Kven language and culture (En)

Status report on the Kven language and culture, last updated in April 2014

Status report on the Kven language and culture

This report provides an overview of the situation as regards the Kven language and culture in Norway today. The status report shows that there is a need in all areas to take action to strengthen the Kven language and culture. If the Kven language and culture are to have the possibility to develop further, the following measures must be put in place:

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

– A Kven culture fund must be established to provide low-threshold support for Kven culture, and secure the production and publishing of Kven literature and music

– Teaching materials that meet the needs of every level of education must be developed

– The Norwegian Education Act must be amended to include a statutory right to instruction in Kven

– Language centres must be established in each region and given regional responsibility for the entire counties of Finnmark and North Troms.

– The media situation must be strengthened in order to give greater visibility to Kven issues in both the Kven areas and the rest of Norway.

– The Kven institutions’ position must be strengthened to enable them to perform the tasks that they have been assigned

– Research on Kven issues must be increased.

– Study programmes on the Kven language and culture at higher education level must be strengthened.

– New premises must be built for Vadsø museum – Ruija kvenmuseum to enable the institution to fulfil its responsibilities as a national museum.



To ensure that the Kven language and culture survive and evolve, a number of actions must be taken. The Norwegian Kven Association has therefore seen a 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 out.

The status report will form a backdrop for the measures we consider to be necessary to ensure that future generations are able to know and be active users of the Kven language and culture. We want the Kven language and culture to remain a resource, both locally and nationally.

While most of the necessary measures will require central government funding, this will necessitate close collaboration with municipal and country authorities.

The report has been prepared in cooperation with relevant organisations and institutions, but the Norwegian Kven Association is responsible for the final version of the report.


1 Historical background

The term “Kven” is first found in Ottar’s narrative dating back to the ninth century, along with the terms “Finn”, and “Norwegian”. The Kvens have thus been an important part of the population throughout documented history. Ottar describes a people with their own language, culture and customs, which distinguish them from the two other population groups in the area. The area that the Kvens lived in was called Kvenland.

As early as the 1400s the Norwegian state had established a category for Kvens. The Kvens became taxpayers, and the term Kven eventually became an ethnic concept.

After the Great Northern War (1700-1720), a growing number of Kvens chose to follow the traditional migration routes and settle down as permanent residents of Troms and Finnmark, the majority of them in Troms and Vest-Finnmark, Kautokeino, Karasjok and Tana. This trend was gradually reinforced by strong population growth and to some extent, by years of crop failure.

The period after the 1830s saw the strongest growth in the Kven population, especially in Øst-Finnmark.

From the 1700s onwards, it became important for nations to be able to document that their different regions were populated. The borders in the North were to be determined, and it was therefore important to have Norwegians in those areas. Throughout this period, nevertheless, the government of Denmark-Norway showed great acceptance of the existence of several cultures in the nation.

In time, however, the Norwegian government defined Norwegianisation as an explicit goal. Comprehensive, systematic measures were introduced to induce the Sami and the Kvens to forget their history and their culture. They were all to become Norwegians. Military and civilian surveillance was implemented, and Kvens were prohibited from practicing certain occupations.

This process of Norwegianisation also included measures related to foreign and security policy issues, and to industrial and commercial issues. At times, racial factors linked to Social Darwinism were also central elements of the Norwegianisation policy. Norwegians were a race superior to the Kvens.

After the Second World War, the government’s view on the Kvens was coloured by the Cold War, but its lack of action and official policy on the Kvens must essentially be ascribed to the government’s view that individuals who were not sufficiently Norwegian could not share in social welfare benefits. The Kven language and culture posed an obstacle to their participation in social development, and the term ‘Kven’ was not used in the public domain for decades.

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

It can thus be concluded that the Norwegianisation of the Kvens lasted much longer than for the Sami people, and that it was a more extensive process.

It was not until Norway ratified the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities in 1999 that the Kvens were accepted as a minority, entitled to measures to promote and protect their culture and their language.


2 International treaties

In 1999, Norway ratified the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of Minorities. In doing so, Norway has assumed a special responsibility for supporting measures designed to safeguard, strengthen and further develop the culture of national minorities and the Kven minority language.


