FARAVID 35/2011


Tiina Saukko, The Riutula Children’s Home and the Finlandization of Lappish Children in Inari in Early 1900s

Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) began its missionary work in Inari in 1902. In the beginning the missionary work concentrated on providing medical help to the people in Inari and also on propagating religious revival. In 1907 they set up a missionary station called Riutula in Inari that also served as a children’s home. The children who came to the house were mostly Laplanders and had Lappish backgrounds. Most of them were orphans or from such poor families that their parents couldn’t afford to raise them themselves.

The biggest problem in Riutula was that while the children had Lappish backgrounds, all the employees at Riutula were Finns. Because of this, all the Lappish children had to learn to speak Finnish and to behave like Finns. In letters that the missionaries wrote and that were published in YWCA’s journals, they criticized the ways in which Laplanders raised their children, their housekeeping skills and their intelligence. When reading the letters, it becomes very clear that the YWCA missionaries truly believed that their duty was to teach the natives to do things the way it was done in the Finnish culture because, in their opinion, that was the right and better way.

YWCA did a great deal of good in Inari in the fields of education and health care, but because of their actions, Lappish children in Riutula and in the Riutula elementary school underwent some kind of a clash of cultures. This happened when children with Lappish backgrounds came to the children’s home or dormitory where all the employees spoke Finnish and the whole environment represented the Finnish culture.  

Faravid 35/2011