Kven people

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This article is about the contemporary ethnic group in Norway. For ancient Kvens, see Kvenland.
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Norway (Finnmark, Troms)
Kven/Finnish,[1] Norwegian
Lutheranism, including Laestadianism
Related ethnic groups
Finns and Tornedalians

Kvens (kveeni in Kven language/Finnish; kvener in Norwegian, and kveanat in Northern Sami) are an ethnic minority in Norway who are descended from Finnish peasants and fishermen who emigrated from the northern parts of Finland and Sweden to Northern Norway in the 18th and 19th centuries. In 1996 the Kvens were granted minority status in Norway, and in 2005 the Kven language was recognized as a minority language in Norway.


The term Kven has been continuously in use in Norway, from the Middle Ages up to the present age, to describe descendants of Finnish speaking people who immigrated to Northern Norway from the 16th century up to World War II.

The origin of the term Kven is disputed as is the fate of the medieval Kvens. There is little evidence that modern Kvens are direct descendants of Kvenland mentioned in a few ancient Norwegian and Icelandic sources. As a result of Norway signing the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities in 1999 the term Kven became for the first time an official name, the name of Finnish descendants with a long history in Norway who view themselves as a member of that particular protected ethnic minority group of Finnish descendants. There is a theory among some academic groups that due to the discrimination and suppression by the Norwegian authorities the term Kven became derogatory in the late 19th century. Therefore, many Kvens preferred to be called 'suomalaiset' (finns).[1] But with the revitalization of the Kven culture in the 1970s, Kvens themselves started using the term. However, even in the 1990s there was a debate whether the Norwegian terms 'finne', 'finsk', or 'finskætted' (respectively a Finnish person, Finnish, and of Finnish origin) should be used instead.[2] However, today the term Kven is accepted and used for example in the name of the Kven organization in Norway (Norske Kveners Forbund).


The Kvens were registered as a separate group in the Norwegian censuses in the period 1845 to 1930. From the 18th century the Kvens started to comprise a significant part of the population in Northern Norway. In 1845 13.3% of the population in Finnmark, and 3.2% in Troms, considered themselves as Kvens. In 1854 the numbers increased to respectively, 19.9% and 7.0%. The peak was in 1875, with respectively 24.2% and 7.7%. The ratios were reduced to respectively 20.2% and 3.7%, in 1890, and 13.8% and 2.0% in 1900 (all numbers from).[3] In the 1930 census there were 8215 registered Kvens in Troms and Finnmark. While in 1950 1439 people reported that they used the Finnish language in Troms (58 people) and Finnmark (1381 people).[4]

In 2001, the number of Kvens was estimated to be about 10,000 to 15,000 in a Parliamentary inquiry on national minorities in Norway.[5] However, estimating the number of Kvens is difficult since there is no official definition of a Kven. Therefore, other studies have estimated the number of Kvens to be about 50-60,000, based on the criteria that at least one of the grandparents spoke Finnish.[6] But many of these may consider themselves to be Norwegian or Sami (or all three).



Main article: Kvenland

Kvenland is an ancient name for an area in Fennoscandia and Scandinavia. By that particular spelling or close to that spelling, Kvenland is best known from a Norse account from the 9th century and from Icelandic sources written in the 12th and 13th centuries. Other spellings and references to Kvenland in old texts are discussed in the main article of Kvenland. As a name for a country, Kvenland seems to have gradually gone out of ordinary usage around the end of the Viking Age.[citation needed]

The precise location, the borders and the size of Kvenland at various points in the ancient history are debated, as the existing sources can be interpreted in several ways. The most common interpretation is that the epicenter of the ancient Kvenland was located around the Gulf of Bothnia, particularly in the areas of Ostrobothnia and Norrbotten.[citation needed]


Kvens milking a reindeer (late 19th century)

Danish/Norwegian tax records from the 16th century already list some Kvens living in North Norway.[7] Also, the famous map of Scandinavia by Olaus Magnus from 1539 shows a possible Kven settlement roughly in between today's Tromsø and Lofoten named "Berkara Qvenar".[8] Kvens of this time are often connected to the birkarl organization in northern Sweden.[9] In some early documents Kvens are also grouped together with the Sami people, who are the indigenous people of Central and Northern Norway.[10]

The main immigration of Kvens to Norway can be divided into two periods.[3] The first large immigration was from about 1720 to 1820, when Finnish speaking people from the northern Finland and Tornio River valley moved to river basins and fjord-ends in Troms and the western parts of Finnmark, to places such as Polmak, Karasjok, Porsanger, Alta and Lyngen. The immigration can be seen as a continuation of Finnish farmers colonizing Finnish and Swedish Lapland.