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

Under the Language Charter, nations are committed to taking concrete action to protect regional and minority languages, so as to ensure their visibility in politics, in legislation and in practice. The Language Charter was ratified by Norway on 10 November 1993, but it did not enter into force until 1 March 1998.

Norway’s obligations towards the Kvens are also embedded in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, both adopted in 1966. Norway’s obligations are also set out in the UN Human Rights Committee’s interpretations of the Covenants and Optional Protocols ratified by Norway.


3 The Kven language

Kven is a Baltic Finnish language that is closely related to Meänkieli in Sweden and to Northern Finnish dialects. Norway recognised Kven as a language in its own right in April 2005, and the language is mainly spoken in Troms and Finnmark. The national minority languages in Norway are protected by the Language Charter, which provides protection on two levels. All the countries that have ratified the Language Charter have committed to protecting the national minority languages on the lowest protection level, level II. Level III offers the best protection and entails several binding obligations and goals. In Norway, level III currently only applies to the Sami language. Nonetheless, the lowest level of protection obliges Norway to recognise the minority languages as an expression of cultural wealth, to promote and protect them, to provide ways and means for teaching and studies of minority languages, and to promote research on minority languages.

As a result of an active Norwegianisation policy, the Kven language has been severely weakened. Today, the once rich and vibrant language is dying out in large parts of the core Kven area. There are few users of the language under the age of 40. Researchers in Norway and abroad have pointed out that this resource could be recovered by pursuing an active, targeted policy.

The Kven Language Council and the Kven Language Assembly were founded in 2007. These two bodies have now been merged into the Kven Language Assembly. The Language Assembly is charged with developing guidelines for creating a new written form of the Kven language, standardising the written language and working with word formation and terminology. The Language Assembly has now completed work on a Kven grammar based on the different Kven dialects.

In 2013, the Kven Institute and the Giellatekno Centre for Sami Language Technology and the Department of Language and Linguistics at UiT The Arctic University of Norway started a web dictionary project based on the work of the Kven Language Assembly. The project goal is to create a digital dictionary and a language analysis program for Kven.

In a comprehensive research programme on European minority languages (the ELDIA project), published in 2013, Kven is cited as one of the most endangered languages in Europe. The report clearly states that unless major measures are taken, the Kven language will be extinct in a very short time.


4 Kven organisations, institutions and events

4.1 The Norwegian Kven Association

The Norwegian Kven Association is the only national organisation that protects and promotes Kven interests. The organisation has just under 1,000 members. Thirteen local branches are affiliated with the organisation, and are spread over large parts of the country, but most of them are in the core areas in Nord-Troms and Finnmark. The Norwegian Kven Association also has a youth organisation, Kveeninuoret, which works specifically to preserve and develop the Kven language and culture among young people.

The Norwegian Kven Association works to promote and protect the Kven people’s interests in respect of the Norwegian authorities at the local, regional and central level. It seeks to strengthen the Kven identity by preserving and developing the Kven language and culture. The association also works to focus greater attention on the Kven language and culture internationally.

4.2 The Kven Institute

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

Its national task is to establish and operate a Kven language council, and to engage in information activities regarding the Kven language and culture. The institute’s objective is to develop, document, and communicate knowledge and information about the Kven language and culture, and to promote the use of Kven in society. To achieve this objective, the institute has defined four priority target areas:

  • Promote documentation for teaching and use of Kven in society
  • Develop the Kven language
  • Provide information about the Kven language and culture
  • Promote the Kven language and culture as a basis for people-to-people contact, travel and tourism, and business development

The institute has collaborated with several other institutions on revitalising the Kven language and culture. The network of cooperating organisations consists of Vadsø Kven Museum, the Halti Kven cultural centre, the Norwegian Kven Association, Porsanger  municipality, Porsanger Culture School, Storfjord Culture School and Storfjord municipality.

There are ongoing exhibitions in the institute’s great hall, which is also a venue for language cafes, concerts, and meetings.

The Kven Institute does not have the staff positions it requires to be able to carry out the tasks that it has been assigned, including revitalising the Kven language and culture.

4.3 The Halti Kven IKS cultural centre

The Halti Kven IKS cultural centre is owned by all the Nord-Troms municipalities and Troms county.

