Protester mot den fria småviltjakten.
The day before the first Sami Parliament was opened, the hunting of small game in the mountain region was permitted. Once again the Swedish state ignored the reindeer herding Sami. This resulted in protests right across Sápmi. Photo: Hans-Olof Utsi.

David and Goliath

The Swedish state did not officially recognize the Sami as an indigenous people until 1977. In 1998, the former Minister for Agriculture and Sami Affairs, Annika Åhnberg, on behalf of the Government, asked for the Sami's forgiveness for the way the state had treated them through history.

The first Reindeer Grazing Act was adopted by the Swedish Parliament in 1886. This was a special piece of legislation that required the definition of the Sami people's rights. The notion of the nomadic Sami as a 'real' Sami meant that civilisation and reindeer herding could not be united. The nomads therefore had to be distinguished from the rest of the population in order to preserve the genuine reindeer herding culture. Under the slogan 'Lapps must be Lapps', the school system was reorganised. The children of nomadic Sami were separated from other children, even from children who were Samis but not nomads (the Nomad School Reform of 1913), and had to attend the Nomadic School. The Sami who had settled were not counted as `real' Sami, and were excluded from the special entitlements enshrined in the Reindeer Grazing Act. From the 1930s onwards, more Sami were forced to abandon reindeer herding, primarily due to forcible relocation and years of famine. These were also excluded from the legislation and were to be actively assimilated into Swedish society.

Rationalisation of reindeer herding
After the Second World War, the state focused on the need to rationalise reindeer herding. Reindeer herding was seen as an under-developed business that had to be modernised. The altered view of reindeer husbandry meant that it was just one of many trades, and that reindeer herding was an occupation. In order to justify separate legislation for the Sami, it was stated at the end of the 1950s that reindeer herding was a precondition for Sami culture and that special measures were required to preserve the Sami culture, i.e. reindeer husbandry. This meant that non-reindeer herders would continue to be excluded, and were not counted as bearers of Sami culture.

New legislation
New, modernised reindeer legislation was adopted in 1971. With the economic and political focus on reindeer husbandry, a system of rights was established that was almost identical to the previous systems from 1886, 1898 and 1928, although with a more democratic wording. It is still the state that establishes clear boundaries and defines who can and cannot claim special entitlements.

Indigenous people and bearers of culture
Since the end of the 1970s, the state has spoken of the Sami as an indigenous people and a national minority. This is partly due to demands being stipulated by strong immigrant groups, which means that the state cannot neglect the demands of the Sami. Reindeer husbandry is described as a bearer of culture and a social interest that has to be safeguarded. 'Sami rights' are discussed and several investigations have been carried out. Origin, relation to the Sami language and a sense of allegiance, instead of reindeer herding,  are now cited as important factors for defining who is a Sami. Various forms of new legislation in new areas were added in the 1990s, such as a Sami Parliament Act and a special Minority Languages Act.

No change
Despite the fact that a new notion of 'Saminess' has been introduced, the Swedish legislation has hardly changed. The state control over reindeer husbandry remains in place, and the format of the Sami Parliament is tightly controlled by the Sami Parliament Act. The Sami Parliament became both a publicly elected body and an authority that is controlled by the Swedish Government. The day before the Sami Parliament was inaugurated, the hunting of small game was permitted in the mountains, despite the objections of the samebys. The Sami still have no political representation in the Swedish Parliament. The Swedish state has still not yet ratified ILO Convention 169 regarding the rights of indigenous peoples. The Government says it wants to clarify all the consequences before taking a decision. As a result, the Sami are still waiting. är en webbplats för dig som vill veta mer om samerna och sápmi.

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