Norway recognised Kven as a language of its own in April 2005, and the language is mainly spoken in Troms and Finnmark. The national minority languages in Norway are protected by ECRML, which opens for protection on two levels. All countries who have ratified the ECRML have committed to protect the national minority languages on the lowest protection level, level II. Level III offers the best protection and contains several binding obligations and goals. In Norway, level III is only binding today for the Sami language. The lowest level of protection obliges Norway to recognise the minority languages as an expression of cultural wealth, to promote and to protect them, to obtain forms and means for teaching and studies of minority languages, and to promote research of minority languages.

The Kven language has, as a result of Norwegianisation, been heavily weakened. Today the once rich and living language is dying in large parts of the Kven central area. There are few users of the language under 40. Scientists nationally and internationally have pointed out that this resource might be regained through an active and targeted policy.

There is no fully developed grammar for the Kven language, and there is little learning material for it. In 2007 the Kven Language Council and the Kven language assembly were founded. These two bodies have now been merged into the Kven language assembly. The Kven language assembly will develop guidelines for creating a new written language, and standardise a Kven written language.

4 Kven organisations, institutions and events

4.1 The Norwegian Kven association

The Norwegian Kven association is the only national organization to maintain Kven interests. The association has just below 1000 members. Thirteen local groups are affiliated with the union, and these are spread over large parts of the country, but most are in the core areas in North Troms and Finnmark. We also have a youth organization, Kveeninuoret, which specifically works to preserve and develop the Kven language and culture among the young.

The Norwegian Kven association works to maintain the Kven people’s interests in the Norwegian authorities at the local, regional and central level. The Norwegian Kven association will work to strengthen the Kven identity by preserving and developing Kven language and culture. The association will also work to highlight the Kven language and culture internationally.

4.2 The Kven institute

The Kven institute is the national centre for Kven language and culture. The Kven institute was founded in 2005, but officially opened June 14 2007. The institute is run with financial support from the Norwegian Ministry of Culture.

The national task is to establish and operate a Kven language council, and to do educational work on Kven language and culture. The institute’s objective is to develop, document, and communicate knowledge and information about Kven language and culture, and to promote the use of the Kven language in society. In order to achieve this, the institute has four target areas:

· Promote documentation for educational use, and for using the Kven language in society

· Develop the Kven language

· Information about the Kven language and culture

· Promote the Kven language and culture as a foundation for people to people contact, travel and tourism, and business development

The institute has cooperated with several other institutions while revitalising the Kven language and culture. The network of cooperating organisations consists of Vadsø kvenmuseum, the Kven place name service, Ruija kvenmuseum, Halti Kven culturan centre

the Norwegian Kven association, the municipality of Porsanger, Porsanger culture school, Storfjord culture school, and the municipality of Storfjord.

There are exhibitions in the institute’s grand hall at all times, and language cafes, concerts, and meetings are also held there.

4.3 The Kven place name service

The Kven place name service has become an important institution in demonstrating the importance of Kven language and culture. The service has now published more than 800 Kven place names in Norway. Several municipalities are now trying to implement signs with the names of the places in three languages ata time; Norwegian, Sami, and Kven. The Kven place name service is providing professional assistance for this work. To enable the service to expand its field of work, the service must be expanded to a full time position.

4.4 The Halti Kven cultural centre

The Halti Kven cultural centre is owned by all the municipalities in North Troms and Troms countymunicipality.

The purpose of Halti Kven cultural centre is to:

· encourage more Kvens in Troms, and North-Troms in particular, to master the Kven language,

· work to makes sure that the Kven rights are being upheld according to international conventions

· highlight the Kven language and culture in a public context

· contribute to helping the Kven population to know their history and roots

· promote the creation of niche products for tourism and other businesses on the basis of Kven culture and history of the municipalities in North-Troms.

Halti cultural centre is a key player in the Kven national minority.

Halti cultural centre is funded by operating grants from the North-Troms municipalities, and the county municipality of Troms. The centre is however dependent on external financing to continue operations as planned, and for the continuation and development of their work in relation to the Kven language and culture in Troms.

4.5 Vadsø museum – Ruija kvenmuseum.

Vadsø museum was established 01/01/1971 as a local museum with special responsibility for Kven history. Vadsø Museum – Ruija kvenmuseum has, through the county of Finnmark, been assigned the role as the main museum of Kven culture. The museum’s responsibility is also acknowledged through national documents like the government budget; the museum has special responsibility for documentation, preservation and dissemination of Kven history in Norway. The museum is part of the Varanger museum, which consists of three departments in Vardø, Sør-Varanger, and Vadsø. The Vadsø municipality is the owner of the museum buildings. The operation of the museum is funded through government funds, grants from the municipality and the county, as well as their own income. The museum also generates project funds, relating to collaborative projects, exhibitions and restoration projects.

