All posts by zaboylan

The Sámi: Indigenous People of Scandinavia

When we talk about the plights of indigenous populations we rarely think of any groups in Europe. Aren’t these people usually the colonizers? Most of the time this is in fact the case. However one group of native Scandinavians, the Sámi, have faced discrimination, exploitation and grave robbing, just as Native Americans have.

A Sámi mother and child in traditional dress.

The Sámi are a nation of traditional, semi-nomadic, reindeer herders that reside in northern Scandinavia, the majority of which live in Norway. Tensions between the Sámi and Norway have always been tense. Norway had adopted a policy of “Norwegianization” in1870, very similar to Americas forced assimilation policies. Children were taken away from their families and placed in boarding schools where they were told their Sámi heritage and language was of little value and they were discouraged from speaking it. This policy was only discontinued in the 1980’s.

As part of the Eugenics craze in the early 1900’s over 1000 skeletons were taken from their graves and transported to the Anatomical Institute at Oslo where their skulls were weighed and measured in order to prove that they were genetically inferior to Norwegians. of these skeletons, 94 have been returned to the Sámi people and reburied in their original graves.

Reburial of the 94 individuals repatriated to the Sámi.

Today the  Sámi people are in better shape than they have been in past years. In 1987 a law was passed in Norway that recognized the Sámi as the Native people of the region and that “It is the responsibility of the authorities of the State to create conditions enabling the Sámi people to preserve and develop its language, culture and way of life.” (Sami Act 1987) This also established a Sámi Parliament which acts as an institution of cultural autonomy.  In 2007 they were acknowledged as the basic institution on all things regarding reindeer farming.

Those 1000 skeletons are under the control of the Sámi people, they are kept in a separate room from the rest of the institution’s collection and the Sámi council dictates what research can and cannot be done on them. In 2011 a group of researchers studying the genetic history of Norway were denied access to the skeletons for fear that they would use the data for political  reasons or as the president of the Sámi Parliment, Egil Olli, said, “to prove the Sámi are not Sámi.”  The researchers argue that a greater knowledge of the genetic lineage of all Norwegian people could help give a better understanding of where they all came from. But can several centuries of prejudice and mistrust be overlooked? What would this research mean for the Sámi living today? Would it further their claim as the native people of Scandanavia? Or would it be used only to harm them as science of the past has done?

Additional Reading

Repatriation to Sámi people:

Additional info on Assimilation:

Sámi Policies in Norway:

Genetic Research on the Sámi:

National Congress of American Indians

The original Congress of the American Indian

The National Congress of American Indians (or NCAI for short) is a Native American advocacy group made up of leaders and advocates from Native American nations across the US. Their stated goals are the following:

  • To secure and preserve American Indian and Alaska Native sovereign rights under treaties and agreements with the United States, as well as under federal statutes, case law, and administration decisions and rulings.
  • To protect American Indian and Alaska Native traditional,  cultural, and religious rights.
  • To seek appropriate, equitable, and beneficial services and programs for American Indian and Alaska Native governments and people.
  • To promote the common welfare and enhance the quality of life of American Indian and Alaska Native people.
  • To educate the general public regarding American Indian and Alaska Native governments, people, and rights.

The Congress was founded in 1944 in response to the United States’ brutal implementation of termination and assimilation policies. That year 80 individuals from 50 tribes gathered to discuss some way to maintain and advance tribal rights and governance. The following year representatives from almost every tribe came to their conference.

There was a division in the 1960’s between the older and younger generations of Native Americans. The younger generation thought that the older was “selling out,” and believed that the only way to make change was by force. From this movement the American Indian Movement and the National Indian Youth Council were formed

Today, NCAI is primarily focused on tribal sovereignty which they believe is at the heart of almost every issue that faces Native American Nations.

Although being a completely sovereign nation cannot solve all the problems facing Native Americans, without this first step there is little that these nations can do if they are not respected and considered to be sovereign nations. Recently they have made great strides on this front, in 2009 the Embassy for Tribal Nations was opened in Washington DC. They have also made progress on the removal of racist depictions of Native peoples in the form of Mascots.

An anti-defamation ad created by NCAI

Although NCAI had little to do with the passing of NAGPRA (their website does not even mention it in the organization’s history) they support its implementation. However, they believe that it and similar laws, such as the Indian Arts and Crafts act need to be more strictly enforced. They also advocate for the renewal of Native Languages. They cite that “seventy of the remaining 139 spoken tribal languages could become extinct,” this year. They advocate for more immersion and revitalization programs to bring these languages back from the brink.

NCAI seems to be about as adept at what they do as other advocacy groups of similar scope, what is noteworthy is that they were the first to do so for Native Americans and continue to do so today, over seventy years later. There will always be pros and cons to advocacy groups like this, but I for one believe that they will always be one of the best non-violent ways to address today’s issues.



Additional Material:

2015 State of the Indian Nation

An article by a Native American who is unsatisfied with the results: