The Museum of the City of Ústí nad Labem reopened on Tuesday 11 May. There you can see three exhibitions of the Arctic Festival, which were opened on 6 December 2020: “Igimarasussuk, who ate his wives / Inuit legends through the eyes of Aaron Kangermio” (Clubroom), “Sámi fairy tales and legends / Illustrations by Luboš Drtina” and “Canada’s Arctic – Vibrant and Thriving” (corridor). You can still watch the film loop on a monitor by the Czech-American Stanislav Chládek entitled “Southern Bering Sea Animals” (Clubroom). Opening hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 9.00-18.00. Exhibitions and the film loop will be on view until 27 June 2021.
On May 11, 2021, two-hours online seminar “Czechs and Alaska” is to be hosted by the Consulate General of the Czech Republic in Los Angeles, which is also in charge of the State of Alaska. Join our webinar here.
The working language of the webinar is English.
Registration is required. To receive the link to join, please register here.
Tuesday, May 11, 2021
08:00 AM AST (Fairbanks, Anchorage)
09:00 AM PST (Los Angeles)
12:00 AM EST (Washington D.C., New York)
18:00 PM CET (Prague)
Program: time is EST
Los Angeles –3 hours
Anchorage -4 hours
Prague +6 hours
Mr. Josef Smyček 12:00–12:05
– Deputy Head of Mission, Consulate General of the Czech Republic in Los Angeles
Introductory remarks, introduction of guests
H. E. Hynek Kmoníček 12:05–12:15
– Ambassador of the Czech Republic to the United States of America
Czech Republic´s application for Observer Status in the Arctic Council
Amb. Jaroslav Olša, Jr. 12:15–12:30
– historian and writer, Consul General of the Czech Republic in Los Angeles (in charge of Alaska)
History of Czech presence on and knowledge of Alaska since the late 18th century until 1989
Mr. Josef Smyček 12:30–12:40
Introducing 2016 film “Czech Škoda renames Kodiaq from Kodiak” (4 minutes)
Amb. Zdeněk Lyčka 12:40-12:55
– polar explorer, writer and translator, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic
Connections between Greenland, Alaska and the Czech/Moravian Brethren, and Czechs and Alaska today
Dr. Barbora Halašková 13:00-13:15
- Director of the ARCTOS Research Centre at Masaryk University in Brno, Department of International Relations and European Studies, and Vice-Chair of the IASC Social & Human Working Group
Polar research cooperation: A view from Central Europe
A two-minutes’ Powerpoint presentation on Josef Svoboda (without words), as an excerpt from the film “Prof. Josef Svoboda – a free man”.
Prof. Josef Elster 13:15-13:30
- Czech polar ecologist, founder of the Centre for Polar Ecology at the Faculty of Science of the University of South Bohemia in České Budějovice and co-founder of the Czech Arctic Research Infrastructure “Josef Svoboda Station” in Svalbard
Czech Arctic Research and North America
Mr. Francis J. Nosek 13:30-13:35
– lawyer, Honorary Consul of the Czech Republic in Anchorage
Presenting activities and history of Czech Alaska Society
Q + A 13:35-13:50
Amb. Zdeněk Lyčka + Amb. Jaroslav Olša, Jr. 13:50-13:55
Mr. Josef Smyček 14:00
ABOUT THE WEBINAR:
It might appear that the inhabitants of the Czech Republic – a not particularly populous Central European country lacking an ocean –would have little interest in events happening in the far corners of the globe, to say nothing of the Arctic Circle.
But it turns out that the reverse is true, with accounts attesting to significant Czech activities in Alaska, spanning exploration, discovery, scientific research and sports.The two-hour-long program of the webinar will be opened with an introductory speech by H. E. Hynek Kmoníček, Ambassador of the Czech Republic to the United States of America, explaining the Czech Republic´s application for Observer Status in the Arctic Council.
