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Norway and Sweden struggle about Sámi rights

Merely a conflict on reindeer pasture or deliberate discrimination of the indigenous people?

Liane Gruda

Bozen, Berlin, 22. October 2006

Young Swedish Sámi, Jokkmokk, February 2005. Foto Liane Gruda In the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, and Finland (as well as on the Kola peninsula of Russia) the Sámi are an ethnic minority. Yet they are also the indigenous people of these areas. As such, their rights are not only guaranteed by UN convention ILO 169 but also by national laws. In the most northern communities of Sweden, for instance, the Sámi can chose to send their children to Sámi or Swedish kindergartens and schools. Furthermore, they have the right to address public authorities in Sámi and are entitled to an answer in their own language.

Reindeer breeding, and everything connected to it, continues to be a strong source of cultural identification for Swedish Sámi. Until today Sámi reindeer herders drive their herds to the summer pastures in the mountains and tundras, and return to the forests of the low mountain range and lowlands in winter. In doing so, they inevitably cross the Swedish-Norwegian border but this matters neither to the reindeers nor their herdsmen. The right of Swedish Sámi to migrate to the summer pastures in Norway (and the Norwegian Sámis' right to migrate to the winter pastures in Sweden) is regulated in the Lappkodicillen since 1751 - a treaty between both kingdoms that is still valid today. Accordingly, the marking of calves in Norway in the summer, slaughtering in autumn, and the division of herds in winter are oldestablished occasions for gathering in the course of a reindeer breeders' year - social cornerstones that enjoy a long and rich tradition.

Encroachments by the Norwegian state - "Norwegianisation" and "welfare politics"

Swedish Sámi and their reindeers in Norway - calf marking in the Dividalen, July 2005. Foto Liane Gruda Yet Norway is undermining the existing contracts. In July 2006, when Swedish Sámi of the Sarivouma Sameby cooperative arrived at lake Altevatn in Norway for calf marking and gathering of their herds, they searched in vain for their reindeer enclosures: Norwegian police had taken away the fences by helicopter on behalf of the Authority of Reindeer Pastures. For the Sámi this is more than just a conflict about reindeer pastures. Says reindeer breeder Nils Torbjörn Nutti:

"I am a Sámi from Sarivouma Sameby. We are breeding reindeers in the areas of Altevatn, Bardu, and Dividal/Anjavass in Troms Fylke in Norway. We use these lands as summer pastures. The conflict is about those areas in which Norwegian and Swedish Sámi are breeding reindeers across the borders. In winter our homes and herds are located in the Soppero area in Sweden. But Sámi families from Sarivouma and other cooperatives ("samebyar") in Sweden have ever been settling on the Norwegian side of the border also, and down to the Atlantic coast, using the land as reindeer pastures, for hunting and fishing".

The Norwegian state has now confiscated this land, driving us ever further to the east and closer to the Swedish border. This was done methodically, by means of political resolutions and the Norwegianisation of these areas. Despite our protests, we were robbed of our land by conventions in which we had no say and which deprived us of our rights. With its passive stance and by neglecting to represent the rights of the Sámi in the dispute over our pastures between Norway and Sweden, the Swedish state has clearly contributed to our expulsion. The acquired lands were repopulated with Norwegians from the south. Other sectors of the economy were promoted, and during the last 30 to 40 years Norwegian Sámi from other pasture regions (Finnmarken) were resettled to these areas. The intention of such measures is quite clear: The land is to be developed and industrialized, to be "blessed" with modern civilization, so that Norwegian regional welfare politics can be practised there as well.

"These encroachments must stop now!"

Reindeer breeder Nils Torbjoern Nutti with his wife Carina: 'Reindeer breeding is part of our identity as Sámi'. Foto Liane Gruda The conflict further escalated during the last years due to chicaneries, provocations, and continued encroachments on the part of the Norwegian state. The tearing down of reindeer enclosures, new political resolutions in violation of the Lappcodisillen, illegal seizure of fishing nets, the obstruction of our work, as well as high fines for the allegedly illegal use of pastures are just a few examples. All this is happening in the year 2006, in supposedly modern times, and in a constitutional state that claims to respects human rights. We Sámi feel that enough is enough, and that these encroachments on our rights must stop. We ask both states to come to reason and assume their responsibility, and especially call on Norway to acknowledge our right to the territory and to contribute to a solution of the conflict. Has the old treaty of 1751, the Lappcodisillen, that was once signed by both kings for the protection and safeguarding of Sámi rights, been lost and forgotten? This treaty can neither be repealed one-sidedly nor with the consent of both states without trampling the rights of the Sámi. We fought for a very long time in order to reclaim the land that was stolen from us. Our situation is difficult enough as it is. Should we lose further territory survival on the basis of reindeer breeding will no longer be possible. Part of our identity as Sámi would be lost.

As far as the conflict with our fellow Sámi in Norway is concerned: Our old summer pastures have been given to them as winter pastures although they are not at all suitable for such use, given that reindeer lichens are scarce there. The herds can graze for a short period of time but not for the whole winter. We offered them the right to access our winter pastures in Sweden as a solution but were not heard - neither by the Sámi nor by the Norwegian state. It seems they are contented by bringing their animals over the winter with pelletized fodder. And yet they know that for centuries these areas have only been suitable as summer pastures. Otherwise feeding with pellets would not be necessary. But is this supposed to be the future of reindeer breeding? Does the state have the right to support those who further his interests only and expel everybody else? In my opinion we have to come to our senses and find a solution by talking together about the problem. We are forced to cooperate in order to survive. Surely nobody wants to disadvantage the other side. Or has Norwegianisation reached the point where the Sámi are conducting state business?

Dedication to human rights - just a charade?

Controversial: Summer pasture for reindeers in the Norwegian-Swedish borderland. Foto Liane Gruda During the last ten to twenty years, we perceived Norway as a state that dedicated itself to human rights as well as to the rights of the Sámi, for instance by signing UN convention ILO 169, by forming the representative body of the Sámi, the "Sametinget", or by passing the "Finnmarksgesetz". In practice, however, this goodwill appears to extend only to citizens and taxpayers of Norway. Norway does not seem to be willing to recognize the Sámi as a people, as an indigenous population with its own language, culture, and economic system that has acquired its right to lands and waters through hundreds and thousands of years of usage. We are one people, and yet we have been divided into citizens of different states by the politics of two great powers. At the same time both Norway and Sweden have fought against injustice and inequity in other countries. Or were those mere charades, distractions from a bad conscience due to the injustices they committed themselves? It was Sweden, by the way, that took the initiative in appointing a committee for the preparation of ILO 169.

The local population in Troms Fylke in Norway is supporting us with letters in our fight to regain the old pastures and is demanding the same from Norwegian politicians. We have often felt this support in meetings, discussions, and contributions of the local media. Now we expect the same sort of understanding from those responsible in Oslo and Stockholm. It is time that the states and their politicians assume responsibility and let words be followed by actions. They need to prove they are not just protectors of minorities and advocates of a multi-cultural society in other countries or towards their own citizens but also when it comes to their own indigenous people - the Sámi!

Translation into english by Niki Mavridis. Contact details and further information:
Nils Torbjörn Nutti, Tel. 0046 - (0)980 - 213 29
Hans-Joachim Gruda, c/o homo peregrinus, Tel. 0049 - (0)30 - 405 399 48

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