The second, larger, immigration was from about 1820 to 1890 to the coastal areas of eastern Finnmark, motivated by the blooming fishing industry in Northern Norway. It was also easier to get to America from Northern Norway than Northern Finland. Therefore many people moved first to Finnmark, continuing from there over the Atlantic. The immigration ended due to problems in the fishing industry, population pressure, emigration to America and increasing problems for Kvens to buy land and obtain Norwegian citizenship.

Note that the term "immigration" may not be applicable for these periods, since the Norwegian-Swedish border was not established until 1751, and the Norwegian-Russian border in 1826.

Assimilation policy[edit]

At the beginning of the first immigration until the 1860s, the Norwegian government was positive to the Kvens establishing farming colonies in the sparsely populated areas in Northern Norway. However, from the 1850s until World War II the Norwegian government initiated fornorskningspolitikken (the Norwegianization policy), where the goal was to assimilate the Kven and Sami people, and culture, into the national majority. The policy was motivated by nationalistic ideas and later by race theory. Also the Sami and Kvens even came to be considered a national "security risk". Both groups were monitored by the Norwegian security police. Later research[by whom?] has shown that there was no actual threat.

During this period the use of the Kven language was forbidden in schools and government offices. Land purchase was prohibited for those who did not acquire Norwegian family names. Eventually, selling land to non-speakers of the Norwegian language became prohibited. Also, the Norwegian Defense Ministry in 1870 demanded that all Kven/Finnish names ("foreign names") to be removed from maps.

From World War II until the 1970s, Kvens were not mentioned in politics, but were still monitored by the security police. During this period the Sami culture revitalized and become politically active, and were able make some progress into stopping the assimilation, for example by being allowed to teach Sami in the schools. At the same time, the Norwegian government's policy against the Sami and Kven changed, especially after altasaken in the 1980s which was an important turning point for Sami politics. After “altasaken”, the Sami people were recognized as indigenous people (1989), it became important to protect the Sami culture, the Sami language became protected by a law, a Sami parliament was established, and finally “finnmarksloven” transferred the ownership of the land in Finnmark back from the Norwegian state company “Statskog” to the people of Finnmark (of which many are Sami). In the 1980s, the Kven people also started organizing themselves, and fought for a status as a national minority. Norske Kveners Forbund (the Kven organization in Norway) was established in 1987.

In the 1990s Kvens were recognized as a national minority, and with it protection of the Kven culture and language (2005).

In spite of what their own preferences might have been, the Kven population of Norway largely became integrated into the Norwegian mainstream society. In traditional Kven communities, such as Vadsø, where the Kvens had formed the majority of the population, they soon considered the Norwegian cultural identity as a standard.


Main article: Kven language

The Kven language is a Finnic language. From a linguistic point of view the Kven language is a mutually intelligible dialect of Finnish, but for political and historical reasons it received in 2005 status of a legal minority language in Norway, within the framework of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

The Kven language differs from Finnish, since the Kven population was in effect isolated from other Finnish-speaking people. The Kven language has come to incorporate many Norwegian loan words, and Finnish words no longer used in Finland are still used. In a 2005 government report, the number of people speaking the Kven language in Norway is estimated to be between 2,000 and 8,000, depending on the criteria used.

Ethnic controversies[edit]

A separate ethnicity?[edit]

In the 1990s there was a debate among Kvens whether they should be considered as an ethnic group of their own, or whether they were Finnish Norwegians. As well, during the process of legal recognition of the Kven language, there was a debate as to whether it should be considered an actual language or merely a dialect of Finnish, and whether the Kven language or Kven dialect of Finnish should be taught in schools.

Indigenous in Norway[edit]

Kven and Sami people share a common history of Norwegianization. However, post-Norwegianization policies have treated them differently. Sami people have been recognized as the indigenous people in Northern Norway. They have their own schools and parliament, and they elect three of the six members for the board of Finnmark Estate (the organization owning about 95% of the land in the county of Finnmark). Some Kvens[who?] believe the distribution of rights and public funds has favored the Sami people too much, whereas on the Sami side there are people who think the Norwegian minority politics and public funding should focus mostly on the Sami people.[citation needed]

Lately, the Norwegian Kven Organization has attempted to get the Kvens recognized, similarly to the Sami people, as an indigenous people in Norway. This has made it important for some Kvens to show that their history stretches further back in time than commonly believed. There has been some recent unofficial adoption of the word "Kainu" as the new name for "Kven", in accordance with the hypotheses put forward by Finnish historians Jouko Vahtola and Kyösti Julku. Julku has also been the main protagonist for claims about existence of a large Kven territory covering Finnmark, all of Lapland and even northern Ostrobothnia which would have been known as "Kainu(u)" and existed already in the Viking Age.[11] Vahtola has hypothesized that words "Kven" and "Kainu(u)" are interchangeable.

