Norway’s 2021 Taboo Prize awarded to Saami poet Sara Vuolab

Taboo prize Sara VuolabPhoto: Liz Buer / NTB

A prize by the Norwegian Council for Mental Health, known as the “Taboo Award,” has been awarded to Saami poet Sara Vuolab this year.

25-year-old Sara Vuolab wrote poetry about taboo mental problems. For it, she was awarded the 2021 Taboo Prize for addressing the theme of Saami culture and mental health.

What is the Taboo Prize?

The Taboo Prize was awarded to Vuolab by the Council for Mental Health, which in its justification for this year’s award wrote that she has increased Saami awareness of ongoing struggles with mental ailments and disorders.

“We know that parts of the Saami population also struggle with mental health, and that such difficulties have traditionally not had a large place in the public Saami debate. Sara Vuolab is a brave young woman who has given light to this public conversation by publishing workk that describes her own experiences of mental struggle and suffering,” said Council Secretary General Tove Gundersen.

The Saami language

Vuolab believes she can achieve even more by writing about the problem in her own mother tongue.

“For me, the Sami language is closely linked to my identity. It’s about how I experience both myself and others. Language is a communication tool, and the use of one’s own mother tongue will probably not only create interpersonal closeness and security, but also convey the parties’ identity through ownership and power of what they share,” said Vuolab.

A sense of empowerment

Vuolab says she feels empowered by writing about traumatic experiences and human suffering. She has used it as a tool since primary school.

Her poetry is featured the collection of poems “Gárži” (Trangt), which has helped to shape the Saami language. There are few other testimonies that mention mental difficulties, because even though the language exists, it has not been used in public space.

In her doctoral dissertation Samer snakker ikke om helse og sykdom (“Sami do not talk about health and illness”), Berit Andersdatter Bongo shows that the norm in Saami environments is to manage on their own and not show weakness. The Sami handle health problems in a silent and indirect way. Mental illness especially can be experienced as an imbalance in society and the cosmos, and that someone has hurt the person experiencing it.

Gundersen believes that Vuolab’s work is important for developing health services that take into account mother tongue and culture, and she believes this will lead to more openness in the environments around her.

More people contacting help services

“Openness can be important in creating security in the surroundings around us. I experience this security as essential to be able to unfold,” said Vuolab.

A 2021 report on mental health among Saami youth concluded that health services for young Saami people must take into account a number of culture-specific reservations, but at the same time that the group may have different needs based on mother tongue, culture, and place of residence.

Information from the Sami Parliament shows, however, that more and more Saami youth are contacting the support apparatus, preferably Saami help services. The progress may be related to racism and discrimination, which Saami people often encounter.

Source: ©️ NTB Scanpix / #NorwayTodayTravel

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