The historical and scientific part of the webinar will start with Amb. Jaroslav Olša, Jr., historian and writer and Consul General of the Czech Republic in Los Angeles, and Amb. Zdeněk Lyčka, polar explorer, writer and translator from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, introducing their forthcoming exhibition and a book “Czechs and Alaska. From the Heart of Europe to the Northern Edge of America”. Prepared on the occasion of the 230th anniversary since the botanist Thaddäus Haenke became the first person from the historical Czech Lands who set foot on Alaskan soil in Yakutat Bay. Both panelists will present the activities of Czechs in the US state of Alaska and its Aleutian Islands, as well as the connections and observations of the inhabitants of the country in the heart of Europe with respect to this farthest part of the United States.
Between both presentations by Amb. Olša, Jr., and Amb. Lyčka, a short 2016 film “Czech Škoda renames Kodiaq from Kodiak” will be screened.
Dr. Barbora Halašková, Director of the ARCTOS Research Centre at Masaryk University in Brno and Vice-Chair of the IASC Social & Human Working Group, will speak about her arctic research work for the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs, about her co-authored, newly published book on the Arctic states, about her role in IASC, etc.
Prof. Josef Elster, Czech polar ecologist, founder of the Centre for Polar Ecology at the Faculty of Science of the University of South Bohemia in České Budějovice and co-founder of the Czech Arctic Research Infrastructure “Josef Svoboda Station” in Svalbard, will speak about Czech-Canadian Arctic ecologist and tundra botanist Josef Svoboda, Professor Emeritus of the University of Toronto and Officer of the Order of Canada. He will also mention Czech scientists’ cooperation with Prof. Svoboda, having in mind that the Czech Arctic Research Infrastructure in Svalbard is named in his honor. Prof. Elster will conclude his speech introducing the scientific work done by Dr. Michael Svoboda – Prof. Svoboda’s son – in the High Arctic.
This program is organized by the Consulate General of the Czech Republic in Los Angeles with support of the Embassy of the Czech Republic in D.C., and the Czech Center New York.
Consulate General of the Czech Republic
10990 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1100
Los Angeles, CA 90024
Tel.: (310) 473-0889
Fax: (310) 473-9813
On 13 April 2021, as part of Candidacy of the Czech Republic for Observer Status in the Arctic Council, an online scientific and cultural seminar, Czechia in the Arctic / The Arctic in Czechia – Echoes of Arctic Festivals 2018-21, was hosted by the Consulate General of the Czech Republic in St. Petersburg. The working language of the webinar was English.
The event took place in connection with the exhibition of the same name at the prestigious Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI) in St. Petersburg, which was ceremoniously opened on 7 April 2021 by Mr. Jan Čížek, Consul General of the Czech Republic in St. Petersburg, and Professor Alexander Sergeyevich Makarov, Director of AARI. The Consuls General of Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Estonia and Turkey took place in the opening. “Czechia in the Arctic / The Arctic in Czechia” is a traveling panel exhibition of Jan Evangelista Purkyně University in Ústí nad Labem, Julius von Payer Institute for Arctic and Subarctic Research, the Norwegian Polar Institute in Tromsø, the Centre for Polar Ecology at the University of South Bohemia in České Budějovice, the University Centre in Svalbard, the Scandinavian Studies Department of the Germanic Studies Institute at Charles University in Prague and the Fund for Bilateral Relations within the EEA and Norway Funds 2014–2021. The exhibition presents the achievements of Nordic and Czech scientists in Arctic research, joint Czech-Arctic research, educational and cultural projects and activities in the Czech Republic and the Arctic, introduces Nordic languages’ teaching and lectures on Arctic indigenous peoples at Charles University, the role of “Norway funds”, etc.
Consul General Jan Čížek inaugurated the exhibition Czechia in the Arctic / The Arctic in Czechia on 7 April 2021 at AARI.
