The Tornedalians are descendants of
Finnswho in some point in history settled to the areas of today's Northern Sweden near the Torne Valleydistrict and west from there.
Tornedalians migrated from today's Southwestern
Finland, mainly from Hämeand Karelia. Settlement began around the northern end of the Gulf of Bothniaand along the river valleys nearby ("River Kalix", Torne River, and KemijokiRiver). Migration started at the latest in the beginning of the 14th century CE on areas loosely controlled by Russians and Karelians.
The taxation of the
Sami people, fur trade and large hunting grounds were among the most important factors contributing to the migration of the "Tornedealians" up north. "Tornedalians" also helped the Swedish expansion to the areas that today are part of northern Sweden.
Despite the Finnish and Russian demands of including much of today's Swedish
Torne River Valleyterritory into the autonomous Russian Grand Duchy of Finland, the area remained part of the Kingdom of Sweden as a result of the peace treaty signed between Russia and Sweden in 1809. The Swedish-Finnish border was drawn at the "River Tornio", and that border has stood official up to date. Cultural imperialism, in combination with a fear of Russia, led to Swedish attempts to assimilate and "Swedify" the Finnish-speaking population between 1850 and 1950. Since the 1970s, efforts have been made to reverse some of the effects of the "Swedification", notably in education. The minority status of the "Tornedalians" was officially recognized by the Swedish government in 1999 by the recognition of the local Finnish dialect Meänkielias one of the acknowledged minority languages in Sweden. A written standard of "Meänkieli" has been established and taught, which has given rise to critical remarks from Finland, suggesting that standard Finnish would be of more use to the pupils.
Sweden does not distinguish minority groups in population censuses, but the number of people who identify themselves as "Tornedalians" is usually estimated to be between 30,000 and 150,000. Estimates are complicated by the fact that the remote and sparsely-populated "Tornedalen" area has been particularly struck by the twentieth century
urbanizationand unemployment. In 2006, a large radio survey about Finnish/Meänkieli speakers was conducted in Sweden. The result was that 469,000 individuals in Sweden claim to understand/speak Finnish or/and Meänkieli. Those who can speak/understand Meänkieli is estimated to be 150,000-175,000. Bengt Pohjanenis a Tornedalian author, who has written the first novel in meänkieli, the language of Torne Valley. He has written dramas, screen-plays, songs and opera. He is trilingual in his writing.The novel "Populärmusik från Vittula" ("Popular Music from Vittula") (2000) by Tornedalian author Mikael Niemibecame very popular both in Sweden and in Finland. The novel is composed of colourful stories of everyday life in the Tornedalian town of Pajala. The novel has been adapted for several stage productions, and as a film in 2004. Mikael Niemi does not speak meänkieli.
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