The first congress
Trondheim / Tråante, 6-9. February 1917
In February 1917 Sámi from across the Nordic regions gathered in the Methodist Church in Trondheim, or Tråante as the city is called in the South Sámi language. This was the first time the Sámi organised themselves into a larger community. The meeting occurred at a difficult time. Since the mid-19th-century the Norwegian state had pursued a harsh assimilation policy that was about to eradicate the Sámi culture. Now, different Sámi groups met and discussed shared political struggles. The most important were conflicts concerning herding land, language, culture, education and Sámi political organisations. These are still some of the most important Sámi issues. The congress created the basis for the Sámi National Day, celebrated on 6th of February in Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. The day is an official flag day in Norway.
Elsa Laula Renberg (1877–1931) founded the world’s first Sámi association in 1904. In 1917 she arranged the first national Sámi congress in Norway. She also fought for Sámi womens position in society. Photo: Helgeland museum
From the Alta controversy to the Sámi Parliment
In 1978 the Norwegian Parliament approved the damming of the Alta-Kautokeino river to build a power station. The development would affect Sámi areas and reindeer herders. The case was considered a symbol of Norwegian colonising of Sámi areas. The Alta-case came at a time of increased international indigenous rights movements and changed the way many Sámi self-identified.
Most of the early meeting took place in the Methodist church in Trondheim. At the back to the right is Ellen Lie, Elsa Laula Renberg and pastor Trygve Wahlström. Photo: Schrøderarkivet / Sverresborg
In the autumn of 1979, the conflict came to the Parliament itself when a group of Sámi put up tents in front of the parliament building and began a hunger strike. Sámi and nature activists stood together in the fight, and the opposition grew to a country-wide people’s movement. The conflict culminated with a police action in Stilla, January 1981. Around 1000 activists were removed by 600 police officers.
Photo left: Activists inside the government building. Photo by Niillas Aslaksen Somby..
On the morning of February 6th, 1981, 15 Sámi women met with Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland in her office. The PM left the meeting after half an hour. The women remained seated until they were removed by the police the next day, 18 hours later.
Those who participated were: Ellen Turi Guttormsen, Ellen Anne Pulk Sara, Ellen Marit Sara Buljo, Marit J. Eira Sara, Brita M. Gaup, Inger Anne Sara Gaup, Selma Saba, Inger Johanne Ek, Inger Anne Sara, Gaia Gaup, Solfrid Maria Avrahami, Ellen Marit Gaup Dunfjeld, Kirsten Anne Marie Hætta, Karen Marie Nango Sara og Ellen Kristina Saba. Foto: Niillas Aslaksen Somby.
The seed of the Sámi Parliment
The Alta controversy is a watershed moment in Sámi politics in Norway. The first hunger strike outside the Parliament in 1979 led to the creation of a Sámi rights committee. The committee recommended the government establish a Sámi Parliament. The Sámi Parliament opened in 1989 and is an elected government body for the strengthening of the Sámi’s position and interests in Norway. The Parliament works to ensure equality and equal treatment of the Sámi people and to secure the Sámi language, culture and way of life.
The Sámi Parliament building in Karasjok. Photo: Sametinget / Sámediggi
The Norwegian state is founded on the territory of two people –the Norwegians and the Sámi people. Sámi history is tightly woven together with Norwegian history. Today we must apologise for the injustice the Norwegian state previously inflicted on the Sámi people through a harsh assimilation policy.His Majesty King Harald V during the opening of the Sámi Parliament in 1997.
The Parliament works to ensure equality and equal treatment of the Sámi people and to secure the Sámi language, culture and way of life Photo: Sametinget.
From words to actions
Today, the Sámi people have guaranteed rights as Norwegian citizens, and an indigenous people. But how are these rights enforced on traditional land- and water areas, and on the resources in these areas, in practice?
Through all of 2017 Trondheim celebrated a large-scale 100-year jubilee in honour of the first Sámi Congress. Despite the regulations and speeches, the Sámi culture is still under threat. The same year as Tråante was celebrated, the Sámi lost in the Fosen trial on the development of a wind turbine park in Storheia, a facility that disrupts the reindeer herding. Sámi children have the right to be educated in their own language and culture, and all children in Norway must learn about Sámi culture and rights. But this can not be done if there are not enough textbooks or teachers with the right knowledge on the subject.
Photo 1: Merethe Kuhmunen from ”Ïhkkátis dávvierh”, a Sámi pop-up-exhibit at the National Museum of Decorative Arts and Design. Photo by Carl-Johan Utsi. Photo 2-5: The Sámi Congress. Photo 6: Sámi altarpiece by Folke Fjällstrøm, Nidaros Cathedral.
Mining in Kvalsund
In February 2019 a mining company got the go ahead from the Ministry of Trade and Industry to start the extraction of copper in Kvalsund, Finnmark. This will result in large amounts of mining refuse being deposited in the Reppar fjord. The Sámi Parliament has been very negative to the mining operation.
The Minister of Trade and Industry overrules the vulnerable and very pressured Sea Sámi and Reindeer Sámi interests in order to give permission to Nussir ASA for the extraction of copper from the Nussir deposits, which is a short-term mining project.The Sámi Parliament president Aili Keskitalo, February 2019.
The Nature and Youth organization protesting planned mining operation in Kvalsund. Civil disobedience might become necessary to stop the mining operation, Photo: Tonje Sofie Eriksson / Natur og Ungdom.
A Sámi family’s struggle against the state
In 2012 the reindeer herder Jovsset Ánte Sara was ordered to reduce his flock to 75 reindeer. Sara claimed he could not continue his reindeer business with so few animals, and has fought against the state for six years. He won both the first trials. The state appealed to the Supreme Court and won. The court rejected the idea that Jovsset Ánte Sara’s right to exercise his culture was infringed upon.
Sara has put the case to the UN’s Human Rights committee in Genève, but the Norwegian government has refused to wait for the case to processed there, and demands the animals be slaughtered. The state’s foreclosure of reindeer in Finnmark is based on the argument for protecting grazing land. In February 2019 the government approved the establishment of a mine in the same area that Jovsset Ánte Sara operates in.
The artist Máret Ánne Sara is the sister of Jovsset. She has received international acclaim for her art project “Pile O’Sápmi”, made in support for her brother’s case, and with the goal being a critical debate on Sámi rights. In December 2017 she put up an installation of 400 reindeer skulls with shot holes in front of the Parliament. The work was later bought by the National Museum. Photo by Per Heimly