The almost three-hour-long programme of the webinar was opened with a short introductory speech by Consul General Jan Čížek, followed by a greeting from Mr. Aleš Chmelař, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic. Mr. Chmelař started his speech with a few sentences in Russian. Then he emphasized the importance that the Czech Republic attaches to the Arctic and justified the Czech application for Observer Status in the Arctic Council. He pointed out the existence of two Czech scientific polar stations and the readiness of Czech scientists to cooperate within the working groups of the Arctic Council AMAP (Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program), CAFF (Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna) and Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG). He mentioned, among other things, the third issue of the traditional Arctic Festival in the Czech Republic, which introduces both professional and non-professional audiences to science, history, culture and traditions of the Arctic.
Opening of the webinar
Greetings by Mr. Aleš Chmelař, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic
The webinar participants were then welcomed and greeted by Mr. Vítězslav Pivoňka, Ambassador of the Czech Republic to the Russian Federation, and Professor Alexander Sergeyevich Makarov, Director of AARI.
The scientific part of the webinar was opened by polar explorer and translator Zdeněk Lyčka from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic introducing Josef Svoboda, Professor Emeritus of the University of Toronto, a prominent Czech-Canadian Arctic plant ecologist who was a political prisoner in the former Czechoslovakia in 1949–1958 and received the Order of Canada in 2019. The Czech Arctic Scientific Infrastructure in Svalbard took its name in Josef Svoboda’s honour.
The presentation about Josef Svoboda was followed by a video clip by the Czech Television scientific editor Daniel Stach, who visited Longyearbyen in Svalbard on the occasion of the grand opening of Julius Payer House, part of the Czech Arctic Scientific Infrastructure, in 2014. The TV editor emphasized the consistent international – not national – approach of Czech researchers to solving research projects in the Arctic.
Czech Television editors and moderators Daniel Stach and Vladimír Piskala
Mr. Vladimír Piskala, scientific editor of the Czech Television, moderated the presentations of three Czech and three foreign Arctic scientists, followed by a discussion. Dr. Marie Šabacká, Head of the Centre for Polar Ecology at the University of South Bohemia in České Budějovice, presented the international cooperation of Czech scientists in the Arctic, the main directions of Czech Arctic research, polar ecology courses and follow-up scientific conferences. Professor Josef Elster, founder of the Centre for Polar Ecology at the University of South Bohemia in České Budějovice, in his presentation “Contribution of Czech Science to the Sustainable Arctic” informed about Czech scientific research at the Krkonoše National Park and at the Swedish Polar Station in Abisko, about the Czech Arctic Scientific Infrastructure in Svalbard and the Arctic Science Summit Week in 2017 in Prague. Dr. Richard Pokorný, Head of Julius Payer Institute for Arctic and Subarctic Research (JPI) at the Faculty of Environment of Jan Evangelista Purkyně University in Ústí nad Labem, focused on evaluating almost two years of JPI’s activities, research projects and published materials, including the latest book “Mineral Resources in Iceland: Coal Mining”.
After the presentations of the Czech scientists, their colleagues and collaborators from Norway, Russia and the United Kingdom were given the opportunity to deliver their presentations. Professor Kim Holmén, International Director of the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI) in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway, focused on the history and activities of the NPI, the position of the Czech Research Station in Svalbard, the heating of permafrost and the Atlantic Ocean, and on the global impact of Arctic climate change. Professor Olga Shaduyko (Morozova), Head of the Excellence Support Unit at the Tomsk State University (Russia), focused on explaining the origin and functioning of the Siberian Environmental Change Network in her presentation entitled “SecNet”. The network has 15 members, 19 research stations and more than 300 field sampling and monitoring sites. The Indigenous people of the North are also included in the research. Professor Terry Callaghan, CMG, founder of the INTERACT research stations network, University of Sheffield (UK) and the Tomsk State University (Russia), first highlighted half a century of collaboration with Czech scientists (specifically with Josef Svoboda in the Canadian Arctic) and then focused on describing the establishment, functioning and extention of international research stations network called INTERACT, which this year already includes 89 working sites around the world.
