Alice Jektevik
©Janita Zenteno

Force of nature

Alice Marie Jektevik (29) has always had an urge to stand up to injustice  in society. It’s no wonder then that she ended up as festival producer of  Riddu Riđđu – one of the world’s largest indigenous festivals. 

Text: Lone Helle. Photo: Janita Zenteno

“Riddu Riđđu is a protest against injustice. We do something that other festivals don’t do and we do it in a very cool way. We have a vision behind all the artists we book and all the events we organise. The festival has respect for people and a strong sense of ethical values woven into its DNA. This matches my personality. When things are unfair or unbalanced, it’s even more important for me to stand up to them,” says Alice Marie Jektevik. In the summer of 2019, the 29-year-old will produce her second festival, which will be the 28th in the festival’s history. “I just met a woman who commented that the best concert she experienced in 2018 was by an Australian hip-hop artist in a lavvu at Riddu Riđđu in the middle  of the night. It’s cool to be able to give people experiences like that,” says the festival producer.

Small storm, big festival

The village of Manndalen in North Troms has a permanent population of around 600, but  Europe’s largest indigenous festival – Riddu Riđđu – takes place here every summer. When the village plays host to 7,000 festival-goers over a three-day period, everyone turns  up for a gigantic, collective effort. “To ensure everyone has a place to sleep, artists and guests are accommodated in private houses, cabins and fishermen’s cottages. Everyone helps. This is the tradition here in Manndalen. It’s a very hospitable place,” says Jektevik. Riddu Riđđu means “A small storm on the coast” in the North Sami language, and it’s not without reason that the festival has gained precisely that name. The festival was founded in 1991 with a desire to change the world.  

A group of local youth gathered for a barbecue and started discussing their identity and roots. They wondered why being Sami was associated with shame. They decided to be proud of their Coastal Sami background. They wanted to turn shame to pride through music and culture, but they faced much resistance. Road signs featuring Sami names were shot at and the youth working for the festival were laughed at and faced strong resistance. Families were split, but the youth did not give up. “Riddu Riđđu has developed a lot since those days. Today, the festival is part of Manndalen’s identity. It’s a big and important festival with a strong international indigenous profile. Riddu is an important voice for the world’s indigenous people and is better known abroad than it is in Norway. It doesn’t matter where we go, we always meet people who know about Riddu Riđđu,” says Jektevik.

Journey to identity  

The 29-year-old grew up on the island of Kvaløya in Tromsø, but later moved to Oslo. While in the capital, she discovered her Sami roots and started learning the Sami language. “Learning Sami as an adult is difficult, but I can speak some and hopefully will learn more going forward. The process has been a bit difficult but it’s also very cool. My grandparents are Coastal Sami. My grandfather is from Andørja in Troms where I have spent a huge amount of time. Our family fished, farmed and herded reindeer. It took a long time before he started talking about his Coastal Sami background but, when he realised that I was interested, he opened up more,” says Jektevik.

Jektevik worked as a journalist for several years before switching to the cultural sector and becoming a festival producer. “It started with working as a volunteer at Embla, a festival focusing on gender equality, and since then it has snowballed. I started a nightclub concept for Sami youth in Oslo that is still going strong, and in 2016 I helped arrange Sápmi Pride in Kautokeino,” she says. When the chance to become festival producer of Riddu Riđđu came along, Jektevik was never in doubt. She wanted the job – and she got it. “I have always made slightly impulsive choices and moving from Oslo to Manndalen is probably one of them. I’m really pleased I took this opportunity.” From knowledge to acknowledge The role of festival producer offers exciting and varied work, which involves a lot of travel to check out artists for the festival. “We book indigenous people from all over the world – from Russia and Alaska to Australia and New Zealand. Riddu has had everything from world-renowned hip-hop artists to Mongolian overtone throat singers on the programme,” says the festival producer. Due to the festival’s profile, Jektevik works in the space where culture meets politics.

“Riddu plays an important role in the public discussion in Sápmi and Northern Norway. We put topical issues on the agenda from a Sami and indigenous perspective and aim to be a voice for indigenous peoples. We also put a lot of effort into cultural understanding and into building bridges between people from different countries.”
The battle for Sami people to gain respect and acceptance in Norwegian society remains ongoing. Jektevik says while there is still a long way to go, it has become easier. “There is still a lot of prejudice and ignorance among people, but thankfully much less than in the past. Sami are now more visible, and more and more people are discovering that they have Sami roots or that they know someone who is Sami. It then becomes less unfamiliar and scary.” However, even though a lot has improved, Jektevik is preoccupied with the fact that we still have a long way to go in Norwegian society.
“I hope we get to the stage where people regard Sami as a natural part of Norway, and that it becomes normal to see Sami signs and hear Sami language. For most people, it’s still unclear who the Sami are and that the Sami are different. While some do traditional reindeer herding, others grow up in the city and study. It’s important to be accepted for who you are.

Young Sami people today have one foot in traditional Sami culture and the other in urban society.

 

Edit: This article was first written for the Tromsø Guide 2018/2019.