Reel Norden : Nordic Film & History

Kautokeino Rebellion-- Behavior

The Kautokeino Rebellion illustrates the life of the indigenous Sami people living near the small Norwegian town of Kautokeino in the mid-nineteenth century. Throughout this film, the behaviors of both the Sami individuals and the non-Sami authority figures are rooted in historical fact. An analysis of Sami gender relations, Sami relationship to non-Sami authority, and Sami religious practices is discussed below.

Gender relations

In the Sami culture, women are regarded as equal to men. Through roles, tasks, and domain, the general consensus among scholars is that in the Sami culture, gender roles did not play a significant part in their society.(1) Some modern scholars have begun to question the validity of this gender equality consensus. However, based on the majority of scholars' thoughts on pre-twentieth century Sami gender equality, and the presentation of Elen in the film, it can be concluded that the roles and domain women had were equal to that of men. In the film Elen had many roles such as herding the reindeer and contributing to group decisions within the family. The effort and power Elen had was equal, and maybe greater than that of her husband, Mathis. It was not uncommon for a Sami woman to be the spokesperson of her family and make big decisions.(2) Elen takes this role when Mathis is drunk at the store/saloon and she comes in to take him home and makes a big speech about alcohol. Another example of gender equality is reindeer and land ownership. In many European societies at the time, women could not own land, however that was not the case in Sami society. It was customary for Sami women and men to own separate estates and herd their own reindeer.(3) In the film we saw Elen and Mathis managing the same herd, with Elen taking the bigger role in herding while Mathis was at the saloon or in prison. Because Elen had such a strong influence in the livelihood of her family, and the biggest role in the decision-making, the influence she had on her husband was exemplified in reversing Mathis’s alcoholism.

Authority figures

Throughout the film, the characters in authority over the Sami were the pastor, merchant, and the judge. All of these characters were not Sami. They were often shown having negative, exploitative interactions with the Sami people. For example, the men of the siida (a group containing multiple families who control a certain area of land) were taken into custody and imprisoned indefinitely without a legal charge or access to a fair trial.(4) Unfortunately, it was not that uncommon for instances like this to occur to the Sami people.(5) The oppression Sami people faced from outsiders contributed to their reasoning for the rebellion.

Religious practices

The religious beliefs of the Kautokeino Sami in the film played a substantial role in dictating their public behavior. These beliefs ultimately led to the rebellion and the execution of the rebellion’s leaders.

Bishop Lars Levi Laestadius (1800-1861) had a major influence on these practices and beliefs. In the film, he was very adamant about the forbearance of alcohol consumption. Laestadius had great personal connection to alcohol and the Sami. His father was an alcoholic; it is likely that his distaste of alcohol came from experiences with his father.(6) His mother was a Sami woman from Bihtán. Laestadius grew up with three different Sami cultures-- his mother provided one; he was born in Une Lapland, and he lived in Lule Lapland as a boy. As an adult, he spoke four Sami languages, and eventually developed a linguistic “blend” of the languages. “Tent Sami,” as it was known, was used in Laestadius’ teachings. In addition to his use of the people’s native languages, Laestadius also utilized Sami mythology to increase his listener’s connection to his teachings.(7)  

Laestidius had reason to teach against alcohol consumption because as the film opens it is quickly made clear that the Sami faced alcohol problems. When colonists came to Sami territory, they tried to grow crops, but eventually found the land was not fit for agriculture. To make money, they turned to selling alcohol. Laestadius was insistent, however, that the Sami give up alcohol.(8) In the movie, his teachings greatly impacted Elen and led her to inspire others, including her husband, to give up alcohol. The Sami boycotted the liquor store and created tension within the relationship between the Sami and the merchant. The abstinence from alcohol use was a common trend during this era so it was not out of the ordinary for a siida to oppose the use of alcohol.(9) However, the specific siida depicted was an extremely radical group. They considered authorities to be “the devil’s children.” According to writer Johan Turi, “the violence of the [religious] laws went to their heads.” They traveled to other siidas to talk about Laestadius and condemned to hell those who chose not to follow their ways. They believed God’s spirit was within them, they began believing the law did not apply to them.(10) The family in the movie were clearly very convinced in their beliefs, and Elen did call their preacher a devil. She was also shown preaching to a small group of Sami people. However, they were perhaps not portrayed with as much zeal as would be historically accurate. They were not shown condemning others to hell. They continued with their livelihoods. Though they fought the law, it was clear within the context of the film that they did not believe themselves above the law-- they were victims of an unjust system. Which is also largely accurate, but scholars also note the religious intensity that was only partially portrayed in the film.  

Overall, the historical representation of the behaviors illustrated in this film were similar to the historical Sami. The siida depicted in the film may not have been as religiously intense as the actual rebellion leaders. However, the portrayal of Sami life and the rebellion are largely accurate in regards to gender, authority figures, Laestadius, and Sami views on alcohol.

(1) Rauna Kuokkanen, “Indigenous Women in Traditional Economies: The Case of Sámi Reindeer Herding,” Journal of Women in Culture and Society vol. 34, no. 3 (2009): 500.
(2) Odd Mathis Haetta, The Sami: an Indigenous People of the Arctic (Norway: David Girji o.s., 1996), 23.
(3) Ibid, 501.
(4) Sunna Kuoljok, John E. Utsi, The Sami People of the Sun and Wind (Jokkmokk: Ájtte, Swedish Mountain and Saami Museum, 1993), 13.
(5) Roald E. Kristiansen, "The Kautokeino Rebellion 1852," Sami Culture, accessed October 6, 2014,    
(6) Anna Spein, et al., “The Influence of Religious Factors on Drinking Behavior Among Young Indigenous Sami and Non-Sami Peers in Northern Norway,” Journal of Religion and Health 50, no. 4 (December 2011): 1026, Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed February 22, 2017).
(7) Veli-Pekka Lehtola, The Sami People Traditions in Translations (Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press, 2004), 38, 40.
(8) Lehtola, The Sami People, 40.
(9) Kristiansen, “The Kautokeino Rebellion 1852.”
(10) Lehtola, The Sami People, 40-41.

Written and edited by Anna Buan, Ali Froslie, Jacob Aberle and Tim Carlson.

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