Scientific part of the webinar (from left to right, from top to bottom): Consul General Jan Čížek, Dr. Richard Pokorný (Julius Payer Institute – Jan Evangelista Purkyně University in Ústí nad Labem), Dr. Marie Šabacká (Centre for Polar Ecology – University of South Bohemia in České Budějovice), Zdeněk Lyčka (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic), Professor Josef Elster (Centre for Polar Ecology – University of South Bohemia in České Budějovice), Dr. Olga Shaduyko / Morozova / (Tomsk State University, Russia), Vladimír Piskala (Czech Television), Professor Kim Holmén (Norwegian Polar Institute in Longyearbyen, Norway)
After finishing the scientific guests’ discussion with TV editor Vladimír Piskala, the seminar programme continued with culture. Zdeněk Lyčka explained the idea of cultural and scientific Arctic Festivals, which connect polar scientists from different countries and enable the Czech and international public to be familiar with the work of Czech and Nordic scientists in the Arctic and with the culture of the Arctic’s indigenous people. He described the current issues of the Arctic Festivals: At Home in Svalbard 2018 in Longyearbyen and Pyramiden in Svalbard, the Arctic Festival 2019 in Prague, České Budějovice, Teplice and Pilsen and the Arctic Festival 2020–21 in Ústí nad Labem, Teplice, Prague, Dačice, České Budějovice and Hradec Králové. Mr. Miroslav Wanek, frontman of the music group Už jsme doma (UJD), which co-launched the Arctic Festival in Svalbard three years ago and continues this tradition to this day, performed as a guest in the cultural block. At the end of this part of the seminar, a video clip by UJD entitled “The Journey”, shot in 2018 in Longearbyen, was screened.
Concert by Už jsme doma at Huset Cultural Centre in Longyearbyen on 8 September 2018
Zdeněk Lyčka then invited the participants of the webinar to an online tour of two exhibitions from the programme of the Arctic Festival 2020–21:
The exhibition “Czechia in the Arctic / The Arctic in Czechia” is described in detail above. From 7 to 16 April 2021, it could be seen at AARI and its other “physical” installations will take place in the autumn and winter in Prague, Ústí nad Labem and Dačice. The webinar participants had the opportunity to take a virtual tour of the exhibition on the website of the Consulate General in St. Petersburg in two hours which followed the webinar’s end.
“The North Pole Expedition” is an exhibition of book illustrations and copies of paintings by Julius Payer (1841–1915), the greatest Arctic explorer from the Czech lands and the most famous painter of the polar landscapes. The exhibition is based on a travelogue by Julius Payer published in 1876 in Vienna entitled “The Austro-Hungarian Expedition to the North Pole in 1872–74”. To emphasize Payer’s artistic genius, the exhibition introductory panel includes a reproduction of one of the four canvases of the so-called Franklin Polar Cycle. The painting entitled “Starvation Cove” depicts the tragic end of Sir John Franklin’s polar expedition in 1845. The webinar participants had the opportunity to take a virtual tour of the exhibition on the website of the Consulate General in St. Petersburg in two hours which followed the webinar’s end.
A traveling exhibition of illustrations and paintings by Julius Payer, currently only online
Within the Questions and Answers part of the programme, positive responses by the participants were heard. They highlighted the quality and reliability of Czech researchers. There were proposals for expanding international cooperation and study exchanges.
Mrs. Jana Lolić Šindelková, Director of the Western Europe Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, delivered the closing speech, thanking the organizers of the webinar for its preparation and implementation and the participants for interesting contributions. She praised the international cooperation of Czech scientists in the Arctic and the potential for its further continuation.
The video recording of the webinar is here.
The Norway Grants and the Ministry of Finance accepted further adjustment of the AF 2020 programme due to the spread of COVID-19. The duration of the festival has been extended until the end of this year and our foreign partners will arrive in Prague in September 2021. Consequently, the festival’s name has been changed to Arctic Festival 2020-21. The detailed updated AF programme is already available on our website.