The purpose of the Halti Kven IKS cultural centre is to:

  • encourage more Kvens in Troms, and Nord-Troms in particular, to master the Kven language,
  • work to ensure that Kven rights are upheld according to international conventions
  • Increase the visibility of the Kven language and culture in the public sphere
  • help to ensure that the Kven population knows its history and roots
  • promote the creation of niche products for tourism and other businesses on the basis of the Kven culture and history in the municipalities in Nord-Troms.

The Halti Kven IKS cultural centres play a key role in the Kven national minority community.

The Halti Kven IKS cultural centre is funded by operating grants from the Nord-Troms municipalities and Troms county. However, the centre is dependent on external financing to continue to operate as planned, and to pursue and develop its work to promote the Kven language and culture in Troms. It is extremely important that the centre be included as a permanent item in the central government budget.

4.4 Vadsø Museum – Ruija kvenmuseum.

Vadsø Museum was established on 1 January 1971 as a local museum with special responsibility for Kven history. Through the Finnmark county plans, Vadsø Museum – Ruija kvenmuseum has been assigned the role of the main museum of Kven culture. The museum’s special responsibility for documenting, preserving and communicating Kven history in Norway is also acknowledged through central government documents such as the government budget. The museum is part of Varanger Museum, which consists of three branches in Vardø, Sør-Varanger and Vadsø. Vadsø municipality is the owner of the museum buildings. The museum’s operations are financed through central government funds, municipal and county grants and its own revenues. The museum also generates project funding in connection with collaborative projects, exhibitions and restoration projects.

The status of new construction projects as of 1 December 2013 is that Vadsø municipality has decided to shelve the planned new building for the museum in Vadsø, partly because of changes in the central government’s financing conditions. The municipality is now actively seeking alternative premises that will be adapted for exhibitions, updated information activities, and better storage conditions and working conditions for employees. Extensive efforts have already been invested in the new permanent exhibition in the proposed new building, and continuation of this work is considered important to ensure the best possible dissemination of Kven history in Norway. Pending a move to new premises, the museum is also focusing actively on updating its present exhibitions and presentation of Kven culture to make them more relevant and representative of modern Kven culture.

4.5 Storfjord Language Centre

The 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 basic funding from the Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation and Storfjord municipality. It has also received project funding from Sámediggi and Troms county.

The Storfjord Language Centre is the first multi-lingual language centre in Norway, and works to strengthen the Sami and Kven/Finnish languages in Storfjord municipality. The language centre has external activities targeting children and youth, and is trying to ensure that Storfjord municipality’s multilingual identity is reflected in all administrative areas in the municipality.

The activities at the language centre are focused on three cornerstone objectives:

  • Facilitating and strengthening the Sami language and culture
  • Facilitating and strengthening the Kven language and culture
  • Highlighting and developing general multilingualism and cultural diversity

The centre has chosen to emphasise a number of priority areas, namely adult education and cultural and language activities for children and youth. The language centre works closely with the Storfjord Culture School, schools and kindergartens.

4.6 Paaskiviikko, Kven Cultural Days in Nord-Troms

Paaskiviikko has its origin in the Baaski Festival held in Nordreisa from 2007 – 2009.

In 2010, the Halti Kven IKS cultural centre expanded the festival’s scope, and organised Paaskiviikko/Baaskiuka, Kven Cultural Days, throughout Nord-Troms.

Paaskiviikko is organised jointly by Kven and Finnish associations in Nord-Troms, municipal cultural departments, culture schools, schools, Nord-Troms Museum, businesses and other parties. The Halti Kven IKS cultural centre coordinates the events, and is responsible for Kven content and marketing.

The aim of Paaskiviikko is to showcase Kven culture, language and traditions, and stimulate the revitalisation of the Kven language and cultural traditions in Nord-Troms. The Cultural Days offer all the region’s inhabitants venues for Kven cultural activities, and for the communication of knowledge and history.

The festival also entails international collaboration, especially with northern Sweden and northern Finland.

However, funding for Paaskiviikko is limited. In the past years, grants have been provided by Arts Council Norway, Troms county, the Norwegian Kven Association, the Kvenland Federation and various sponsors.

