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Uncovering the rights of the Sámi people: A case study in Norway


The Sámi are the only indigenous people of the European Union, and have a unique history and culture. For centuries, they were nomadic reindeer herders, moving across the vast landscapes of the Sápmi (which spans across parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia). However, in the nineteenth century, the Swedish and Norwegian governments began to force the Sámi off their traditional reindeer herding land and into settlements. This process of deterritorialization continued into the twentieth century, as the Sámi were further marginalized and their livelihoods increasingly threatened. 

Sámi history: From nomadic reindeer herders to modern activists 

In the past few decades, however, the Sámi have begun to fight back. Through activism and story-telling, they are raising awareness of their culture and fighting for their rights as an indigenous people. This paper will explore the fascinating history of the Sámi people and their fight for justice. I do like to take this opportunity to make a clarification on the substance, based on the fact that the land of Sápmi was originally among those who first were in Sápmi, who managed the lands, and had that stewardship, namely the Sámi people. What has since happened is that kings and governments have come with their power to establish national borders and with it limitations to the nomadic life and livelihood of the indigenous people in Sápmi. The border between Sweden, Norway, and Finland was decided in a treaty in 1751. Also, already 1645 parts of national borders was decided between Sweden and Norway.  

The Sámi people have a long and rich history in Europe 

While the exact origin of the Sámi is not known, there is evidence of Sámi settlement in Europe dating back to as early as 6,000 BCE. They have a unique set of customs and traditions, as well as their own languages. Because of their nomadic lifestyle, they have been pushed to the fringes of Europe, but the Sámi have managed to keep their culture alive and are still present in many parts of Northern Europe. 

They were traditionally a nomadic people, living off of their herds of reindeer

Throughout the centuries, the Sámi have been closely intertwined with their herds of reindeer. They used the reindeer for their survival, relying on them for food, clothing, and shelter. They also used the animals in traditional handicrafts and for transportation. As reindeer herders, the Sámi developed a unique sense of identity and a deep connection with nature, which continues even today.

However, in recent years they have faced many challenges to their livelihood

In the nineteenth century, the Swedish and Norwegian governments began to force the Sámi from their reindeer herding land and into settlements. This process of deterritorialization continued into the twentieth century, as the Sámi were further marginalized and their livelihoods increasingly threatened by agricultural developments, mining projects, and large industrial areas of hydroelectric plants and windmill plants until recent days. With the Sámi’s traditional nomadic lifestyle increasingly constrained, the once proud community quickly became a marginalized and oppressed people.

The Sámi have also become increasingly active in modern politics, fighting for the recognition of their rights and culture

In recent decades, the Sámi have become more active in their fight for justice. They have taken to the streets in protest and began to fight for the recognition of their rights as an indigenous people. Through political organizing, they are pushing for the protection of their ancestral lands and culture. Additionally, the Sámi have also become increasingly vocal in efforts to preserve traditional handicrafts and language, ensuring that their culture is never forgotten. 

Learn more about the fascinating history of the Sámi people

The Sámi are a testament to the strength and resilience of indigenous cultures around the world. From their hard-fought fight for justice and recognition to the deep kinship they have with nature, the Sámi people have a fascinating history that has shaped the modern world.

What strategies are used to advance Sámi rights?

The recognition and protection of Sámi rights are also largely advanced through mobilizing of grassroots initiatives, strategic research and legal advocacy. Organizations such as the Sámi Parliament in Norway, the Sámi Council, the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) and the Nordic Sámi Institute (NSI) have been at the forefront of promoting Indigenous rights in Norway.

These organizations have sought to draw attention to human rights issues concerning Sámi people by developing strategies such as research collaborations between Indigenous people’s organizations, documenting violations of Sámi rights and advocating for international legal mechanisms that can be used to defend their rights. This has included campaigns for the adoption of UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, for example.

In addition, organizations like NSI are actively pushing for policy changes that will make way for greater autonomy for Sámi communities in Norway. This includes calls for increased access to land and resources, as well as economic development policies tailored to meet the needs of their communities.

What challenges remain for the Sámi people?

The Sámi people of Norway are still facing a number of challenging issues today due to the colonization of their traditional territory. The Sámi still contend with resource exploitation and marginalization in the globalized political arena. Despite legal recognition of their rights, some governmental policies have not been adequately tailored to the Sámi context, leaving them vulnerable.

Challenges include:

* Conflict over reindeer grazing lands, which are essential to their subsistence-based economy

* Government initiatives forcing the Sámi away from their traditional lifestyles, with loss of language and culture

* Lack of public recognition of their right to self-determination, leading to negative attitudes towards the Sámi population

* Forced assimilation into wider Norwegian society making them an invisible minority.

How can we help support the Sámi people's struggle for self-determination?

* Establishing proper recognition of the Sámi people and their rights is a critical step for protecting the Sámi culture and identity. There are a few key ways in which we can support Sámi efforts towards self-determination:

* Learn about Sámi culture, history and current struggles to create greater understanding and awareness of the issues faced by this population.

* Advocate for the strengthening of Indigenous rights in Norway, especially those focused on land ownership and traditional governance structures.

* Sign petitions, join campaigns, or donate to organizations that work in support of Indigenous rights in Norway, such as the Norwegian Sámi Association or the Sami Council.

* Support businesses or initiatives which are founded on ecological sustainability initiatives that take into account both Indigenous knowledge and traditional practices.

* These actions will help contribute to an increased momentum for change that will benefit not only the Sámi people of Norway but also other Indigenous populations around the world who share similar struggles for self-determination and recognition.

Guovdageaidnu/Kautokeino 2023-03-08

By Roger K. Olsson



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