Zdeněk Lyčka, coordinator
A traveling panel exhibition of Jan Evangelista Purkyně University in Ústí nad Labem, Julius von Payer Institute, the Norwegian Polar Institute in Tromsø, the Centre for Polar Ecology of the University of South Bohemia in České Budějovice, the University Centre in Svalbard and the Scandinavian Studies Department of the Institute of Germanic Studies at Charles University in Prague and the Fund for Bilateral Relations within the EEA and Norway Grants 2014–2021. The exhibition presents the achievements of Nordic and Czech scientists in Arctic research, joint Czech-Arctic research, educational and cultural projects and activities in Czechia and the Arctic, introduces Nordic language teaching and lectures on Arctic indigenous peoples at Charles University, the role of “Norway Grants”, etc.
Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the ceremonial opening of the exhibition in physical form will take place on 5 December 2021 at 6 pm (the exhibition will then be on view until 28 February 2022).
Press release on the opening of the Arctic Festival 2020. We start on Sunday 6 December 2020 at 3 pm in Ústí nad Labem. We continue with an online presentation of the “Arctic” issues of the magazines A2, Plav and Geografické rozhledy on Monday 7 December at 4 pm. The next festival event will take place on Thursday 10 December from 5 pm in Teplice. Due to the spread of coronavirus, the beginning of the festival will take place without the participation of foreign guests who will arrive in Prague at the beginning of March 2021.
The Norway Grants and the Ministry of Finance accepted the modification of the AF 2020 programme due to the spread of COVID-19. The programme will be divided in two parts and our foreign partners will arrive in Prague first in March 2021 instead of December 2020.
The events planned for 7 December 2020 will be realized at the Akropolis Palace in Prague on 2 March 2021, the rest of the progamme remains more or less the same. The detailed updated AF programme will be announced at the AF website ASAP.
New article by Robert Kvile, Ambassador of Norway to the Czech Republic.
Norway’s indigenous people: From assimilation to recognition
Back in 2007, the then President of the Sami Parliament in Karasjok, Mr. Egil Olli, told me about his first day in school as a seven-year-old boy in his home district of Porsanger. “I didn’t know a single word of Norwegian”, he said; “we only spoke Sami”. At the time, it was forbidden to speak any language other than Norwegian in school.
This was back in 1956.
Norway’s policy towards its indigenous people, the Sami, has changed radically since the 1950s. Nonetheless, the consequences of the policy of Norwegianization are still visible, and the process of righting the wrongs of the past is still ongoing.
The Sami population of Norway is concentrated in the north of the country, in Finnmark and Troms, but the traditional Sami region extends all the way down to the Femunden area in the southeast.
Of the four countries with a Sami population, Norway has the largest. Estimates vary substantially depending on the criteria used, but approximately 40,000 is the figure often cited. There are considerably fewer Sami in Sweden, and even fewer in Finland and Russia.
As with most other Western countries, Norway has developed into a multicultural society over the last one or two generations. That said, Norway has never been homogenous. In addition to the indigenous Sami population, there are five national minorities. Only groups with a long-standing attachment to the country (more than 100 years) have been granted minority status. They are Kvens (people of Finnish descent in northern Norway), Jews, Forest Finns (people of Finnish descent in south-eastern Norway), Roma, and Romani people (in Norway often referred to as Tater).
More recent immigrant groups, for example Pakistanis, are not considered as national minorities.
Towards a consolidated Norwegian nation – pressure to conform
There were no clearly defined national borders within the Sami areas until 1751, when the border between Denmark-Norway and Sweden (including present-day Finland) was drawn. The treaty on the border allowed for the need to regulate the Sami’s grazing rights in the border areas. This was set out in an addendum to the border treaty, the so-called Lappekodicillen.
By contrast, when the eastern part of the border between Norway and Russia was defined in 1826 (with the then Grand Duchy of Finland), some of the Sami “siidas” were divided in two, with one part in Norway and the other in Russia (the Pasvik siida) or one in Norway and the other in Finland (the Neiden siida).
