‘Sweden needs to face up to repressive Sami past’

'Sweden needs to face up to repressive Sami past'
Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT
Sweden needs to set up a “truth commission” and face its colonial past by admitting its historic abuse of its indigenous Sami people, the country’s leading church official said Sonunday.

In a debate article published in Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, Archbishop Antje Jackelén and the chairwoman of Sweden’s Saami council, Sylvia Sparrock, wrote that Sweden needs to face up to the way it has treated Sami people throughout history.

“The state’s violations has had huge consequences on the Sami people… We need a truth and reconciliation commission that the Samis need to take part of,” they said.

“In Sweden we talk a lot about [respecting human] rights and internationally we encourage other countries to take on more responsibility… But in order to be able to remain credible when it comes to issues regarding human rights, Sweden must face its historic dues to the Sami people, just like other countries do, and have done.”

They said the Swedish Church has, together with the government, played a great role in the way that the Sami people have been treated, pointing to how Sami people were forced to convert to Christianity, how their places of worship were destroyed and their graves were plundered.

They also referred to how the Swedish priest contributed to the xenophobic and racist treatment of the community, by helping race biologists access members of the Sami community for their research, during which they had their skulls measured and were indexed and photographed.

Up until as late as the 1960s, Sweden ran segregated schools for ethnic Sami children.

“Many of us need to reflect on what has come to light,” they wrote, adding that “it’s not enough with a government-led inquiry, it requires greater independence [from the state] in accordance with the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples.

Last month, the Swedish church admitted to having operated the segregated “nomad schools” for ethnic Sami children, saying they were “based on racist ideas”. It also released a book containing painstakingly details its treatment of Sami.

Also in February, the Sami community scored an encouraging precedent by winning a symbolic court victory over the Swedish state over fishing and hunting rights.

In the ruling, the Sami village of Girjas won the right to administer hunting and fishing on its own territory.

The Samis have lived in Scandinavia since the last Ice Age, for more than 10,000 years.