Pathfinder and Founder of the Contemporary North American Sami Movement; Editor of Báiki, the International and North American Sami Journal
Faith Fjeld, former San Francisco/Oakland, California; Duluth and Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Anchorage (and elsewhere), Alaska resident, passed away on October 18, 2014 in Moab, Utah. She was born on June 2, 1935 to Dr. Lawrence Field and Lorraine (Simerson) Field in Kalispell, Montana. She has been lovingly referred to as “the Grandmother of the contemporary North American Sami Community.” Her Sami name, Oskuvárri, means literally the same as her given name..."Faith Mountain".
She spent most of her childhood in Montana where her father was a Western Norwegian Lutheran Church bishop. He was also author of a number of humorous Christian Lutheran narrative books, and later was a professor at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota. Her mother was a lifelong teacher, unusual for a woman of that time. She often remarked about her strict Lutheran upbringing. Faith graduated from Murray High School in St. Paul, MN and St. Olaf College, Northfield, MN in 1957 with a degree in Art.
After she married, she lived in several places including Denver, San Francisco, Japan, England, and the Netherlands (family in the travel business), where she worked as an editor (Denver Magazine), accomplished artist, and as a fashion model. In the early 1960s Faith was active in the civil rights movement and in Another Mother for Peace group, among other activities.
Following her divorce, she settled in San Francisco on Fillmore Street in the late 1970s. It was there that she spent a happy part of her life raising her two sons, developing her work as a fabric collage artist, and being an active part of the famous San Francisco jazz community, centered right in her SF Fillmore district. She also made banana bread, a lifelong specialty, that she sold at local bakeries to help make ends meet. As her kids became young adults, she became a student again, doing graduate work at San Francisco State University in American Indian Symbolism.
Faith became very involved with the Bay Area American Indian community, participating also in the sweat lodge, and at times she traveled and stayed for extended periods of time in western South Dakota Lakota reservations, learning and living. It was there that she eventually understood, through communications, that she had extensive Sami ancestry on her father's family side. She was encouraged to explore this.
She attended the World Congress of Indigenous Peoples conference in Panama in 1984. This opened the door to meeting Sami community activists at that time, who invited her as a special guest, to the 1990 WCIP meeting in Tromsø, Norway, Sápmi. From there, she enthusiastically met her Sami family and lifelong Sami leadership friends. She was able to travel nearly the entire Sami homelands of Norway, Sweden, and Finland area, Sápmi, for some months, over several trips. From this, she started developing the first issues of the new North American Sami Journal publication, Báiki. Faith interviewed many of the activists, leadership, family and friends as she encountered them. It was a time during ongoing Sami civil rights and environmental struggles that were not always easy, and led to the founding of the Sami parliaments in the Nordic countries. She also met her South Sami family, among them the Norfjell family, who presented her with her own Gakti, traditional Sami clothing, from her North Trøndelag, Norway, Sápmi area.
Faith became the founding editor of Báiki: the North American/International Sami Journal. The word báiki means "the home that lives in your heart, wherever you go, and literally, your hometown". The first issue, Fall 1991, was composed and written in San Francisco, California, though the return address reads Duluth, Minnesota. Through Báiki, and through her writing, lectures, classes, and exhibits she became a leader and inspiration for the North American Sami Reawakening Community—connecting countless Sami descendants with each other and their heritage. We might liken Faith, from her historical impact on the overall North American Sami movement as a “pathfinder,” to Elsa Laula Renberg. Faith even shares a resemblance to Elsa in stature, as well as in “strong personality,” and perseverance.
Having already started the “California Siida” Sami activities group, which began participating in local and statewide activities that continue to this day (Norway Days/ Thousand Oaks Scandinavian Festivals, Indigenous Day Pow Wow, Solstice-Christmas Sami Gathering); Faith moved to Duluth, (northern) Minnesota in 1992. She helped found “the Great Northern Siida” (northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan) for lack of a better name. In 1993 she moved to Minneapolis and did the same there, the “Minneapolis Siida” has been a unique community group up until today, (though they never use that name). In 1994 Nathan Muus became co-editor of Báiki with Faith, and they were associated ever since then.
Wherever Faith was, Sami events, gatherings and activities happened. Witness the first annual or semi-annual larger North American Sami gathering, “The Siiddastallan” (a gathering of people and reindeer), held in March, 1994 at the Minnesota Zoo. Siiddastallans are still held in conjunction with larger gatherings such as Scandinavian events, Finnfest, and sometimes as stand alone Sami North American events. Other groups have also “borrowed” this tradition from the Báiki community. Greater community participation with Finnfest has almost become an annual event itself.
