Throughout the 1970s, I conducted extensive fieldwork in the fishing village of Ersfjordbotn on the Kvaløya Island, in Northern Norway, where the population was of Sami origin. At that time, Northern Norway was undergoing a process of rapid modernization and urbanization. I studied transformations of gender, ethnicity as well as the relations between the village community and the wider society.
Historically, local men had been largely absent from home, pursuing their small-scale fishing activities, while elderly and middle-aged women managed all important community affairs and domestic duties. They cared for children, cultivated and tended the livestock, and processed the fish that their men caught.
During the restructuring process, Oslo based development-planners and bureaucrats prioritized men who increasingly quit the fishing to enter into the transportation and construction sectors. They were also becoming engaged in the political party groups. Local women had problems adjusting to this rapidly changing situation. They felt that their knowledge and lore became “outdated”.
In my dissertation “Hva mutter gjør er alltid viktig” (Holtedahl, 1986), I offered critical analysis of societal transformations taking place at that time and tried to contextualise women’s adaptive strategies to the adverse conditions that national policy created. I illustrated how they struggled for paid jobs and suffered acutely the lack of kindergartens, retirement homes, and health centers.
In the 1980s I returned to Ersfjordbotn with North Norwegian filmmaker Knut Erik Jensen, to make a documentary “Few are like father – no one like mother”, on the relationships between three generations of women from the village.