Around the mid-19th century, amid a growing national sentiment and drive towards independence, a policy of Norwegianization was introduced, the aim of which was the full assimilation of the Sami people and other ethnic minorities into the Norwegian-speaking majority.
Influenced by the theories of social Darwinism, the policy was grounded in the notion that the Sami were an inferior people, and that their way of life was outdated. Driven by the schools, the church and local authorities, the process of Norwegianization fostered widespread discrimination, and had substantial negative consequences for Sami culture, language and society.
The ban on the Sami language in schools was particularly effective, but even so the Norwegianization policy eventually moved into other social spheres as well. Besides language, this policy also came to dominate agricultural policies, the armed forces, communications and the media. As an example, the Land Act of 1902 stipulated that property could only be transferred to Norwegian citizens who could speak, read and write Norwegian. This law was in effect until 1965.
It was not until the 1930s that Sami was again permitted as a second language in some school districts. In practice, however, the Sami language was banned in many Norwegian schools well into the 1950s, even during the school breaks.
In Finnmark, boarding schools were used as a tool in the Norwegianization efforts. From 1905 until 1940 a total of 50 boarding schools were built. The children lived away from their parents, all teaching was in Norwegian, and the use of Sami – and Finnish – was strictly forbidden.
Ultimately, many Sami families and societies came to reject their identity and lose their command of the Sami language and their attachment to Sami traditions. There was a widespread negative attitude towards the Sami among Norwegians, many of whom were influenced by negative stereotypes, including inter alia, those found in the literary works of Nobel Prize Laureate Knut Hamsun.
After 1945 – towards recognition of minority rights in international law
After the Second World War, new attitudes towards tribal and indigenous peoples slowly emerged.
The development of international human rights instruments was important in this regard, beginning with the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the statement therein that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
A few years later, in 1957, the International Labour Organization (ILO) adopted its Indigenous and Tribal Populations Convention, aimed at recognizing and protecting the cultural, religious, civil and social rights of indigenous and tribal populations within an independent country, and providing a standard framework for addressing the economic issues faced by many of these groups.
The 1989 ILO Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, also known as the ILO Convention 169, was an update of the 1957 convention and is the most significant legally-binding international convention concerning indigenous and tribal peoples.
This convention is considered a forerunner of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007. This Declaration is the most comprehensive international instrument on the rights of indigenous peoples. It establishes a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world, and it elaborates on existing human rights standards and fundamental freedoms as they apply to the specific situation of indigenous peoples.
The two 1966 covenants, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, are also important instruments to prevent discrimination, the latter with a clear reference to minorities in Article 27: “In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language.”
It is, however, fair to say that Norway’s policy towards the Sami developed rather slowly.
A Sami committee was established in 1956 to discuss principles and concrete measures for the Sami population. Its conclusions, published in 1959, included numerous initiatives to facilitate the preservation of Sami culture within Norwegian society. This was the first time that Sami issues were put before the Norwegian Parliament. It was also the first attempt in Norway to introduce a policy in relation to the Sami population that recognized their special situation and the responsibility of the State to safeguard their needs and rights.
In its White Paper presented to Parliament in 1963, the Government did not recommend the adoption of the proposals of the 1956 committee. The Government did not recognize the Sami as a minority and referred instead to “Sami-speaking Norwegians”. However, in 1964 the Sami Council was established as an advisory agency for state, county and municipal authorities.
The gradual, albeit slow change in attitudes in Norway towards the Sami was also influenced by the establishment of organizations representing Sami groups and Sami interests.
The oldest of the Norwegian Sami organizations still in operation today is the Sami Reindeer Herders’ Association in Norway (NRL), established in 1947 with the goal of promoting the interests of the reindeer-herding Sami. A Sami Association was founded in Oslo 1948. Somewhat later, in 1968, The National Association of Norwegian Sami (NSR) came into being, followed by the competing Norwegian Sami Union (SLF) in 1979.
