Fara Heim discovers Iceland is full of Icelanders
At an annual conference of the Association for the Advancement of Scandinavian Studies in Canada (AASSC) we discovered something we didn't know. AASSC is an interdisciplinary group spanning all aspects of social studies and the humanities. For over 32 years AASSC has been meeting to discuss Scandinavian history, folklore, religion, Norse sagas and archaeology. In attendance are members from Canada, America, Scandinavia and the Nordic region. Fara Heim recently joined AASSC as the members of the association are a wealth of information in our effort to learn more about early Norse exploration in North America.
Under the leadership of Ingrid Urberg, an Associate Professor of Scandinavian Studies for the University of Alberta, members range from Faculty and Students at universities in Canada, U.S., Finland, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden to Members of Parliament for Saskatchewan to researchers, sociologists and archaeologists. At each annual meeting papers are submitted for presentation and this year speakers included Birgitta Wallace of Parks Canada presenting a paper on “Norse and American Native encounters in North America”, Jessica Auer of Concordia University showing her short film “Still Ruins” which included Erik the Red’s settlement in Viking Age Greenland, Natalie van Deusen of the University of Alberta presenting “Old Norse Manuscripts in Icelandic Crime Fiction”, and Sara Stuart of Brock University using Norse Sagas to discuss the “Borders of Identity in the Norse Undead.”
The conference held an opening reception sponsored by Jan-Terje Storaas of the Norwegian embassy to celebrate the bicentenary of the Norwegian constitution. The second evening Britt Bengtsson of the Swedish Embassy held a screening of “Palme” a documentary on the assassinated Swedish politician. Absent throughout the conference was any involvement from the Icelandic embassy. Upon asking it turns out Iceland doesn’t participate because it isn’t a Scandinavian country. Being of Icelandic descent I was taken aback as many of the speakers were presenting on Icelandic history. Birgitta Wallace discussed Norse exploration in North America done by my forefather Thorfinn Karlsefni and used the Greenlanders’ Saga and the Saga of Erik the Red as the sole reference material.
Upon questioning further why Iceland isn’t involved in the AASSC we discovered something. North Americans, including the Western Icelanders, use the terms “Norse” and “Scandinavian” generically to discuss anything from Viking Age Iceland. Modern Icelanders see themselves as neither “Norse” nor “Scandinavian” and consider anything occurring in the last 1,000 years as being “Icelandic”. To Icelanders Scandinavia clearly only includes Norway, Denmark and Sweden. Iceland does actively engage as a member of the Nordic Council.
Upon returning from AASSC the team discussed what we had learned. We have always wondered why modern Icelanders were not more interested in the Fara Heim mission and now we knew. The objective of Fara Heim is to search for signs of Norse exploration in North America between 1000AD and 1400AD. From the perspective of a modern Icelander we weren’t searching for their history. They’re not Norse. And we find that Icelandic business and government leadership think that everybody knows Icelanders, not Norse or Vikings, explored North America over 1,000 years ago. When we talked further with some government and business leaders from Iceland it became even further evident that they think the rest of the world knows that Icelanders named Leif and Thorfinn, neither Norse nor Scandinavians, led those early explorations. Clearly the marketing efforts haven’t been enough as even the Fara Heim team, Thorfinn’s descendants, considered him Norse.
As our research continues to find the presence of what we thought were 11th century Norse explorers continues in the 21st century the Fara Heim team was surprised to find that for over 1,000 years Iceland has been full of Icelanders.