Revival of the Sami

Revival of the Sami

The relationship between indigenous peoples and governing states has few examples of positive histories. Both non-indigenous and indigenous populations have found it difficult to overcome their dark history of forced assimilation and extermination. Even with the end of colonialism, indigenous people face the stigma of being seen as ignorant and simple people. Non-indigenous people, more specifically the governments, usually view indigenous people as an uncivilized minority; this enables them to dismiss indigenous issues, cultures and treaties as unimportant. Without the respect and room for their culture to exist, most indigenous groups will face an eventual cultural and literal extinction. By adopting The Universal Declaration of Indigenous Rights this past September, we, as a global community, have made this fate unacceptable. Countries around the world are now being forced to look at their policies towards indigenous populations, and hopefully, they will be inspired to change. This change is not easy. It requires both non-indigenous and indigenous people to become tolerant and build accepting societies.

The Sámi people and the country of Norway are an example of what can be achieved between indigenous peoples and governments. Between 1973 and 1993, these counties worked with their Sámi populations to establish individual Sámi Parliaments (Sámediggi) that “create the conditions necessary for the Sámis to protect and develop their language, their culture and their society. (Solbakk)” These parliaments should be recognized by the global community as a successful story and can be used as an innovative example of what can be accomplished. The Sámi people are in the northern regions of Finland, Sweden, Norway and the Kodiak peninsula of Russia. Norway claims the highest population of 40,000 Sámi, followed by Sweden with 20,000, Finland with 7,500, and Russia with 2,000. In the past they were a nomadic people who relied on reindeer herding and fishing for subsistence. However today, only a small portion of the Sámi population continues to practice the traditional lifestyle of reindeer herding; most Sámi lead “ordinary” modern lives working at regular jobs and living established cities. As a culture they have been successful in redeveloping their native culture. They have developed universities and NGO dedicated to the study of Sámi issues and culture. They are not having a difficult time changing with their culture and are willing to embrace new ideas. However, this accepting coexistence was not the reality for more than a 100 year. From 1850 to 1980 the country of Norway assimilated their Sámi population under the official policy of “Norwegianisation”. Forcing Sámi children into national schools which successfully cut them off from their heritage and language, destroying and devastating the Sámi people in ways that are still being explored (Minde).
The Sámi has been successful at revitalizing their culture and obtaining rights. Equally important is that the Scandinavian countries are dedicated to human rights and have work hard with the Sámi since World War II to maintain and revitalize their culture. The Sámi and Norway have developed their rights through political strategy that focuses on keeping up with international laws such as ILO and Human Rights Declarations.

In 1987 Norway took legal steps to insure the cultural rights of the Sámi people. They did this by adopting The ILO Convention that stipulated that:
indigenous peoples are entitled to exercise control over and manage their own institutions, ways of life and economic development and to maintain and develop their identities, languages and religions, within the framework of the States in which they live (Solbakk). After the adoption of this convention Norway issued an official apology for its treatment of the Sámi people and supported the development of a Sámi Parliament that would be in charge of implementing The ILO Convention. One of the first projects the Sámi Parliament worked on was the reconstruction of their educational system. They have a strict policy of providing modern education. One of their major focuses has been to make the Sámi children trilingual speaking both their native and national tongues along with English. Classes are taught in the Sámi language to revitalize what was nearly destroyed during assimilation (Arbelaitz). To insure that it is possible for the Sámi children to participate in the traditional nomadic lifestyle, their school’s calendar reflect their customary migration patterns. Another Provision of the ILO was that indigenous people’s “rights…and access to their lands and resources that are regarded as central for their material and cultural survival as distinct peoples (Solbakk).” Norway and Sweden put this into action by giving the Sámi people sole rights to practice reindeer husbandry. This has helped to simulate the Sámi economies and allowed them to maintain traditional practices.

Sweden and Finland also adopted the ILO Convention and developed policies similar to Norway’s. Sámi population has been successful at obtaining an influential position within their separate countries and also remaining a united front despite borders. While not part of the official ILO Convention it was recommended that governments consult their indigenous people about their statues when issuing their yearly reports to the UN. Norway is the only country that has directly involved indigenous peoples in this reporting process (ILO). The Nordic Countries are now working to eliminate the issue of nation borders by creating the Nordic Sámi Convention. The objective of the convention is “affirm and strengthen such rights of the Sami people that are necessary to secure and develop its language, its culture, its livelihoods and society, with the smallest possible interference of the national borders (Nordic Sámi Convention).” Expert committee started in 2002. The Convention was written by an independent panel of experts in international laws. Both the national governments and Sámi parliaments of Norway, Finland and Sweden selected one representative to assist in its development. It has been called a great success because the panel worked well together with the focus of creating an equal and complete agreement between all four parties (Åhrén). The base for the Nordic Sámi convention is an equal partnership between four peoples.

