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Yesterday, 6 February, was the Sami People’s Day. The Sami people are the indigenous
people mainly inhabiting the Arctic area of Sápmi, which today encompasses parts of
northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Kola Peninsula of Russia. There is an
estimated total population of between 50 000 and 80 000 Sami People, with a majority of approximately 40 000 living in Norway.
While the Sami People’s Day is a cause for celebration, it also reminds us of the
discrimination against the Sami People during the consolidation of modern Norway.
Toward the end of the 19th century, the Norwegian state introduced a policy of
assimilation of the Sami people and other ethnic minorities. As a result, many Sami
families and societies came to reject their own Sami identity and lose their command of
the Sami languages. Not until the 1970s, did a more positive view of the Sami begin to
dominate Norwegian public life. In large part due to growing, international recognition
of minority rights.
The Sami Act of 1987 provided for special rights for the Sami People, including the
establishment of a Sami parliament. In 1997, King Harald V recognized that Norway is
founded on the territory of two nations, the Norwegian and the Sami, and he apologised for the wrongs previously committed during assimilation. Since then, the Sami people have been granted a constitutional right to develop their language, culture and society. The Finnmark Act of 2005 helps secure a material basis for Sami culture.
On 20 June 2017, the Norwegian Parliament decided to establish a commission to
examine Norway's former assimilation policy. Its mandate and composition has been
determined in close consultation with the Sami parliament and relevant minority
organisations. The commission is expected to deliver its report in 2022, but we cannot
wait until then to act. We will continue to safeguard the interests of the Sami and our
national minorities as the commission works.
Despite continuing efforts to strengthen Sami rights and institutions, individual cases of
disagreement, or even dispute, can occur. Therefore, consultations between the Sami
people and national authorities are key to mutual knowledge and understanding. They
are essential for reaching agreement when Sami interests are involved. To strengthen
this dialogue further, the Norwegian government has proposed to extend the scope of
consultations and to give them a statutory basis. A bill to this end is currently under
consideration in parliament.
The Sami People’s Day is a celebration reminding us of the great gains in rights for our
indigenous people. Still, we must remember the injustices of the past, so that we may
never repeat them. As such, let this occasion encourage us to use the OSCE to promote
tolerance and non-discrimination, and fight prejudice wherever we may find it.