"Swedish Kvens"[edit]

In Sweden, some Tornedalians call themselves Kvens, claiming to be the direct descendants of the medieval Kvens. This group is attempting to get the Kvens recognized as the indigenous people in Northern Sweden in order to get the same rights to the land as the Sami people are predicted to get if Sweden accepts the ILO 169[12] convention about the rights of indigenous people (see also: Finnmark Act). However, the Swedish Kvens have no distinct culture, have not been known as an ethnic group in recent history, and there is no evidence that they are the descendants of the medieval Kvens.[13] It should be noted, on the other hand, that there is a relatively large minority of Finnish-speaking people living in northern Sweden, particularly in the Torneå River Valley, and that their language, meänkieli (literally "our language", a slightly pidginized version of the Finnish spoken on the east bank of the Torneå/Tornionjoki), is now an official minority language in Sweden. Although probably not directly related to the mediaeval Kvens (Finn. "kainulaiset"), the Finnish-speaking populace was well established in what is now northern Sweden long before the current Swedish-Finnish border was drawn in 1809, the two countries having previously been parts of the same realm for some six centuries.

Modern recognition[edit]

The flag of Kvenland was lifted up at the Kiruna City Hall in Sweden on March 16, 2013, at 11:00, in celebration and honor of the first annual Day of the Kvens. Hereafter, that date - March 16 - is meant to be recognized wider in the Kven communities of the north, and by others as well.

The date for the occasion was chosen from the 14th century signing of a state treaty between Sweden and Kvenland, known as Tälje Charter ("Tälje stadga" in Swedish). In that treaty, the king of Sweden guaranteed the Kvens ("Birkarls") trading rights in the north (translation from Latin last printed in 1995, Wallerström, page 48).[14]

The city of Kiruna is a part of the Kiruna Municipality. It is the northernmost municipality of Sweden, and geographically it is Sweden's largest, covering roughly 4.604% of the total area of Sweden.

In the past, the Kven language spoken in Norway was considered a dialect of Finnish language, much like the Finnic Meänkieli language spoken in northern Sweden. Today, both are officially recognized minority languages in the areas where the languages are spoken. The Finnish, Meänkieli and Sami all are officially recognized minority languages in the Kiruna Municipality in Sweden.

Culture and media[edit]

Ruijan Kaiku[edit]

Main article: Ruijan Kaiku

Ruijan Kaiku is a bi-lingual newspaper (Kven/Finnish and Norwegian) that is published in Tromsø, Norway. Currently one issue is published each month. The newspaper writes mostly about Kven issues, and about the work of strengthening Finnish language and culture in Norway. In addition the paper has stories about other Finnish organizations in Norway, and about other Finnish minorities in the Nordic and surrounding countries.Chief editor Liisa Koivulehto.

Baaski festival[edit]

Baaski is a Kven culture festival held in Nordreisa. The first festival was in June 2007, but it is intended to be an annual event. The responsible organizers is Nordreisa municipality, and the first festival director was Johanne Gaup.[15]

Kven costume[edit]

In the late 1990s a Kven costume was designed. It is not a reconstruction of an old costume, but rather a new design based on pictures and other sources about the clothing and jewelry used by Kvens in the late 19th and early 20th century. The purpose of creating the costume was to unify and strengthen Kven identity.[citation needed]

Kadonu Loru[edit]

Kadonu Loru is the only pop music single ever recorded in the Kven language. It is based on an old Kven nursery rhyme about making sausages. The artists are Karine Jacobsen and Kine Johansen respectively from Børselv and Lakselv.[citation needed] The single was published by Iđut.

Organisations and institutions[edit]

The Norwegian Kven organization[edit]

The Norwegian Kven Organization (Ruijan Kveeniliitto in Kven/Finnish and Norske Kveners Forbund in Norwegian) was established in 1987, and has currently about 700 members.[16] The organization has local branches in: Skibotn, Børselv, Nord-Varanger, Tana, Lakselv, Alta, northern Troms, Tromsø, and Østlandet.

