Parliament to study Sami, Kven history

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All the political parties in the Norwegian Parliament, with the exception of the two government parties, now support a proposal to officially examine the history of Norway’s indigenous Sami and the country’s northern ethnic group, the Kven people. Both were all but forced to adopt the Norwegian language and culture for more than a century, a practice that King Harald already has publicly regretted.

The Sami flag was raised side-by-side with the Norwegian flag at the Parliament in Oslo on February 6, the Sami’s own national day. Now their troubled history will be studied by a parliamentary commission. PHOTO: Stortinget

Martin Kolberg, a Member of Parliament for the Labour Party who leads the Parliament’s disciplinary committe, announced Tuesday that there was now majority support to set up a commission charged with studying the so-called practice of fornorsking (Norwegianization), which the state ran from around 1850 until well after World War II. Before that it was carried out by missionaries of the Norwegian state Lutheran church.

It consisted most notably of taking Sami and Kven children away from their parents and sending them to boarding schools, where only Norwegian was spoken. Many of the children could only understand Sami or Kvensk, often making it a traumatic experience for them.

Sami traditions were also discouraged by Norwegian officials and zealous pastors of the state church of Norway at the time also strongly promoted Christianity to indigenous people who had their own spiritual practices. The Kvener, meanwhile, are an ethnic group in Northern Norway who descend from Finnish farmers and fishermen who emigrated from Finland and Sweden from the 1500s. They were distinguished as a national minority in Norway in 1998 along with Jews, Roma, Romani and Skogfinner.

Royal apology
In 1997, King Harald issued a formal apology “on behalf of the state for the injustice committed against the Sami people through its harsh policy of Norwegianization.” He also expressed regrets to the Kven People.

“People’s histories have great meaning for how they are today,” Kolberg told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “It’s clear that there’s a lot in the Sami and Kven history that should not have happened, and there’s been a lot of research on that, but it’s important that we get a parliamentary commission appointed by the country’s highest authority, Stortinget (the Parliament).”

Kolberg added that a thorough review of the indigenous groups’ history and how they were subjected to fornorsking will also provide Norway “with a foundation for how we can move on, and how people can live together.”

‘Necessary in a good democracy’
Kolberg stressed that creation of the so-called sannhetskommisjon (truth commission) will be carried out in cooperation with the Sami and Kvener people. The Sami already have their own Parliament and official representatives, located in Karasjok in the northern county of Finnmark.

“The Parliament believes that it’s necessary to have a commission to learn about the history so that folks can live in harmony in the future,” Kolberg said. “It’s necessary in a good democracy that minority groups are protected.”

NRK reported that 29 organizations have also expressed their opinions on creation of a commission. Only a Norwegian-Finnish federation was against its creation, while the two government parties, the Conservatives and Progress Party, have not seen a need for a it.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund