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The Sámi: We are the natives of this country

The Nordic countries have a long history of racism that dates back many centuries. One of the most affected groups are their indigenous population – the Sámi people. They have been forced to change their way of life, and have been subjected to abuses, violations and racism. March 21 is International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. 

The governments of Sweden, Finlad and Norway, as well as Russia, where the Sámi live, still deal with the problem to this day. But with knowledge and awareness things can get better.

Racism can take on many forms and different groups around the world are subjected to it. The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and aim to honor all those who have been victims of racial violence and abuse, and to encourage action against racism and discrimination.

Racism and the Sámi People  

The sami flag in winter
The Sápmi flag. Photo: Elin Sarfati

All over the globe minorities are subjected to racism, one of the vulnerable groups are the world’s indigenous populations. Despite positive developments in international human rights standard-setting, indigenous peoples continue to face serious human rights abuses on a day-to-day basis. 

Sápmi, the land of the Sámi, stretches across the northern part of Scandinavia and Russia’s Kola Peninsula. For a long time the Sámi people have been in contact with the nation states that were established on the land they call home. They have been subjected to discrimination and racism by the Governments in the Nordic countries. They have lost land to farmers and industries, been subjugated to racial biology and have had their religion, culture and language suppressed. It’s a history filled with abuses, violations and racism. And it lives on today. 

Hatred directed at the reindeer 

Sámi people experience racism still. It has been one of the consequences from conflicts over fishing and hunting rights, like the Girjas ruling by the Swedish Supreme Court. The online hate has escalated,” says Elin Marakatt, a young Sámi journalist and writer, living in Lainiovuoma Sámi Village.

Reindeer laying down
Sometimes racism is directed at the reindeer. Photo: Juan Encalada/Unsplash

The Sami won the so-called Girjas case before the Supreme Court where their hunting and fishing rights were recognized. 

Marakatt is also a reindeer herder, she says the hate and racism is sometimes taken out on the reindeer, the animal that carry cultural significance and value to the Sámi. “The reindeer are the foundation of our culture. They are found shot, run over and subjected to animal cruelty. These are hate crimes and racism directed at Sámi people,” she says 

Sweden, Norway and Finland have been critized internationally for policies against their indigenous populations historically and their lack of action and recognition of the Sámi people’s rights today.

Young Sámi Against Racism  

Sign saying racism is a pandemic
Photo: Ehimtalor Akhere/Unsplash

Youth standing up against racism is the 2021 theme of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination 

The history of racism against the Sámi runs long and deep. ”If you are young and Sámi you will be affected by what you see, the hate on social media, the assaults on your culture, your language and identitysays Elin Marakatt.  

However, she is hopeful that young people can come together to find support and strength. 

”Young people are trying to change things by standing up and speaking outexplains Marakatt. ”Recently, a young woman was attacked on a public bus in Tromsø  for speaking in her mother tongueSámi. But she stood up to her abusers and the event was mentioned in the media. There was a widespread campaign in social media that followed, using the hashtags #doarváidal and #noknuthat’s enough. The incident even caught the eye of the Norwegian minister of cultural affairs. 

Reindeer running at night
Reindeer carry cultural significance and value to the Sámi people. Photo: Elin Marakatt

Throughout history, as a way to stand up for themselves and incite change, young people have taken to the arts to express their anger and frustration. For Elin Marakatt her writing is a tool to do so. “I am currently writing a poetry book. I felt a deep wound in my soul, and I realized that hurt was something I had inherited from my ancestors. Trauma, abuse and racism subjected to my people for generations and I am writing poems to understand, both my own traumas and those of my people,” she says. “My hope is to publish them in a book to educate the public on what we have been and are still going through”. 

The Fight Continues  

The fight for human rights continues. Despite external pressure on the Nordic governments by the UN the Sámis still have to scream to make their voices heard 

Sweden introduced the Convention against racial discrimination in 1971 but is not putting it sufficiently into practice. In 2018, there was a hearing between Sweden and the United Nations Racial Discrimination Committee, specifically targeting the lack of protection by the Swedish government regarding discrimination, indigenous rights and hate crimes. This was not the first time Sweden had been subject of such criticism. 

young people in different colors ”The Swedish government and members of parliament should take responsibility and speak about how racism against the Sámi and xenophobia should never be accepted,” says Elin Marakatt. ”After all, we are the native population of this country.” 

More education is needed 

In 2019, the Sámi Parliament submitted a formal request to the government of Sweden for a truth and reconciliation commission to be established. In June 2020, the Sámi were awarded 1.2 million crowns (EUR 144,000) from the Swedish state to begin laying the groundwork for a truth commission. 

”The Swedish education system should include more of the Sámi culture and reindeer husbandry, not just in primary and secondary school but all the way up into higher education,” she says. ”Education and knowledge of the Sámi and Sámi culture is needed among the general public if things are to change and improve”. 

This year’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination engages the public through #FightRacism, which aims to foster a global culture of tolerance, equality and anti-discrimination and calls on each and every one of us to stand up against racial prejudice and intolerant attitudes. 

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