4.7 The Kippari Festival

The Kippari Festival is organised by Norske kvener – Børselv/Ruijan kväänit Pyssyjokilaiset. The festival lasts for three days, and was first held in July 2008. The Kippari Festival and its market stalls and sales displays are intended to present the culture of the Kvens, build their identity, increase the expertise of Kven cultural workers, and help raise awareness of Kven history. The festival also seeks to motivate Kven arts and craft workers to develop old and new businesses of high quality. The festival programme features a wide range of events. No festivals were held in 2012 or 2013.

4.8 Uuet laulut

Uuet laulut is a music project for and involving youth who would like to sing in minority languages. The aim of the project is to strengthen and highlight the minority languages of the Northern Nordic Cape and to create new cultural arenas for youth. The project is a collaboration between the Kven Institute and the culture schools in Northern Norway, aimed at securing the position of minority languages in the culture schools in multi-lingual municipalities.

The project was started in 2007, as a collaborative endeavour between the Swedish Bureau for Lesser Used Languages (SWEBLUL), 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 project’s finances are now in such a state that the joint concerts are endangered, but local concerts are being held as usual.


5 Kven in kindergartens, education and research

5.1 Kindergartens

There are no Kven kindergartens and there is no permanent, organised Kven language nest. Kindergartens are an important arena for development of the Kven language and culture, especially in Norway, where children spend most of the day in kindergarten.

5.2 Primary and lower secondary school

In primary school and lower secondary school, pupils have a statutory right to instruction in Finnish as a second language. The curriculum also includes instruction in Kven. This right is geographically limited to Troms and Finnmark and is subject to a minimum number of pupils, i.e. there must be at least three pupils at the school who request such instruction. The geographical limitation of the right to instruction in Finnish to the counties of Troms and Finnmark is problematic. As a result of societal development, many students of Kven or Finnish descent now live in cities and not in the “traditional” area. Instruction in Finnish or Kven as a second language often poses a problem in schools. It is difficult to find qualified teaching staff and teaching aids. Moreover, the drop-out rate from the subject is relatively high.

5.3 Upper secondary school

In upper secondary school, the right to instruction in Finnish as a second language is not statutory as is the case in primary and lower secondary school. At this level, too, there is a lack of qualified teachers and teaching aids.

Sami and Kven minority youth are subjected to differential treatment through educational grant schemes. An adolescent who chooses the Sami language as a subject in upper secondary school will receive a grant, but will receive nothing if he/she chooses the Kven language.

Furthermore, the fact that no study credits are given for taking Finnish/Kven or Sami is a significant problem in upper secondary school. As a result, students opt out of these language subjects.

 5.4 Higher education

UiT The Arctic University of Norway and Finnmark University College offer courses in Kven, but the courses are not permanent, they are offered irregularly and are only available at a lower level. In the spring of 2011, UiT The Arctic University of Norway wanted to discontinue the courses, but due in part to the strong intervention of the Kven organisations, this has been prevented for the time being.

Ensuring a permanent, predictable programme of studies is important. The uncertainty as to when the programme will be scheduled makes it difficult for new students to plan a study path in which they wish to include the Kven language. It is equally difficult for municipal and county administrative staff who wish to improve their Kven language skills. There is no Kven study programme at bachelor’s or master’s level.

5.5 Adult education

In the past few years, adult education in Kven has been offered under the auspices of the local branches of the Norwegian Kven Association, with academic support from the Kven Institute. Some funding has been provided by the Ministry of Culture to run language courses organised by the local branches. However, there is considerable demand for such courses. In 2013, funding was also provided for a project to stimulate interest in reading, which aims to create arenas where children and adults can learn to read Kven texts together.

5.6 Research

The Research Council of Norway’s programme for research on Kven/Finnish/Forest Finnish issues ended in 2008, and has not yet been resumed despite recommendations by the Research Council of Norway and others that it be continued. This is due to the central government’s lack of follow-up.


  1. Kven culture

6.1 Language centre

In its efforts to promote Kven culture, the Norwegian Kven Association launched the idea of building up Kven language centres modelled on the Sami ones, which will play a significant role in revitalising the Kven language and culture. The Ministry of Government Administration, Reform and Church Affairs and Finnmark county granted funds for planning two language centres. The municipalities of Porsanger and Vadsø completed the pre-planning and sent applications to the ministry in 2010. The Government has not yet followed up on the assignment it was given by granting funds for the establishment and organisation of the centres.

