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The Sami are losing their identity

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Interethnic relations are one of the most complex spheres of human coexistence and state structure. If you listen to the arguments about the problems of this sphere by some modern politicians and activists, it becomes clear that not everyone understands the complexity of the relationship between the state and indigenous peoples living on its territory.
There are problems and contradictions between government agencies and indigenous peoples living in the Nordic countries. We are talking about the Sami – a small Finno-Ugric people, which the Scandinavians called lappar, and the Russians are “Lopari” or ” Loplyane” – lapps (therefore, the name Lapland appeared, “land of lapps”, now it is divided between Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia).

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Everyone is already quite used to the fact that Norway is the country with the most “progressive” internal relations with the Sami in various spheres. To some extent, this idea is connected with Norway’s self-presentation on the platforms of reputable international organizations, such as the United Nations, as well as in more local organizations of the Euro-Arctic Barents region.
However, as it turns out, the processes taking place in Norway indicate that there is something wrong with the Sami issues in the kingdom.

Йонни Бас - The Sami are losing their identity
Johnny Baas

For many generations, the indigenous Sami people have been fighting to preserve their identity in Norway. As one of the representatives of the Sami people in Norway, Johnny Baas, noted: “The Sami have been working in the Norwegian Parliament for more than 30 years. Previously, the Norwegian government pressed us with the Norwegian language. You couldn’t buy a property if you didn’t have a Norwegian name. In fact, if you have a Sami name, then you are not a full member of Norwegian society.”


There is also a problem with the lack of teachers to teach the Sami language. “In Norway, most Sami speak Norwegian and, of course, other languages, but I do not know the so-called “native” Sami languages. Some political parties in Norway demand that Norwegian be recognized as the native language of the Sami. In turn, teaching the Sami language is quite expensive for reindeer herding programs, and we also have a problem with the lack of teachers to teach the language,” said Bjarne Store-Jacobsen, a journalist and leader of the Sámeálbmot bellodat party.

Бьярне Стуре Якобсен - The Sami are losing their identity
Bjarne Store-Jacobsen


There are also a number of precedents in Norwegian society when Sami reindeer herders sued the state regarding the established restrictions on the number of deer in their herds. The Sami were forced every year to slaughter sometimes more than half of their herds of deer that had been fed during the summer, thereby freeing up territories for the construction of roads and other infrastructure.

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saams4 - The Sami are losing their identity
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The current generation of activists in Norway from among indigenous peoples is beginning to actively speak out against “discrimination” and the construction of industrial facilities in Norwegian Finnmark, which are perceived as a potential threat to the Sami way of life. And these are not cases of a single protest. “We have a situation where one Sami, without any authority, can speak on behalf of all, is simply impossible – everything is decided at general meetings and approved in the Parliament of the Sami Peoples of Norway! In our country, the natural lands of small peoples for grazing deer are being catastrophically reduced: forests are being cut down for numerous wind energy facilities and kilometers of roads are being laid along once-protected lands. Mining companies are increasingly expanding their negative activities, which our government allows to dump slag and toxic waste during ore mining into our unique fjords and pollute our northern seas – that’s what we really care about,” says Silje Karine Muotka, a representative of the Parliament of the Sami peoples of Norway.

saams1 - The Sami are losing their identity


Meanwhile, in neighboring Russia, despite the existing problems with the rights of indigenous peoples, there are concrete examples of expanding the opportunities of the Sami to lead their traditional way of life. The Russian Constitutional Court granted the requests of the Sami activists of the Kola Peninsula for the right to hunt even to those representatives of the indigenous people who live in cities and do not have a special need to find food in the wild. “Game hunting is a way of national self-identification, and not just a matter of survival, which means that even those representatives of indigenous peoples who have been living in big cities for a long time have the right to “freely” go, for example, to bear or moose,” the court explained.


The Sami occupy a special place among the peoples of Europe. Anthropologically and linguistically they differ from the Scandinavians, Finns and Russians around them. The economic and cultural traditions of the Sami – Arctic reindeer herders and fishermen – are peculiar and in many ways unique. At the same time, this small people strive to share their experience and knowledge with other indigenous peoples living throughout the circumpolar region.


The Sami journalist Bjarne Store-Jacobsen sees a bright opportunity for interaction between the Sami people and reindeer herders from Russia. “We are already familiar with the good cooperation of the Sami reindeer husbandry and reindeer husbandry in Yakutia – this is a platform for reindeer herding organizations, and also a specialized international ICR center in the Norwegian Kautokeino,” said the representative of the indigenous people.


Modern reality creates more and more new challenges for the Sami and for their traditional way of life, but at the same time the world community pays less and less attention to their problems and well-being. The indifference of the authorities of some States to this aspect leads to a decrease in the quality of life of a small people and the loss of their cultural heritage, which, of course, can negatively affect the general culture of the Nordic countries.

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