Friday 31 August 2018

Sami. A Long History of Discrimination.

The Sami, indigenous people living in Arctic areas of Sweden, Finland, Norway and the Kola peninsula of Russia, are believed to have been living in northern Scandinavia since at least 11.000 BCE. When the Vikings arrived in the 8th century, Sami were driven further north where they were able to keep their independence and nomadic lifestyles ranging from reindeer herders to fishermen and fur trappers. Starting with the 14th century, Sweden and Norway showed interest in the riches of Sami lands and turned them into "Sami tax lands" and "tax mountains". Sami had to pay taxes if they wanted to stay where they were. In other words, they were forced to leave their lifestyles and to find new occupations (via and via).

In the 17th century, Sweden discoverd the first silver deposit and forced Sami to transport the ore as using reindeer was the only way of transportation. Wages were so low that they caused a crisis, forcing Sami to turn to begging or fleeing either further north in Sweden or to Norway. Their land was colonised more and more. In the 18th century, Sami lost any inheritance right in the Sami tax lands (via).
In the 19th century, Sami were relocated, settlers encouraged to move northwards (by promising a 15-year exemption from taxes while creating a tax burden for Sami), and Sami lands sold to wealthy landowners by the governments. Norway outlawed the usage of "primitive and backward" Sami languages and customs, children were taught in the Norwegian language only, converted to Christianity and given Christian names. The situation in Sweden was similar, so-called Lappmark priests were appointed and Sami had to attend church.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Norway passed a law that fertile land owned by Sami was to be given up to the government. At that time, Sami people and culture were erased through mass sterilisation and assimilation. In Sweden, Sami lost the right to own land with the Reindeer Grazing Act of 1928. They also reduced women's legal status as reindeer herding was defined as a man's job and women became more and more dependent on men. In addition, the "definition of the Sami as nomadic reindeer herders has created a system of different rights for different Sami. These rights have been founded in a conception of cultural inferiority where policies were formed about the Sami, not with them." (via and via).

"One example described by Lundmark is found in 1909 report on the Sami schools where reindeer herding is considered incompatible with civilisation. The special education system for certain Sami, the Sami schools, were intended for the children of the nomadic mountain Sami. Wooden Lapp cots were built where the children lived and were taught. This effectively separated the children of the mountain Sami from those of the forest Sami. The State regarded the forest Sami as corrupted nomads, since their way of life was not considered to be as genuinely Sami as that of the mountain Sami. The children of the forest Sami and other domiciled Sami had to attend the same schools as the Swedish children. The level of teaching in the nomad schools was not the same as for Swedish children, but the teaching hours were shorter and the competence requirements for the teachers were lower. Since the Sami children were to become reindeer herders, the State felt that they did not need extensive education. This continued until the end of the 1930s."
Ombudsmannen Mot Etnisk Diskriminering, 2008

Only in 1977 did Sweden recognise Sami as an indigenous people ... without "any appreciable consequences as regards Sami policy" who continue having the status of a national minority instead of the status as an indigenous people. Today, Sami children are discriminated against, bullied and harassed at school, mother tongue teaching is not taken seriously, in their contacts with authorities, Sami "find themselves in a position of dependence", there is still a lack of Sami influence when it comes to matters that concern them, when seeking medical care, many report the feeling of being insulted by medical staff, there is no real Sami eldercare, Sami are discriminated against at employment offices, job interviews and places of work, mass media conveys the picture of "exotic, frock-wearing people" or "a reactionary group dependent of social welfare" (via).

- Ombudsmannen Mot Etnisk Diskriminering/Swedish Equality Ombudsman (2008). Discrimination of the Sami - the rights of the Sami from a discrimination perspective; download
- photographs via and via (first two by Erika Larsen, National Geographic) and via and via and via and via (last one by Michael Perry, National Geographic), copyright by owners


  1. I had no idea. Great article, thank you for the share.

  2. Santa must be a Sami.

  3. THANK YOU for your comments, Kenneth and Karen!