Nordic cooperation between the Sami developed in parallel, first with a conference in Jokkmokk, Sweden, in 1953. Three years later the Nordic Sami Council was established to ensure liaison between Sami organisations in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Today, the Sami Council represents the Sami indigenous people of Finland, Norway and Sweden in the Arctic Council; it is represented in the Arctic Council Indigenous Peoples Secretariat (IPS), and has observer status at the Barents Euro-Arctic Council Working Group of Indigenous Peoples (WGIP), as well as in the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
The Alta Controversy: towards recognition of Sami rights
The Alta controversy was an eye-opener for many Norwegians on issues pertaining to the situation for the Sami population. The background to the controversy was comprehensive plans to develop the Alta-Kautokeino water system on the Finnmark plateau, including a dam which would inundate the Sami community of Masi. Even after the scaling back of these plans, a major hydroelectric project remained on the drawing board, including a 100-metre high dam across the Alta river canyon; this also involved the construction of a road across reindeer grazing land and calving areas.
Reindeer owners, joined by environmentalists, took the state to court in 1979 to stop the project. They lost the case, but the issue took on symbolic significance. Demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience were organized, both at the construction site and in front of the Parliament in Oslo. A group of Sami women staged a sit-down strike at the Office of the Prime Minister.
In 1982, the Supreme Court of Norway confirmed the ruling by a lower court that the project was legal. The activists dissolved their organization, and the plant went into operation in 1987.
The controversy, however, would radically change Norway’s policies towards the Sami. In 1980, the government appointed a Sami Rights Commission, tasked with looking into Sami cultural and political rights, as well as issues related to the use of land, water and resources in the county of Finnmark. The Commission was reappointed in 2001 to explore the same issues in the area spanning from the county of Troms down to Hedmark in south-eastern Norway.
The 1980 commission report was published in 1984 and paved the way for the incorporation of a new paragraph on the Sami into the Constitution of Norway (see below), and the Sami Act of 1987 on the Sami Parliament and other issues pertaining to the Sami, which ultimately led to the establishment of the Sami Parliament, officially opened by the King in October 1989.
The work of the Sami Rights Commission also eventually led to Norway’s ratification of the ILO Convention 169 and hence to a final recognition by the State of the Sami as an indigenous people.
The Sami Parliament (Sámediggi)
Sámediggi, the Sami Parliament, is located in Karasjok (Kárášjohka) in Finnmark. Elections take place every four years on the same day as elections to the Parliament of Norway (the Storting). It currently has 39 members elected from 7 constituencies.
Only a small number of responsibilities were assigned and transferred to the Sámediggi when it was first established in 1989. However, more responsibilities have since been added, and it now plays an important role in issues ranging from language and culture to economy and the use of land and water resources.
An important task for the Sámediggi is its participation in the management of the land area of Finnmark, 95 % of which (or 46,000 sq. km) was transferred to the Finnmark Estate agency by the Finnmark Act, adopted by the Norwegian parliament in 2005. The Sámediggi appoints half the Finnmark Estate board members .
The basis for the Finnmark Act is that the Sami, through traditional use of the land and water areas, have acquired individual and/or collective ownership of and the right to use land and water in the Finnmark County. The act does not cover fishing rights in saltwater, nor does it cover mining and oil rights.
In 2005, the Government and the Sámediggi agreed on “Procedures for Consultations between the State Authorities and the Sámediggi”. These procedures have been developed in accordance with Article 6 of the ILO Convention 169. They apply to the Government and its ministries, directorates and other subordinate state agencies or activities and shall ensure that work on matters that may affect Sami interests is carried out in a satisfactory manner. Around 30-40 consultations take place annually.
Various professional advisory organs have been established subordinate to the Sámediggi. These are the Sami Cultural Monuments Council, the Sami Culture Council, the Sami Business Council, and the Sami Language Council. They function as professional organs for the Sámediggi and assist in the management of allocations and subsidies.
The Sámediggi cooperates closely with its Nordic sister parliaments, the Sámediggi of Sweden, established in 1993, and the Sámediggi of Finland, established in 1996.
