Findians: A Journey to Distant Cousins

By Dagmar Mißfeldt

In their 2016 book, Fin­ti­aanien Mail­la, three Finnish women take read­ers on a jour­ney into unknown ter­ri­to­ry. Meeri Koutanie­mi (pho­to jour­nal­ist), Maria Sep­pälä (jour­nal­ist and doc­u­men­tary film­mak­er), and Kat­ja Ket­tu (best­selling author) intro­duce us to Find­i­ans, a group of peo­ple who prac­ti­cal­ly nobody has heard of, at least until now.

Between 1860 and 1940, approx­i­mate­ly 400,000 Finnish emi­grants left their home­land for North Amer­i­ca in search of a bet­ter life. They main­ly set­tled in Min­neso­ta, Michi­gan, and Ontario. 400,000 is an amaz­ing­ly high num­ber, espe­cial­ly when one con­sid­ers that Fin­land only had a pop­u­la­tion of about three mil­lion peo­ple in 1900. In their new home­land, the Finnish came in con­tact with the Ojib­wa peo­ple. Rel­a­tive­ly quick­ly, the indige­nous peo­ple and the Finns noticed that they had much in common:

• A deep respect for nature, in par­tic­u­lar their appre­ci­a­tion of the forest
• A belief that pover­ty is a result of a lim­it­ed education
• A long tra­di­tion of sweat lodges
• Prej­u­dices of main­stream soci­ety against the marginalized

Due to these shared fac­tors, the fear of first con­tact was sig­nif­i­cant­ly low­er between these two soci­eties than it was when Native peo­ples first met oth­er Euro­pean set­tlers. The Ojib­was and Finns worked togeth­er in forestry and fish­ing, lived togeth­er, and became friends. Some fell in love, had chil­dren and a new eth­nic group was born: The Findians.

Yet, they still have not been for­mal­ly rec­og­nized. Sim­i­lar to the Métis – descen­dants of Euro­pean trap­pers and fur traders and women includ­ing the Cree and Ojib­wa in Cana­da who have been rec­og­nized as indige­nous peo­ple in Cana­da since 1982 – Find­i­ans are still cam­paign­ing for this status.

Thanks to the three authors, we final­ly get to know the Find­i­ans. Meeri Koutaniemi’s impres­sive black and white pho­tos show strong, deter­mined indi­vid­u­als. Sup­ple­ment­ed by texts and inter­views by Maria Sep­pälä and Kat­ja Ket­tu, this thought-pro­vok­ing book pro­vides an over­all pic­ture of the cur­rent life of the Find­i­ans in which much of the Finnish lan­guage and cul­ture has been pre­served. In addi­tion, it doc­u­ments how their strug­gle for recog­ni­tion is still shaped by pover­ty and exclu­sion. Hope­ful­ly, this book by the three Finns will help sup­port the Find­i­ans in their fight for recog­ni­tion. At the very least, a trans­la­tion of this impor­tant book into Eng­lish would be an impor­tant step to help them gain the recog­ni­tion they deserve.

I’d like to leave you with one small piece of triv­ia. An impor­tant descen­dant of the first Finnish immi­grants is the Amer­i­can politi­cian John Mor­ton (1725–1777), who signed the Amer­i­can Dec­la­ra­tion of Inde­pen­dence of 1776 for Penn­syl­va­nia. Now you can hard­ly get more Amer­i­can than that!

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After com­plet­ing her M.A. in Scan­di­na­vian Stud­ies and Finno-Ugric Stud­ies both in Ger­many and Scan­di­navia, Dag­mar Mißfeldt start­ed teach­ing Swedish at Leuphana Uni­ver­si­ty Lüneb­urg in 1997. Her sem­i­nars focus on Sweden’s diverse cul­ture and lit­er­a­ture as well as lan­guage projects in col­lab­o­ra­tion with her col­leagues. She also teach­es Swedish and Finnish at Ham­burg Uni­ver­si­ty and trans­lates lit­er­a­ture and films from Swedish, Finnish, Dan­ish, and Nor­we­gian into German.