The Giellagas Institute was established at the University of Oulu in 2001. Giellagas has a nation-wide responsibility to organize, introduce and provide Saami language and cultural studies and research at the academic level. Giellagas is an independent organisation in the Faculty of Humanities and it is financed directly by the Ministry of Education. The Giellagas Institute houses two major academic subjects, Saami Linguistics and Saami Culture. In Saami linguistics the major teaching language is Saami while the studies of Saami Culture require skills in Finnish, in addition to Saami and English.
THE GIELLAGAS INSTITUTE FOR SAAMI STUDIES
The Giellagas Institute for Saami studies was established in 2001 with the funding provided by the Ministry of Education. Pursuant to the ‘national task’ assigned by the State, the Giellagas Institute is responsible for Finland´s highest education and research into Sámi language and culture.
Saami language and culture have been taught as an independent academic subject at the University of Oulu for nearly 40 years, first as a minor and as a major from 1982. In 2004 Saami language and culture was divided into two major academic subjects, Saami Linguistics and Saami Culture.
The Giellagas Institute has its own role in the education of the Saami people as well as in the maintenance of the culture. Nowadays the situation of the Saami people seems to be better understood by the mainstream society than previously. This positive attitude can be seen in the good prerequisites of action that we have been provided with.
History of Saami studies
The summary is based on the article “Oulu universitehta sámegiela oahpahusa guovddáš Suomas (PDF)” by Veli-Pekka Lehtola, published in Ja de Giellagas rátkkii sierra (Publications of the Giellagas Institute Vol 5. Oulu 2005):
In 1970 the University of Oulu established a lectorship in the Saami language. This act was very remarkable, because the University of Oulu was the first place in Finland to offer Saami studies as a major subject. During the first two years the institute of the Finno-Ugric languages at the University of Helsinki was responsible for the teaching. The first lecturer in Saami was Helvi Nuorgam-Poutasuo, and there were six students that started during the first semester. Saami was taught as a foreign language, and the teaching was aimed at giving the students satisfactory literal skills and fluency in Saami.
In 1972 Tuomas Magga began to serve as a lecturer. The teaching of Saami was remarkably strenghtened in the next year when an assistant professorship was established. This made it possible to start giving instruction on the cum laude level. In 1977 Pekka Sammallahti was appointed to the position of associate professor. In that same year Tuomas Magga was appointed to the position of senior lecturer. The first years were very challenging, since the teachers had to plan all the curriculum themselves. It was not even possible to make use of the material available in Norway or Sweden because of cultural differences. The orthography used in Finland was different from that used in neighbouring countries.
At the University of Oulu, unlike at the University of Helsinki, the aim of instruction was, among other things, to give practical knowledge about Saami language for the needs of Saami society. It was essential to educate competent teachers for the schools in Saami land. One of the goals was to create an academic research tradition in Saami language.
The teaching on the graduate level started in 1980. A professorship was established two years later and Pekka Sammallahti was nominated as professor. This was something that improved the status of Saami language both in academic circles and in Finnish society in general. In addition to teaching, Sammallahti and Magga went on doing their own research. It was a noteworthy event at the university when Magga presented his doctoral dissertation in 1984. He was the first Finnish indigenous Saami person to do this. Sammallahti went on doing research on the sound system, syntax and dialectology of North Saami and also of other Saami languages.
The number of those who received a master´s degree was very small in the first fifteen years. In 1991 the first student received a degree in Saami. There were many reasons for the slow progress. The number of those who initially started studying Saami was low. Many of them went to work before graduating, which delayed their studies. Evidently, Saami society had and still has a need for the expertise the University of Oulu graduates.
The education provided in Oulu also has a good reputation in neigbouring countries. Those who have graduated from here get good jobs e.g. in the Saami institutions at Guovdageaidnu, Norway. An established post-graduate community first came into existence in Oulu during the early years of the 21st century. The effect this has on Saami society is remarkable especially because the scientific writings, specifically doctoral dissertations, are written in Saami. That practice results in the development of Saami as an academic language. Due to practical limitations the teaching of the Saami culture is decreasing all the time, even though it has existed in the name of the programme. Founding the Giellagas Institute made it possible to establish a professorship in Saami culture in 2004.