February 1996 saw the birth of the “Sami Siida of North America” in Palo, northern Minnesota, by the then combination of the “Great Northern” folks, including Rudy and Solveig Johnson, Mel Olsen (founding Árran newsletter “as a quarterly complement to Báiki”) at this time, Anja Kitti (unanimously selected as our first chairperson), Cari and Charlie Mayo, Marlene Wisuri, Mel Mattson, Gladys Koski-Holmes, Ellen Binder, Johan Mikkel Sara, Chris Pesklo, Arden Johnson, Báiki staff, including Nathan, Barb Tan, and others. It was the third attempt at formation of a North American representative group, a longtime dream of Faith, the first several attempts not having worked out. It held as a peaceful, social, and community events network for many years. Mel and others were against making extensive “Roberts Rules of Order” arrangements at that time to prevent disagreements among such a small participating group of people.
In 1997 both Faith and Nathan had moved back to Oakland, California, and opened the Báiki office in downtown Oakland, in conjunction with the South American Indigenous Indian community SAIIC. In their large garden backyard was a big lavvu tent, which hosted many a community gathering. 1998 brought the historic Centennial Manitoba reunion in Poulsbo, Washington, near Seattle, of the Alaska Sami family descendents and friends, including some 25 relatives from Sápmi. Faith and Báiki staff visited the Seattle area many times throughout our many years of Báiki efforts. During this time Faith was also the associate writer for her neighborhood newspaper, The New Fillmore, San Francisco, writing and editing every week. She also worked part time, nearly her entire life in the Bay Area, at a neighborhood hardware store, arranging the window display, among other things.
From 2004 Faith lived in Alaska for five years, connecting with Sami and Native Alaskan Yup’ik and Inupiaq families, researching with Sami Alaskan descendants and co-curating the exhibit The Sami Reindeer People of Alaska with Nathan Muus, which has traveled throughout rural Alaska, and the US, most recently at the Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum in Decorah, Iowa, and the Minnesota Discovery Center in Chisholm, MN, summer 2014. Faith also worked for a time at the Alaska Native Heritage Center as a public consultant regarding Sami culture and impact on Alaska and North America. Lois (Sara) Stover of Kodiak, Alaska has worked closely with the exhibit as well, and extensive input came from countless other Alaska Sami family communities. Ruthanne Cecil also has contributed extensive research and input to the exhibit, and to Báiki in general.
Faith was a founding organizer with Marlene Wisuri and a board member of the Sami Cultural Center of North America in 2011. She had moved from Alaska to Duluth in 2008, site of the huge Finnfest that featured the Sami, partly to assist in the beginning of the Center, which has realized the dream of a physical space for North American Sami education, research, and community activities. While in Duluth she continued her publishing and educational work, took many interesting road trips, entertained numerous visitors, and connected with the native community of the area.
She was long active in indigenous and environmental issues. Her life was filled with family, friends, and meaningful work. Some of Faith’s favorite passions included: gardening, jazz, cats, public speaking, travel, scrapbooks, thrift stores, reading mystery novels, and cooking.
Other highlights include: three visits with other associates to the Sami Council to present the work of Báiki and to ask about representation of North American Sami, and the Easter extended Alaska Sami families and descendants gathering Eastertime 2008 in Kautokeino/Guovdageaidnu, Norway, Sápmi.
Regarding publications, Faith was the chief editor for 37 issues of Báiki, published from California, Minnesota and Alaska, guest writer to the Sons of Norway Viking Magazine, the Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum magazine, among others, and the exhibit catalog for The Sami Reindeer People of Alaska in 2012. As well, her articles have been reprinted many times over in other books and publications. At the time of her passing, she was near completion of the anthology The Return of the Sami Spirit, which will be published in her honor. We are preparing a special issue of Báiki, the last of the subscription based journal, and the first of periodic special issues, in Faith’s honor.
Faith was preceded in death by her parents and infant sister, Ruth.
She is survived by sons Bruno Kark of Emeryville, California; Clay Kark of Moab, Utah; granddaughters Ruby French-Kark and Olivia Kark; partner and associate Nathan Muus; and many friends and colleagues from around the world who remember her with love and gratitude.
A celebration and ceremony of her life was held one week after her passing near Nevada City, California, on Maidu Indian land, and in Moab Utah, both gatherings with family and friends. Other memorials were held in San Francisco and Duluth at a later date. Memorials preferred to Báiki with checks made out to the Sami Cultural Center, 4915 East Superior St., Suite 205, Duluth, MN 55804. Memo Báiki.
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