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The History of the Kvens – an introduction

What does Kven mean?
In the northern parts of Troms and Finnmark one encounters several population groups, one of these is the Kvens. Kven is an unclear term for many. 

 We define Kvens as Finnish-speaking people who immigrated to northern Troms and Finnmark from Sweden, Finland and Russia during the 18th- and 19th centuries up till the 2nd World War.

Finnish-speaking people in northern Norway
”Kven” is probably a Scandinavian term used in the Middle Ages to describe people from the areas around the Gulf of Bothnia. Later, the same designation was used to describe Finnish-speaking people from Finland, Tornedalen in Sweden and parts of Russia, who, in the period from 18th century until around year 1900, moved to the north of Norway. The term was also used to describe their descendants who were born in Norway. This is revealed in tax listings, church books and other juridical material where ”Kven” was the official designation. From 1845 Kven was used in censuses in Norway. This practice ended however in 1930, the last year the census registered the Kvens as a separate group. This was the last public registration of the Kven population in Norway.

To clarify, it is the term ”Kven” that has its roots in the middle ages, not the actual population group that constitutes the Kvens of today. Thus, the Kven population of today is not directly related to the medieval Kvens.

“Kven”: invective or identity marker?
The Finnish-speaking immigrants settled in northern Norway in large numbers during the 18th and 19th centuries. Upon settling in Norway, they were called ”Kvens.” However in the period of assimilation from the 1870s until the 2nd world war, Kven was often considered a derogatory designation, or even an invective.
In light of this history, some have chosen to adapt the name, make it their own, and use it as a description of their family background and identity. Others find this problematic, and seek an alternative way to describe the same background. Some prefer to call themselves Norwegian-Finnish, Norwegian Finns or people of Finnish lineage, instead of being dubbed Kven. This is especially true in Eastern Finnmark, and has resulted in a lengthy debate about the Kven term and the minority status of the Kven people in local newspapers and on online forums.
To have a Kven background should not be regarded as being opposed to being Norwegian, on the contrary, rather it should be seen as contributing to a multi-faceted identity that many experience as positive today.

Recognition through minority status
In 1998 the Kvens were officially recognised as one of Norway’s five national minorities. Today Kven is used in all official contexts.
Finally it is worth noting that Kven has not been used to describe the Finnish migrants who settled in Finnskogen in eastern Norway during the 17th century. 

In 2005 the Kven language was recognized as a minority language in Norway.



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