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Irja Seurujärvi-Kari

Irja Anneli Seurujärvi-Kari
Born November 21, 1947, Utsjoki.

Doctor of Philosophy (Finno-Ugric Languages), 2012, University of Helsinki
Master of Arts (English Philology), 1974, University of Oulu

Lecturer, Sámi Language and Culture, 1986-, University of Helsinki

Researcher, Institute for the Languages of Finland, 1985/6
Head, Utsjoki upper secondary school for Sámi, 1978-85
Lecturer, Sámi language, 1976/7, University of Oulu
Lector, English and Swedish, Ivalo comprehensive school, 1974-76

Research interests
Sámi and indigenous rights movements, identity politics and rights of indigenous peoples, etymological and ontological issues for indigenous peoples, Sámi languages, endangered languages and revitalisation.

Publications, research projects and other academic activities

Photo: Ulla Aikio-Puoskari
Written by Irja Seurujärvi-Kari, Kaija Hartikainen (ed.)
Translated by John Calton

My best memory at the University of Helsinki

In the mid-1990s I had the ambitious goal of organising an international seminar series on indigenous peoples called Rievttit–Rights, which indeed came to be organised.

Two eager Sámi language students of mine helped me to plan the first seminar. We worked on the programme for a long time but the most difficult part was to get funding. We decided to invite scholars of indigenous peoples from different fields as well as activists to be the plenary speakers at the seminar; there were people from Argentina, Australia, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Russia and Finland.

One day, when we were thinking about where to get enough funding for the conference, the phone rang and the porter told me that a “man in a white hat” wanted to see me. On entering, he tossed his hat on the worn-out old sofa and asked whether we were in need of funding. I could not believe my ears! I briefly explained our project to him. The unknown man was satisfied and only asked for an account number in order to send some funds for the conference. That is how I was able to organise the most wonderful and successful nearly weeklong conference of my life! Many thanks to this guardian angel!

This event is a good example of how difficult it can be to get funding for research on Sámi and indigenous peoples in the south. It also astonishes me that the Ministry of Education currently only considers the research in the universities of Lapland and Oulu relevant and thus only that research gets funded. Is it really appropriate to restrict the numbers of speakers of a dying language and leave it to the elite of some other group? Questions like this have begun to vex me lately.

A publication of the conference presentations, Essays on Indigenous Rights and Identity (1996), was published shortly afterwards. Also the declaration Helsinki-julkilausuma was approved at the conference. The declaration supports the identity and rights of Sámi people in Russia.

Seurujärvi-Kari presenting her dissertation, 21.1.2012. Photo: Fredrik Forsberg.​
Seurujärvi-Kari presenting her dissertation, 21.1.2012. Photo: Fredrik Forsberg.​


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