Norway’s indigenous Sami people have their own Parliament and are in the midst of a cultural reawakening. On the 30th anniversary of their national day, however, they’re still struggling for respect, reparations and preservation of native lands and language.
Sami in Norway are also awaiting an official report aimed at correcting past wrongs from a state commission named for what it’s seeking: truth and reconciliation. It’s due this summer, after a lengthy investigation into how Norwegian- and church authorities tried for generations to strip the Sami of their own culture and force them into using the Norwegian language and adapting to Norwegian norms. The process known as fornorsking was also imposed on the other ethnic groups in Northern Norway, the kvensk and norskfinnar, and is behind the discrimination still suffered by many.
Sami rights and culture have been recognized over the years, through, for example, the opening of their own Parliament in Karasjok in 1989. The establishment of the national day called Samefolkets dag in 1993 also helped, even though it doesn’t provide for a day off. The Norwegian government predictably issued its official greetings and congratulations on Monday, while Sami flags were raised all over the country. The government’s website once again featured the Sami flag and all its pages were decked out with the flag’s colours that signify blue for the moon, red for the sun and the green and yellow often used on various Sami dress.
The government minister now in charge of the various regions around Norway, Sigbjørn Gjelsvik of the Center Party, also issued a formal statement claiming how glad he is that celebrations of the Samis’ national day “get bigger and bigger year by year.” Special events were planned nationwide, and especially in the regions with the largest concentrations of Sami, Finnmark, Troms and Nordland.
Gjelsvik also claimed that the government actively works to put Norway at the forefront of countries recognizing the rights of indigenous people, to preserve their language and even recruit more teachers of the Sami language. He acknowledged that the state commission’s work to verify the consequences of fornorsking over the years “should help further reconciliation,” although he stopped short of offering specific reparations. Gjelsvik recently spent time in Nord-Troms and Hammerfest to discuss new initiatives to also make the regions more attractive and create more jobs.
Yet the same government still hasn’t fully responded to a Norwegian supreme court decision 18 months ago that declared how construction of wind turbines on Sami grazing land at Fosen in Trøndelag violated human rights, as protesters had earlier claimed. There still hasn’t been any official apology or compensation sought by the Sami from the Labour-Center government. The government also continues to back various mining and power projects that also can violate Sami rights. A lawsuit is underway in Karasjok, meanwhile, in which the local government seeks control over its entire area that’s currently under the control of a regional commission that had won rights from the state. The lawsuit itself has sparked division among Sami groups.
The situation for the Sami thus remains highly complicated and leaders at the Sami Parliament continue to fight for more consideration and respect from people like Gjeslvik and Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre. They’re weary of what they consider “lip service,” symbolic platitudes and ongoing violations of their rights.
There has been a major reawakening and national embrace of Sami culture in recent years, however, also in just the past few months. Sami-inspired music is more popular than ever, and there been a string of new films featuring Sami history and struggles, especially their semi-successful effort to save the Alta River in Finnmark from being totally ruined by a power project.
Silje Karine Muotka, president of the Sami Parliament, warned in her annual New Year’s address last month that delivery of the state commission’s report won’t and can’t “liberate us from the consequences and all the pain” of fornorsking over the years. That can only happen through concrete and consistent work to counter discrimination and bolster respect for indigenous peoples. More control is sought over Sami fishing and grazing rights, and she stressed how the “Fosen case” in which the state was found to have violated the Samis human rights has not been followed up.
“The Sami still live under enormous pressure” in their own regions, she said, noting how energy policy especially now affects everyone. “We’re fighting for our future, because our culture and lifestyles are tied to the nature and what nature can give us.” That will continue long after national day celebrations are over.