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What is an Icelander?

Editor's Note: This speech was delivered by Sigfús Haukur Sigfússon, Snorri West 2022 participant, to the INL Iceland convention on August 21, 2022, at the Hotel Natura in Reykjavík, Iceland.


-By Sigfús Haukur Sigfússon (Photos supplied by the author)


Sigfús Haukur Sigfússon addressing the INL Iceland Convention, 2022
Sigfús Haukur Sigfússon addressing the INL Iceland Convention, 2022

My dear friends, Hulda Karen, Jody, Sunna, John Hofteig, and all Icelanders and the people that are with us here today. Thank you for having us here at your wonderful event.


Before I start I would like to thank the Snorri Foundation for allowing us to go on this month-long adventure and for the people standing behind this amazing program. I appreciate the wonderful people that we’ve met during our visit to North America and I’m grateful for the time and effort that they have so graciously given us. Honorable mention goes out to our hosts who invited us with open arms into their homes. I would also like to thank our guide Kent Lárus Björnsson for being an awesome guide and showing us around Canada. Sitting on the porch in Hecla Island and talking to him about life and the mystery surrounding it all the while trying to avoid the mosquitoes was a quality time spent together!


Visiting sites with ties to Western Icelanders around Winnipeg under the guidance of Stefan Jonasson was an insightful experience. That man is filled to the brim with knowledge, and you could spend a whole century talking to him and you would always learn something new.


Snorri Westers trying on headgear in Wisconsin
Snorri Westers, Erla Guđný Pálsdóttir and Sigfús trying on headgear in Wisconsin

I would also like to thank Laurel Latimer for driving us from Chicago all the way up to Washington Island and then back to Green Bay. Lastly, I would like to thank, fellow Snorri, Erla Guðný Pálsdóttir, for putting up with me and my eccentric nature for the whole month. Others would have run when I started talking about a certain color, which, to be respectful, will not be named in the lady's presence!


(L-R):  Laurel Latimer, Sigfus, and Erla at the Stavkirke on Washington Island, Wisconsin. Photo credit: Richard Purinton
(L-R): Laurel Latimer, Sigfus, and Erla at the Stavkirke on Washington Island, Wisconsin. Photo credit: Richard Purinton

I could spend the next hour thanking each individual that contributed to making our trip the most pleasant, but that will have to wait for another day.


It is time to delve into the subject of my speech, a question that aroused my curiosity while we were traveling North America: What is an Icelander?


The highlight of the trip was meeting the wonderful people of America and being able to reconnect with severed roots and learn about American customs and Western-Icelandic heritage.


Each person we met was like a puzzle piece that got me closer to the answer. There was a running theme of people wanting to go back to Iceland and visit the places their family had come from. They desired to see the mountains, hills, valleys, flora, fauna, and fjords. This is a theme that Hans B. Thorgrimson noticed and brought to attention in the speech he gave in River Park, North Dakota on the 2nd of August 1928, where he said, “Vér sjáum fuglana, vér heyrum lóuna syngja, álftirnar kvaka og bylgjurnar dynja, er þær kasta sér kátlega inn á strendur íslands. Já, vér elskum Íslands nafn.” (There is a beauty in the fact that even though decades have passed, the Vestur Íslendingur still longs to see his native home.)


This is one thing that I would say connected Western Icelanders to Iceland and their Icelandic heritage. Another thing is literacy and cultural heritage. In many of the places we visited, people had their own libraries filled with wonderful books.


We were able to see century-old parish records as well as the New Iceland constitution. Seeing our cultural heritage kept so close and safe by our brothers and sisters from across the Atlantic was heartwarming. This is something Hans B. Thorgrimson mentioned in his speech as well, where he states that” Icelanders should never distance themselves or lose the cultural treasure that is our literature and history of Iceland.” In fact, I would go as far as to say if you want to see an Icelander you can go to Mountain or Gimli.


I would like us to reflect on the fact that the reason we are here today is due to the diligent work and record keeping that our ancestors kept. Reflect on that for a moment, because one can often find things taken for granted but when it’s gone… you realize how special that thing was.


Let us not lose our heritage but rather, let us keep the flames burning and alive as long as there are Icelanders to tend to the flames and keep the fires burning into the long dark night.


Prize winning participants in North Dakota!
Prize winning Snorri West participants in North Dakota!

Thank you, words can’t capture our gratitude.


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