The ArcticMainpage
Click to view
of this article
Historical Synopsis of the Sami/United Nations Relationship
by Christian Jakob Burmeister Hicks
Previous ChapterPrevious Chapter Next ChapterNext Chapter
Future Implications
  Saami political leaders continue to view the United Nations as am important step towards greater self-determination. In 1998, the Norwegian Saami Parliament published their three year plan for future actions. This document outlined the importance of continued work with ILO 169 and the United Nation’s WGIP. (Norske Sametinget, 1998, 48-50) In addition, Anne Nourgam, President of the Saami Council pointed out in 2001, “We Saami also work side by side with other indigenous peoples. We are deeply committed to fighting for the human rights of indigenous peoples collectively. This is demonstrated through our on-going and continuous work at the United Nations and other international fora.” (Sami Council, 2001)
  “International law has become an increasingly signigicant mean by which the Saami and the other aboriginal minorities are able to expand their legal position within their own countries.  One can expect this trend in the development of minorities rights will increase.”  (Sillanpää, 1994, 233)
  As the Saami political leaders have cemented their position in international politics, they have turned their attention toward helping other indigenous groups. Indigenous peoples in Africa, Central and South America, and Asia have all benefited from the experience and resources of the Saami Council. John Bernard Henriksen initiated a workshop series for indigenous groups to be held before and after WGIP meetings. These workshops are to familiarize less experienced indigenous leaders with the nuances of international politics. (Henriksen, 2002)

As a dominant indigenous group, the Saami feel it is their obligation to help less fortunate groups. The Maasai of Africa, Tibetans of Asia, and Chittagong Hill Tribes of Bangladesh have all received support from the Saami of Scandinavia.[7] The different UN agencies that deal with indigenous issues have also benefited greatly from the Saami influence. In 1997 through the Saami, Sweden gave $61,633 and Norway gave $68,552 to the Voluntary Fund for the International Decade of the World's Indigenous People. (UN, 1998, 10) In 1997-1998, Finland and Norway each almost contributed nearly $100,000 in addition to the money given to the Voluntary Fund.[8] (UN, 1998, 4)

  Finland, Norway, and Sweden are involved in regional collaborations as well as their UN affiliation. Since 1996, the Nordic States and the Saami have been members of the Arctic Council. The Arctic Council is revolutionary because it is a vast regional organization which has (nearly) equal participation by national governments as well as indigenous groups of the Arctic. It is a policy driven organization to promote sustainability and equality in the Arctic. The Saami are just now starting to become involved in the Barents Euro-Arctic Council. The Barents Council is focused on certain fields of cooperation: economy, trade, science and technology, tourism, environment, infrastructure, educational and cultural exchange health issues, youth, and finally indigenous peoples. (Granholm, 2001) The Norwegian Saami Parliament sees this organization as another priority for future exploitation. (Nystad, 2002)
  What does this all mean for the Saami? Have their leaders in the international arena changed their own situation? Have they improved self-determination for their fellow Saami? This author would contend that is the case.
  Scandinavia enjoys benefits in the global environment from being human rights leaders. They are viewed as the most progressive countries in the world in this respect. The more global links created between regions and communities, the more accountability. When Canada increases self-determination for its indigenous people, Scandinavia feels it must match and surpass them in their own policies. (Henriksen, 2002) When the Saami make a proposal at the Working Group on Indigenous Populations, Norway usually feels it must comply. Norway has much at stake when it comes to these policies. It is both good politics and good business to have their exemplary human rights records. By ratifying ILO 169, Norway entered into an agreement of compliance.
  Despite the fact that not all politicians in Norway agree with the terms of ILO 169, they are bound to comply. (Dunfjeld, 2002) “For NGOs generally, and indigenous peoples in particular, the human rights system has become an increasingly important arena for reminding governments of their internationally mandated obligations.” (Pritchard, 1998, 7)The minimum standards set by ILO 169 have improved land rights and self-determination for the Saami. Even with the resistance in municipal and national governments, Saami involvement in the international arena should continue if the recent historical situation can be an indication of the future. The financial and moral resources may be weakening slightly for Nordic Saami; there is no warning that they shall be removed altogether.
Previous ChapterPrevious Chapter Next ChapterNext Chapter
Historical synopsis of the Sami/United Nations relationship,
by Christian J. B. Hicks.
Copyright Stefansson Arctic Institute and individual authors ©2000
Developed in partnership with the EU Raphael Programme