Status of new constructions as of 12/01/2011 is that the Vadsø municipality has decided to shelve the planned new building for the museum in Vadsø, because of changes in financing conditions of the government, among other reasons. One must now actively work to obtain an alternative location, one adapted for exhibitions, updated dissemination, and adequate storage conditions and working conditions for employees. A large effort in academic work has already been put into the new permanent exhibition in the proposed new building, and it is considered important to continue this work to provide the best possible offer in the dissemination of Kven history in Norway.

4.6 Storfjord Language centre

Storfjord language centre has been in operation since January 2010, with an adaptation phase in autumn 2009. Since August 2010, the language centre has had two employees. The language centre is managed and funded as a project, with a base funding from the Ministry of Government Administration and Church Affairs and the Storfjord municipality. In addition to that, it has received project support from the Sami Parliament and the Troms County.

Storfjord language centre is one of the first multi-lingual language centres in Norway, and it works with strengthening the Sami and Kven/Finnish language in Storfjord municipality. The language centre works externally oriented, with children and adolescents, and it is trying to gradually realise Storfjord municipality’s multilingual profile in all administrative areas in the municipality.

The activities in the language centre are divided into three basic blocks:

· Facilitating and strengthening the Sami language and culture

· Facilitating and strengthening the Kven language and culture

· Visibility and development of general multilingualism and cultural diversity

One has chosen to emphasise several priority areas, namely adult education and cultural and language activities for children and young people. The language centre cooperates with the cultural school, schools and nurseries.

4.7 Paaskiviikko, Kven cultural days in North-Troms

Paaskiviikko has its origins in Baaskifestivalen held in Nordreisa from 2007 – 2009.

In 2010 Kalti Kven cultural centre expanded the festival’s scope, and arranged Paaskiviikko/Baaskiuka, Kven cultural days, throughout North-Troms.

Paaskiviikko is organised in cooperation between Kven and Finnish societies in North-Troms, cultural departments of local authorities, culture schools, schools, Nord-Troms museum, businesses and other parties. The Halti Kven culture centre is the coordinator of the events, and is responsible for Kven academic content and marketing.

The aim of Paaskiviikko is to highlight Kven culture, language, and traditions, and stimulate revitalisation of the Kven language and cultural traditions in North-Troms. The cultural days offer all residents of the region venues for Kven cultural practice, and communication of knowledge and history.

There is also international collaboration, especially with northern Sweden and northern Finland.

Funding for Paaskiviikko is limited. In the past years the event has received grants from the Norwegian arts council, Troms county council, the Norwegian Kven association, the Kvenland association, and sponsors.

4.8 The Kippari festival

The Kippari festival is arranged by Norske kvener – Børselv/Ruijan kväänit Pyssyjokilaiset. The festival lasts for three days, and was first organised in July 2008. The Kippari festival with market and sales exhibitions are supposed to show the culture of the Kvens, help build their identity, increase competence among Kven cultural workers, and manage to achieve awareness about Kven history. The festival is also supposed to motivate the Kven arts and craft workers to develop ancient and new quality businesses. There will be no festival in 2012.

4.9 Uuet laulut

Uuet laulut is a music project for and with youth who would like to sing in minority languages. The aim of the project is to strengthen and make the minority languages in the Cap of the North visible, and to create new cultural scenes for youth. The project is a collaboration between the Kven Institute and the cultural schools in Northern Norway, where one tries to root the positions of the minority languages in multilingual municipalities.

The project started in 2007, as a joint project between SWEBLUL (Swedish Bureau for Lesser Used Languages), the folk music group Jord from the Torne Valley, and the Kven Institute in Porsanger. The Kven Institute took over the project management in 2010.

The economy of the project is now in such a state that the joint concerts are in danger, but the local concerts go on as usual.

5 Kven in nurseries, within education and in research

5.1 Nursery

There are no Kven nurseries and there is no steady and organised language nest. Nursery is an important area for development of Kven language and culture, especially in Norway, where children spend most of the day in nurseries.

5.2 Primary and secondary school

In primary school there is a statutory right to education in Finnish as a second language. The curriculum is also open for training in Kven. This right is geographically limited to Troms and Finnmark and has a lower minimum number, i.e. there must be at least three pupils at a school that require such education. The geographic restriction of the right to education in Finnish, the counties of Troms and Finnmark is problematic. Social development means that many students with Kven or Finnish descent now live in cities and not in the «traditional» area.

5.3 Upper secondary school

In upper secondary school, the right to instruction in Finnish as a second language isn’t statutory as in primary school. The lack of qualified teachers and teaching aids is also present here.

There is an unequal treatment of the Sami and Kven minority youth through scholarship arrangements. A youth choosing the Sami language as a subject in high school will get a scholarship, but nothing if he/she chooses the Kven language

Furthermore, it’s a big problem in upper secondary school that you do not get credit for having Finnish/Kven or Sami. Students opt out of these language courses because of this.

