It is a quiet clear evening on April 3 in Kautokeino Norway – a small town of 3,000 people five hours north of the Arctic Circle. In this town, surrounded by mountains and snow, a group of people has gathered at a local restaurant, which looks and feels like a cabin in the woods, for dinner.
At a first glance, it appears like the group is having a family reunion. The atmosphere of the room feels warm and friendly. There is also a sense of excitement. Everyone is smiling, and asking each other about their lives. One person in the crowd says: “It’s very good to be here. It’s a privilege to be here.”
Despite having a lot in common, this group has only met a few hours before. This meeting, in a remote part of Europe, has brought together two groups of indigenous peoples from across the Circumpolar North. In this group are instructors and students from Saami University College in Kautokeino and 6 students and 3 instructors from Nunavut Arctic College in Iqaluit Canada. The Canadian students, most with an Inuit background, are in Norway for the first time to learn about the Saami, an indigenous group in northern Europe, by visiting the local college. The college’s mandate is to research and teach about the Saami and their culture in the Saami language. The school also trains Saami teachers and journalists.
The students and teachers are on a 10 day exchange through a University of the Arctic (UArctic) Thematic Networks program called Verdde, which means “a mutual beneficial exchange” in Saami. The program is a student/teacher exchange program, which allows small colleges from across the Cir