The Nordic Sámi Convention is based on international human right laws that allow People who have been oppressed, through colonization or military action, to have self-determination (Scheinin, 48). Sami leaders, on the other hand, asserted that they did not want exclusive rights, but a significant role in decisions concerning common resources (Brantenburg). Their goal has always been for self-determination on cultural issues and to be equal partners with their national governments on issues that concern the Sámi people. However this is not an easy issue to agree on because “the idea of “one country, two peoples” is not incompatible with the principle of nation-state that the constitutions the Nordic countries are based on (Scheinin, 49).” However, as huge propionates’ of human rights the Nordic countries know that this is an issue they can not ignore. These countries are lucky because they have the resources (as some of the richest countries in the world) and relationship to enact legislation that would provide the Sámi with self determination as a people, across national borders. This would be a fundamental achievement for humanity. Within the Nordic countries this is a hot topic, political scientist Anne Julie Semb has been given a research grant to study the impact self determination would have on the Samis bond to the Norwegian political system. This is an important issue and many people believe that tribal members would begin to see themselves only as Sámi. But one can argue that they showed their dedication to their country during World War II. Despite being despicably treated, the Sámi protected Norwegian borders without any expectations of better treatment in the future. During this time they proved that they saw themselves of citizens of Norway. Semb also expresses concern over the idea that Sámi might one day be able to pass resolutions that also bind non Sámi people who have no ability to voice their opinions.

After being approved by all of the Sami Parliaments it was brought up for adoption by the national governments in Fall of 2007 however they could not formally adopt the convention because Finland was currently unable to implement all of the regulations. Finland faces the problem that over half of their Reindeer herders are non-Sámi, making it difficult to give the Sámi exclusive rights to the practice (Scheinin, 48). They are working to find a solution but they have taken a firm stand that any changes made will need to be fair to both parties. The failure of the Nordic Sámi Convention was a huge disappointment to the international community and the Sámi People. They fear that it will only be more difficult to pass the convention in the future. Even though the Sámi have been recognized as a unique group of people, not all accept or agree with their current status. Indigenous issues are still debated and are controversial topics in the Nordic countries and around the world. Many questions are valid but I think it comes down to what a country wants to be and how they want to embrace the world around them. The Nordic countries are working to move past the traditional structure of national boundaries to become flexible, in order to help unite the Sámi people and give them their support in the struggle to maintain their cultural heritage. They visualize a world that is based around cultural connections and tolerance rather that control of their population and resources. Whether or not this resolution works with current political structures is a question that only time and the will of the people involved will answer.

Work Cited
Åhrén, Mattias. The Saami Convention. “The Nordic Sami Convention: International Human Rights, Self-Determination and other Central Provisions.”Gáldu Čála – Journal of Indigenous Peoples Rights. N o. 3/2007. April 14, 2008

Arbelaitz, Lander. “The Silent Revolution.” 10/1/07 GLADU. 12/02/07

Brantenberg, Terje. “Murky Agenda in the Mørketid: Norwegian Policy, Sami Politics and the Tromsø Conference.” Universitetet i Tromsø. Jan 25, 1998. April 5, 2008

Henriksen, John B. The Saami Peoples’ Right to Self-Determination. “The Nordic Sami Convention: International Human Rights, Self-Determination and other Central Provisions.” Gáldu Čála – Journal of Indigenous Peoples Rights. N o. 3/2007. April 14, 2008

ILO. Leaflet No. 8: The ILO and Indigenous and Tribal Peoples. United Nations. April 14, 2008

Minde, Henry. Assimilation of the Sami, Implementation and Consequences. Journal of Indigenous Peoples Rights. No.3, 2005 Galdu. 12/2/07.

Nordic Sámi Convention. “The Nordic Sami Convention: International Human Rights, Self-Determination and other Central Provisions.” Gáldu Čála – Journal of Indigenous Peoples Rights. N o. 3/2007. April 14, 2008

Scheinin, Martin. The Rights of an Individual and a People : Towards a Nordic Sámi Convention. “The Nordic Sami Convention: International Human Rights, Self-Determination and other Central Provisions.” Gáldu Čála – Journal of Indigenous Peoples Rights. N o. 3/2007. April 14, 2008y

Solbakk, John. “Norway’s Internation Obligations”. 2006. GALDU. 12/2/07.
-- “The Sami- One People in Four Countries” 2006. GALDU. 12/6/07.

Solberg, Erna. “Statutes” June 2002 GALDU. 12/2/07
UN Draft Declaration. GALDU. 12/2/07