5.4 Higher education

The University of Tromsø and Høgskolen i Finnmark offer courses in Kven, but the courses are not always available, and they are only available at a lower level. In spring 2011 the University of Tromsø wanted to close down the facility, but because, among others, the Kven organisations involved themselves strongly in the matter, this was prevented.

It is important that there is a constant and predictable study programme. The uncertainty of when the programme will be carried out is making it difficult for new students to plan studying when they want the Kven language to be a part of their studies. It will be accordingly difficult for administrative staff in municipalities and counties who want to improve their Kven competence. There is no education in Kven at bachelor’s and master’s level.

5.5 Adult education

Adult education in Kven during the past few years has been run under the auspices of the local groups affiliated with the Norwegian Kven association, with technical support from the Kven Institute. For 2012, the Norwegian Kven association received an amount of 200 000 NOK from the Ministry of Culture, in order to run the courses organised by local associations. The demand is large, and the allocated funds will be used early in the first half of 2012.

5.6 Research

The Research council of Norway’s programme for research on Kven/Finnish/Forest Finnish questions ended in 2008, and so far hasn’t been continued, in spite of recommendations from the Research council of Norway, among others. The reason for this is the government’s lack of monitoring.

6. Kven culture

6.1 Language centre

While working to revitalise Kven culture, the Norwegian Kven association launched the idea of building Kven language centres on a model of the Sami ones, which will have a large influence on revitalising Kven language and culture. The ministry and the municipality of Finnmark county granted funds to two language centres. The municipalities of Porsanger and Vadsø completed the pre-planning and sent applications to the ministry in 2010. The government still hasn’t followed up on the mission that was given with funds for establishment and organisation.

6.2 Literature

Kven literature can be divided into two main groups: early Kven literature and modern Kven fiction. The first category is mainly about the old and traditional Kven cultural tradition forms.

Modern Kven fiction is written in both Norwegian and Kven. The Norwegian-language literature includes a few authors. The most famous are Idar Kristiansen, Hans Kristian Eriksen and Bente Pedersen. Kven literature also consists of different text material and text collections. The Kven language literature has grown in recent years, after Alf Nilsen-Børskogs first novel, Kuosuvaaran Takana, came out in 2004. Alf Nilsen-Børskog has now published three novels and four poetry collections. Agnes Eriksen has written two children’s books in Kven, which was published in 2011 by Ruija publishing house. Several other manuscripts are ready for release.

6.3 Available media

Ruijan Kaiku is a free and independent newspaper for the Kven, Norwegian and Finnish are in Norway.

The first issue of Ruijan Kaiku came out in 1995. The newspaper is trilingual: mainly in Norwegian (both forms), Kven and Finnish, but also Meänkieli and Swedish. The languages are on average 50 percent Norwegian, 25 percent Kven and 25 percent Finnish.

Almost all the material in Ruijan Kaiku is unique and custom made.

Editorial staff consists of a journalist who is also editor. Several freelance journalists and other contributors provide material for the newspaper, which is released every fifth week.

Ruijan Kaiku published by Ruijan Kaiku with Nordavis AS (66 %) and Norwegian Kven association (34%) as owners. Nordavis AS alsorunsMediehuset Altaposten.

In radio, there is a 12-minute radio program a week on the sending district in Troms and Finnmark in Kven and/or Finnish. There are no casts on TV.

Arina – a Nordic journal of the Kven research is publishing one issue per year.

6.4 Ruija Publishing House

Ruija Publishing house has been responsible for a number of Kven publications during the last decade. The publishing house is wholly owned by Norwegian Kven association Kven literature is not a part of the Norwegian purchasing programme for literature, and this weakens the publishing economy. Kven literature has turned out to be difficult to publish, and the publishing house has therefore not been able to publish what they have wanted to. This is problematic – first and foremost because there are no other publishing houses prioritising Kven literature.

7 What NEEDS to be done?

The status report states that there is, on all levels, a need for measures that can strengthen Kven language and culture. If Kven language and culture are to be able to develop further, the following actions must be taken;

– Kven must be upgraded to level III in the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages

– A Kven Cultural foundation must be established in order to give low-threshold support to Kven culture, securing production and publishing of Kven literature and music

– Teaching materials that meet the needs of the entire course of the education must be developed

– Changing the Norwegian education act so there will also be a right to education in Kven

– Language centres must be established in each region, and given regional responsibilities so that the entire counties of Finnmark and North Troms are covered

– The media situation must be strengthened, so that the Kven conditions become more visible both in the Kven areas and the rest of the country

– The Kven institutions’ position must be strengthened so that they are able to perform the tasks they are supposed to perform

– Increased research on Kven conditions

– The possibilities within higher education regarding the Kven language and culture must be strengthened

– Constructing new facilities for Vadsø museum – Ruija kvenmuseum, making them able to fulfil their responsibility in a good way, as a national museum