The tasks of the organisation include working for a government report about the history and rights of the Kven population, improving the media coverage of Kven issues, and for the Norwegian government to establish a secretary (statssekretær) for Kven issues. In addition, reading and writing classes at the beginner to advanced level, establishing a Kven kindergarten, and to incorporate the Kven language in all education levels in Norway. Also, to establish a Kven culture fund, road and other signs in Kven, Kven names in official maps, and museums and centers for Kven language and culture.

The Kven institute[edit]

Main article: Kainun institutti

The Kven institute (Kainun institutti in Kven/Finnish and Kvensk institutt in Norwegian) is a center for Kven culture and language located in Børselv in Porsangi (Porsanger) municipality in Norway.

Kven Language Board[edit]

The Kven Language Board that was established in April 2007.[17] It consists of the leader Irene Andreassen, Terje Aronsen, Prof. Anna Riitta Lindgren, Assoc. Prof. Eira Söderholm, and Pia Lane. The first task is to create a standard for written Kven language.[18]

Halti kvenkultursenter[edit]

Halti kvenkultursenter is located in Nordreisa municipality.[19]

Ruija Kven museum[edit]

The Ruija Kven Museum is located in Vadsø.

See also[edit]

Articles of the – Finnish people – its subgroups and its diaspora
Traditional groups (or "heimot")

Tavastians | Karelians | Ostrobothnians | Savonians | Finns (proper) | Swedish-speakers


Finnish Americans | Finnish Canadians | Ingrian Finns | Sweden Finns (Tornedalians, Forest Finns) | Kvens


  1. ^ Kenneth Hyltenstam & Tommaso Maria Milani: Kvenskans status: Rapport för Kommunal- og regionaldepartement och Kultur- og kirkedepartement. 2003
  2. ^ Olsen, V. (1985), Inngruppe- og utgruppe i kommunikasjon mellom etniske grupper. En teoretisk tilnærming til etnologisk analyse av kulturelle former. Arbeidsrapport nr. 2 fra prosjektet Finsk kulturforskning i Nord-Norge. Tromsø: Tromsø Museum/IMV. University of Tromsø. Norges allmennvitenskaplige forskningsråd.
  3. ^ a b Niemi, E. (1978), Den finske kolonisasjon av Nordkalotten – forløp og årsaker. Ottar, 103. 49-70.
  4. ^ Universitetsbiblioteket i Tromsø - juni 1999
  5. ^ St.meld. nr. 15 (2000-2001) " http://odin.dep.no/krd/norsk/dok/regpubl/stmeld/016001-040003/hov005-bn.html Om nasjonale minoriteter i Norge
  6. ^ Saressalo, L. (1996), Kveenit. Tutkimus erään pohjoisnorjalaisen vähemmistön identiteetistä. Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seuran Toimituksia, 638. Helsinki.
  7. ^ Niemi, E. (1994), Kvenene og staten – et historisk riss. I: Torekoven Strøm (ed.), Report from the seminar ”Kvenene – en glemt minoritet?” Monday 14.11.94 at the University of Tromsø/ Tromsø Museum.
  8. ^ http://www.bell.lib.umn.edu/map/OLAUS/SEC/bsect.html "Berkara Qvenar" in Olaus Magnus map of Scandinavia 1539 CE, see section B.
  9. ^ Vahtola, Jouko. Tornionlaakson historia I. Birkarlit, 'pirkkalaiset'. Malungs boktryckeri AB. Malung, Sweden. 1991.
  10. ^ Peter Schnitler. Grenseeksaminasjonsprotokoller 1742-1745. Volume I-III. Editors J. Qvigstad, K. B. Wiklund, Lars Ivar Hansen and Tom Schmidt. 1929.
  11. ^ Julku, Kyösti. Kvenland - Kainuunmaa (1986). Book is in Finnish with an English summary at the end.
  12. ^ ILO 169
  13. ^ svt.se - Aktuellt
  14. ^ Tälje stadga (Translation from Latin). Wallerström, 1995. Sweden.
  15. ^ Halti Kvenkultursenter
  16. ^ Kvener.no - Hjem
  17. ^ http://www.sprakrad.no/Aktuelt/Kvensk-sprakrad-er-dannet/
  18. ^ Ságat Tuesday, April 19th, 2007.
  19. ^ Halti Kvenkultursenter

External links[edit]