6.2 Literature

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

Modern Kven fiction is written in both Norwegian and Kven. The Norwegian-language literature consists of a small number of authors, the best known of whom are Idar Kristiansen, Hans Kristian Eriksen and Bente Pedersen. However, Kven literature also comprises various text materials and text collections. The number of works of Kven-language fiction has grown in recent years, since the publication of Alf Nilsen-Børsskog’s first novel, Kuosuvaaran takana, in 2004. Alf Nilsen-Børsskog has now published three novels and five poetry collections. Agnes Eriksen has written two children’s books in Kven, which were published in 2011 by the Ruija Forlag publishing house. Many other manuscripts are ready to be published, but no funding is available.

6.3 Available media

Ruijan Kaiku is a free and independent newspaper for the Kven, Norwegian Finns and Finns in Norway. The first issue of Ruijan Kaiku was published in 1995. The newspaper was to have been a weekly publication from the very start.

In a White Paper on a comprehensive language policy (St. meld. nr. 35 (2007-2008), the Government promised to “also discuss with those responsible what is required to further develop and strengthen the Kven newspaper Ruijan Kaiku.” The Ministry of Culture also promised that “[t]he ministry will thus aim to increase the grant to the Kven newspaper if conditions otherwise are favourable for it becoming a weekly newspaper.” This has not been done. The grant is only sufficient for ten issues a year.

Ruijan Kaiku is Norway’s only trilingual newspaper. In 2013, its content was 51 per cent Norwegian, 25 per cent Kven and 24 per cent Finnish. Almost all of the content of Ruijan Kaiku is unique and produced by the newspaper’s staff.

The editorial staff is in Tromsø and consists of a journalist who is also editor. Several freelance journalists and other contributors provide material for the newspaper. Since February 2013, the newspaper has had a journalist in Alta in a 60 per cent position.

Ruijan Kaiku is published by Ruijan Kaiku AS which is owned by Nordavis AS (66%) and the Norwegian Kven Association (34%). Nordavis AS also runs Mediehuset Altaposten.

6.4 Ruija Forlag

The Ruija Forlag publishing house has issued a number of Kven publications in the past decade. The publishing house is wholly owned by the Norwegian Kven Association. Kven literature is not covered by the Norwegian purchasing scheme for literature, which reduces the profitability of publications. Kven literature has proved to be very difficult to publish, and the publishing house has therefore not been able to issue desired publications. This is problematic, first and foremost because there are no other publishing houses that give priority to Kven literature. Ruija Forlag also owns the website kvensk.no, which features Kven teaching aids for primary and lower secondary school. The publishing house has not had the financial wherewithall to maintain or develop this website.

There is one 12-minute radio programme in Kven and/or Finnish per week in the district broadcast in Troms and Finnmark. There are no TV broadcasts.

6.5 Kven cultural heritage

At present there is no unified registration of Kven cultural heritage. Many Kven cultural heritage objects are registered as Sami today, thereby eradicating valuable documentation of Kven history and Kven cultural heritage.


7 What NEEDS to be done?

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

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

– A Kven Culture Fund must be established to provide low-threshold support for Kven culture, and secure the production and publication of Kven literature and music

– Teaching materials that meet the needs at every level of education, from kindergarden to Ph.D, must be developed

– The Norwegian Education Act must be amended to include a statutory right to instruction in Kven

– Language centres must be established in each region, and given regional responsibility for the entire counties of Finnmark and North Troms

– The media situation must be strengthened in order to give greater visibility to Kven issues in both the Kven areas and the rest of Norway

– The Kven institutions’ position must be strengthened to enable them to perform the tasks that they have been assigned

– Research and development work on Kven issues, language, culture and history must be strengthened

– Study programmes on the Kven language and culture at higher education level must be strengthened

– New premises must be built for Vadsø museum – Ruija kvenmuseum to enable the institution to fulfil its responsibilities as a national museum

– A comprehensive registration programme for Kven cultural heritage must be initiated