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Historical Synopsis of the Sami/United Nations Relationship
by Christian Jakob Burmeister Hicks
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Saami Today
  The Saami educational assimilation policy continued until the mid-twentieth century. As social theory changed and the Saami presence became more acceptable within the Norway, Sweden and Finland, the anti-Saami language rules were softened. Starting in the 1960’s, the Saami began to assert themselves strongly. Their presence was seen in political and social venues throughout Fenno-Scandia. With the changes in the Saami political assertions, came a change in Saami well-being. Today the political and societal standing for Saami individuals is at its greatest in all of history. There are Saami schools, social organizations, businesses, and political parties. The Saami language is on track to be recognized as an official language on all government documents that pertain to Saami issues. (Nystad, 2002) The standard of living for Saamis is nearly equal to that of their fellow Scandinavian citizens. Though the situation has changed for the better, many things have yet to be resolved. Land claims and hunting rights issues are continuously worked and reworked for the Saami. Though the three Nordic countries have made great strides for Saami rights, they are technically all in violation of certain United Nations (UN) mandates. (UN, 1995) Many of these rights the Saami feel should have been granted already.
  Saami Today
  The Saami have increased their international presence greatly since the 1960’s. In the last ten years this presence has become a major force in indigenous politics and human rights. They have interacted with other indigenous groups, and on all levels of national and international organizations. They have done so perhaps more effectively than almost any other indigenous nation.[4] They have done so in a unique way in comparison to other ethnic minorities.
  The Saami have never been a cohesive ethnic group. (The Kola Lapps, 2001) The contemporary pan-Saami movement was created out of an ethnic artificiality. There were only minor indications of such things as pan-Saami culture prior to the 1960s. The one exception to this may be the Saami movements earlier in the twentieth century. Karl Nickul points out, “There was Lappish collective action prior to mid 1920's but stopped then because of the negative attitude of the authorities.” (1977, 75) The Saami elite found it necessary to create such a paradigm (with the help of non-Saami) to legitimate and authenticate their land, resource, intellectual, and cultural claims. (Conrad, 1999, 1) By creating such an artifice the Saami movement has been able to increase their presence. It is an effective tool for presenting a cohesive front in the struggle for self-determination and political interplay., “It [successful Saami political organization] must have a complete political action program-one that is almost ideological in scope-that can unite the Saami community in support....To a great extent, the Nordic Saami have been able to accomplish this with the establish of national and pan-Nordic organization to represent their collective interests…” (Sillanpää, 1994, 228)

The Saami participate in and/or sponsor many transnational conferences and alliances.[5] “The Sami (Lapps) of Sweden, Norway and Finland have also been active on the international scene, both at United Nations meetings and as founder members of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples.” (Burger, 1987, 60) Saami work closely with the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC), Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAPON), and other indigenous groups. Before the current ‘International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples’ was even conceived, Saami were leading at international conferences and forums.

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Historical synopsis of the Sami/United Nations relationship,
by Christian J. B. Hicks.
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