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The River Keeper: A Call To Action

Below is an original piece I created with the help of the spirit of the river, Tjaetsieålmaj. The below words were presented at the biennial conference for the Association for the Study of Women and Mythology in Syracuse, NY.

I would like to provide you with a bit of context about the piece I’m about to present. I am the daughter of a Norwegian and Sámi father and Irish mother. I am currently on a journey to reclaim my Indigenous Sámi ancestry and this piece, along with what will be my dissertation, it part of that. The Sámi people are the Indigenous people of the North. We inhabit Sápmi, or Northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland the Kola Peninsula in Russia. This piece is in reference to the struggles over fishing rights in the Deatnu River that creates a border between Norway and Finald. Also known as the Tana.

The Sámi have inhabited those lands for time immemorial. According to Sámi researcher Rauna Kuokkanen, “In the 1751 Strömstad Peace Accord, the Deatnu river was made into an international boundary, becoming one of the oldest political borders in Europe. Since 1873, salmon fishing in the Deatnu River has been regulated by bilateral agreements negotiated between Norway and Finland. The most recent agreement was reached in 2017, in spite of a very strong, uniform opposition from the local population, Sámi and non–Sámi alike.”

“For Sámi, the river is also a strong bond and unifying force that ties families and genealogies together and to the place, and to the river itself.” - Kuokkanen

And, while the governments deny fishing licenses and various Sami fishing practices to Sami people who use the salmon as a way of life, they grant fishing licenses to tourists and settlers. And while there were laws and treaties in place that were meant to protect the rights of Sami people along the Deatnu, those are not being honored.

It's a lot more complicated in terms of history, politics, and land rights, but that is a brief backdrop.

I called upon one of the Sámi spirits for this piece. I invited Tjaetsieålmaj to join me. At first, he was not cooperative. Then he was angry. And then he transformed me. And I offer him gratitude for his words and presence.

I also am a staunch believer in the gender fluidity of deity and don’t believe we have the appropriate language in the modern tongue to encompass all of the qualities of the gods and goddesses. So, while Tjaetsieålmaj is traditionally described as a male divinity, I believe they have shown me to be fluid like their waters."

"You called me. I have come.

You say you are in need of my wisdom. You do not know what to do. The settlers have come and taken your land. They deny you access to my waters. They deny you access to the beings swimming in my stream. You want me to help you. Funny. I thought you had forgotten me. Forgotten about my importance. My sacredness.

Humans. Humans forget. It is your greatest gift. And your biggest weakness. You forget what the waters have done for you. You forget how the forests shield you. You forget how the sun blessed your skin and made your food grow tall. You forget how the moon guides you in darkness. You forget the fish in the river, the stone on the Earth, the birds taking flight. The wolf in the woods. The bear in the mountain. The insect in the flower. You forget you are not above them, you are them.

But you remember when you need us. You remember when your pain is too great to bear and the wound cuts you too deep. You fall upon the Earth and you beat on her soil and scream and cry and beg and ask “why?” You reach out to us in pain. You offer pain only. You remember when my waters run dry, my rivers are empty, and your home a desolate terrain. You remember then.

I am Tjaetsieålmaj.

Can you still hear me?

I am the spirit. The spirit of the river. And I do not come because I am called. I come with a warning. I come with a plea. Can you still hear me?

Return my waters to my people. Return them to me.

You take and you take and you take and you take and you leave nothing.

Those that remember, those that listen, I hear the beat of their drum. Boom. Boom. Boom. Beating on the Earth. Beating in time with the heart of Eana. Eana remembers. Eana guides my children back to me. They take up arms against invaders. Against forgetters.

I remember the laughter of children. The joiks of the human ancestors. Their voices called out in song… to us spirits, gods, family. We listened. We loved. We gave. Their song was an offering. Their laughter a joy. My rivers provided.

Salmon. Drink. Water for your crops. Water for your home. Water for your life. Then you forgot. And the rest of your race forgot. Forgetters moved in. They trampled Eana. They killed your reindeer. They stole your fish. They took your homes. They took your children.

I watched. Powerless against them.

The old ones, the ancestors, they used to wonder among themselves. “If we stop worshipping the gods, if we stop honoring the gods, will they disappear?”

Yes and no. Your greed has driven us away. Deep, deep into hiding. Into the fissures of the Earth. But we will not stay there forever. You might take my fish, stop the birdsong, silence the laughter of children. But my waters will rise. And in the end… they will consume you.

Wake up. Listen. Remember.

I do not think you let them come. But you must stop them. You must remember.

I remember. Eana remembers. The Earth mother remembers. She guides you to my shores.

She remembers your footsteps through the forests into my streams.

She remembers your hands in my rivers, splashing cool water over your face.

She remembers the flow of my waters onto her land, sprinkling the ground with dandelions, wildflowers, and golden cloudberry bushes.

Her jewels of the Earth guide you back to me. They point you North. Home. My rivers are calling to the rivers of your blood.

Submerge into my waters. Submerge into ancestral memory. Mingle with myth and magic. Intertwine your spirit with mine. Feel me move through you like a lover.

I will hold you as you fall. Trust. Release. Dive into the memory of me. Allow magical death to take you. Be reborn in the living waters memory. Birth yourself again.

Boom. Boom. Boom.

Your new heart beating in your chest.

A song comes. Carried on the wind.

Boom. Boom. Boom.

A song of resilience. A song of longing. A battle cry!


I will sing too!

Don’t leave me behind. I do not want to be forgotten. I no longer wish to remain silenced.

I will rebirth myself with you.

My people who fight for me are few. And they are brave… but they are tired. They need my help.

Can they still hear me?



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