Her Culture Was Suppressed for Centuries. Now It Powers Her Best Seller.

In recent years, a number of Sámi artists, musicians, and writers have gained new attention and acclaim for their work within Nordic countries. Director Amanda Kernell’s film, “Sámi Blood,” took the top prize at the 2017 Gothenburg Film Festival. Mats Jonsson’s “When We Were Sámi,” which tracks the author’s attempt to reconcile his recently discovered Sámi ancestry with his Swedish identity, became, in 2021, the first graphic novel ever nominated for the August Prize, a prestigious literary award. Artist Maret Anne Sara’s moving piece of protest art, Pile O’Sápmi, crowns the entrance to Norway’s recently inaugurated National Museum in Oslo. The Nordic Pavilion at the 2022 Venice Biennale was devoted entirely to Sámi artists.

In the eastern city of Umea, Krister Stoor, a professor of language studies who teaches “Stolen” as part of his university curriculum, has seen a major transformation in the local literary festival. “This year, there are so many Sámi authors,” he said. “Ten years ago you would have had a hard time finding one.”

Although the Church of Sweden has apologized for its role in repression against the Sámi — including by overseeing boarding schools that forcibly assimilated Sámi children — the Swedish government has not.

It is uncertain whether the recent outpouring of cultural energy and interest are affecting Swedish attitudes and policy, but there are signs of change. In December, the Swedish government agreed to return for burial the remains of 18 Sámi whose bodies had been used in the early 20th century in now-discredited race-based research, and it has promised to facilitate the repatriation of Sámi artifacts currently held in Swedish museums.

At least among some sectors of Swedish society, there is growing awareness of Sweden’s responsibility for the treatment of the Sámi. In a glowing review of “Stolen” for the newspaper Expressen, Gunilla Brodrej, a culture editor, expressed shame for once dismissing as unrealistic a television series that depicted the racism the Sámi face.

“In school, I, and even my children, learn that we Swedes have arranged everything in a very good way for the Sámi,” she said in an interview. “But when you read a book like this you realize that it’s a much darker story than we ever learned.”

Laestadius too has seen some impact. Local newspapers are covering the reindeer killings more frequently, and there are signs that authorities may be paying more attention to the cases. “Usually they never come,” she said of the police, with a wry grin. “But last summer when a reindeer was killed in a little village, they sent a helicopter.”

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