The Sami perspective

There are always a lot of interesting things going on in Uppsala. Sometimes there are other lectures organized that seem just too interesting to miss, even though you already have had a full week of lectures. I absolutely love lectures – and always have – but even I have a limit, haha. Therefore I actually skipped my afternoon horse class(the guilt, it feels terrible!) to be able to be fresh again to join another lecture in the afternoon. This lecture was organized by CEMUS, which stands for the Centre for Environment and Development Studies(I guess CEDS didn’t sound as catchy?). CEMUS is a collaboration between Uppsala University and SLU, it’s student-initiated, trans-disciplinary and aims to contribute to a more just and sustainable world. I know, that’s a lot of fancy words all together, but they actually do a lot of pretty great things and if you have some time, definitely check out their webpage.

The lecture I attended was called ‘Ignored History: The Sami Perspective’, and the main speaker was Josefina Skerk, who happens to be the Vice-President of the Sami Parliament, even though she is only a few years older than me. Impressive. But that was not the main reason I wanted to go. The thing is, I have lived for about a year now here in Sweden. I have the feeling I got to to know quite a bit about Swedish everyday life, culture, habits and some history. There’s viking hills on several places around Uppsala, our campus used to be a viking settlement, the university proudly gives away necklaces with a little horse pendant – a replica found on the grounds of Ultuna. Yet I haven’t heard a thing about the Sami people. Maybe it’s my own fault, I don’t know, but I wondered why. Are there no Sami roots in Uppsala? Are people not proud to be Sami? Or are there no Sami people left in Sweden? So yes, the announcement of this lecture caught my attention, especially the article by Josefina Sterk that was posted along with it, which you can read here.

One part from this article caught my attention specifically. Josefina writes “But as the lands are becoming more and more scattered and poisoned by mines and other destructive industries, we are rapidly losing the possibility to adapt to changes. Sweden is now officially aiming to become the mining center of Europe. There is simply very little regard for our ties to the land, our human rights, and for sustainability.” Wait! What? This does not sound as the Sweden as I got to know it. Isn’t Sweden the country that aims to become climate sustainable? Wasn’t it all over my facebook a few months ago that Sweden attempts to be the first fossil-free country of the World? Something before 2020? This sounded extremely contradictory. Even my Swedish roommate Oskar, who usually has an answer or opinion ready on almost everything, seemed surprised. So in the end I wasn’t going alone to the lecture, Oskar was joining too.

Sami: One people in four countries. Map of Sápmi in 2007.
Click to enlarge. Copyright Nordiska Museet.

In my opinion the lecture was really, really great. I learned a lot of things I didn’t know before, to me Josefina’s presentation was not only educative but also personal, informative and sometimes slightly shocking. Of course I won’t be able to write about everything she told. The good news is that if you are EXTREMELY interested, the whole lecture was filmed and is accessible to anyone. Therefore I’ve included it into my post, you will find it if you scroll all the way down. The other good news is that I did take a lot of notes, so in case you don’t feel like watching the whole lecture, but made it this far reading, you can just keep reading a little more about it.

“We are not stuck in the 1800’s. We don’t like to be treated as if we’re stuck in the 1800’s.”

There are a lot of prejudice about Sami people, such as every Sami being a reindeer herder. However, only 10% of the Swedish Sami are active as reindeer herders. Another issue Josefina adressed was the following: “We are not stuck in the 1800’s. We don’t like to be treated as if we’re stuck in the 1800’s.” Fair point well made, I believe. Let’s jump to some facts. There are currently between 20.000 and 60.000 Sami people living in Sweden. About 75% of them are still able to live in their traditional areas. Note: Traditional land is really important to the Sami people, they have very strong personal and cultural ties to the lands, that go back many generations. The Sami are one people divided over four countries: Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. They used to live much further South in Sweden, but have been pushed North. When it comes to land rights, according to this presentation, the Sami are not in a great position. The Sami people have no right to decide and/or exercise influence over land, water and natural resources. The Sami Parliament – which represents the Sami people – is not considered and affected party(only reindeer herding districts). The Sami people have no right to a part of the profit earned by companies exploiting traditional Sami land.

“We want to fight climate change. But we want to do it together.”

Sweden has a lot of sustainable ambitions. One of them includes building a lot of windmills as part of becoming fossil free. However, many of these windmills are built in the Sami lands. Without the Sami having any say in where they will be built. The Sami people want to have input in these matters, the Sami Parliament wants the Swedish government to talk to each other about such things. Josefina put it nicely together, saying “We want to fight climate change. But we want to do it together.” One issue she does not know whether talk will be able to result in a solution is the mining. Mining in Sweden is mainly done for iron ore(I had some trouble realizing what this translates to in my own language, but maybe you remember it also from the Settlers game?) and takes place in large numbers. Sweden is responsible for 98% of the iron ore exports from Europe. The problems are that the lifespan of these mines is about eight years only and it really destroys the land. Furthermore it is very expensive to clean-up these mines afterwards and it seems that some dirty financial tricks are being played by large companies, leaving the lands ruined behind.

I could keep talking(erhm, writing) about more issues concerning the Sami for a long time, but I think this post has already kind of made my records when it comes to length. I just want to briefly summarize that what the Sami people want, or at least what the Sami parliament wants, is more responsibility when it comes to land and issues. Plus that it is really strange that Sweden isn’t teaching anything about Sami in school. Josefina sometimes encounters facing people working in the government who have sincerely no idea of who Sami are. Shame on you Sweden. I am very curious to your opinion on the matter. After all I do have the feeling I kind of heard only one side of the story. But it was a strong story, one I think deserves more attention.


ps. For the die-hards that made it all the way down, hereby the whole presentation!


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