The Sámediggi was the scene for a highly symbolic act by the King of Norway, Harald V., when, in a speech to the Parliament in 1997, he apologised for the assimilation policy:
“The Norwegian state is founded upon the territories of two peoples – the Norwegians and the Sami. Sami history is closely interwoven with Norwegian history. Today, we must apologize for the injustice previously inflicted upon the Sami people by the Norwegian authorities – through a hard assimilation policy. The Norwegian State, therefore, has a particular responsibility for facilitating the Sami people’s ability to build a strong and viable society. This is a historical right based on the Sami’s presence in their cultural regions, which stretches far back in time”.
However, the Norwegianization policy has left open wounds. This motivated the Norwegian Parliament in 2018 to appoint a commission charged with examining the past assimilation policy towards the Sami and Kven populations: the commission to investigate the Norwegianization policy and injustice against the Sami and Kven/Norwegian Finnish peoples (The Truth and Reconciliation Commission).
The Commission has three tasks: first, to historically map the policy and activities carried out by the Norwegian authorities against the Sami and Kvens/Norwegian Finns, locally, regionally and nationally, from around 1800 until the present day; second, to investigate the consequences today of the Norwegianization (assimilation) policies; and finally to propose measures for continued reconciliation.
The commission shall deliver its report by 1 September 2022.
The Sami languages
The aim of the Norwegianization policy was assimilation, including linguistic assimilation. The low number of active speakers of the Sami languages made these languages vulnerable, especially the Sami languages spoken south of the Northern Sami areas of Troms and Finnmark.
In 1967 Sami was introduced as a first language in certain elementary schools. Today the right to an education in Sami (any of the three Sami languages spoken in Norway) is confirmed in law, in both primary and secondary schools. This has helped consolidate the Sami languages, but first and foremost Northern Sami.
At the academic level, the University of Tromsø plays an important role in the promotion of North Norwegian and Sami perspectives in education and research. Its Centre for Sami Studies has a coordinating role. In 1989, a Sami College in Kautokeino (Guovdageaidnu) was established, the main objective of which was Sami language teacher training.
Recognising that the Sami languages are vulnerable and therefore in need of special attention and support, the government appointed a commission in 2014 to develop measures to this end. Their report (NOU 2016:18 Hjertespråket (“The language of the heart”)) was presented two years later. When discussing follow-up measures, the Norwegian parliament asked the Government to pay particular attention to the Southern Sami language and to the interrelationship between language, culture, trade and crafts.
In 2016, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution (A/RES/71/178) proclaiming 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages, based on a recommendation by the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. The resolution had full support from the Norwegian government, which allocated extra funding to the Sami Parliament’s work to promote the language year.
The sad reality is, however, that the number of Sami speakers is set to decrease in the years to come. An important reason for this is that few young people speak the language in the coastal areas traditionally dominated by the Sami.
The situation for the Sami indigenous people of Norway – and for our national minorities for that matter – is the result of a gradual recognition of their rights, coupled with a simultaneous recognition of the responsibilities of the authorities towards them.
This principle was included in the Norwegian Constitution in 1988: “The authorities of the state shall create conditions enabling the Sami people to preserve and develop its language, culture and way of life” (§108). The paragraph also symbolized that the policy of assimilation had finally been abandoned.
A greater interest on the part of the majority population in Sami culture, and especially in Sami music, has played an instrumental role in fostering a recognition of the positive contribution of the Sami in Norwegian society. Films on Sami history and culture, perhaps most notably Pathfinder (1987) and The Kautokeino Rebellion (2008), have also been important in this regard. The positive role played by the public broadcaster of Norway, as well as Sami newspapers, should not be underestimated either.
While only a few decades ago many Sami felt that suppressing their identity was important for their success on the labour market, and for their success in general, today’s young Sami are proud of their Sami heritage and their mastery of the Sami language.
This gives hope that the Sami indigenous people of Norway will also constitute “a strong and viable society” in the future, as the King of Norway, Harald V, put it in his speech to the Sámediggi in 1997.