Norway's Sami vote prompts discrimination claims

Debates heat up as Norway's Sami, the indigenous people of Northern Europe, vote for their own parliament on Monday

Norway's Sami vote prompts discrimination claims

Norway's Sami, the indigenous people of Northern Europe, vote for their own parliament on Monday, but some politicians are calling for the assembly to be dissolved, saying the Sami now enjoy privileged status.

Established in 1989 to strengthen the ethnic group's political position, the Sami parliament mainly has influence over culture, language and education, but it also has a voice in issues of exploitation of natural resources and land rights.

Sami elections are held every four years, in conjunction with national elections that will also take place on Sept. 14.

The right-wing Progress Party, Norway's second biggest political force and a potential future government partner, says the Sami parliament is "undemocratic" because it is based on ethnicity and discriminates against other northern Norwegians.

"The abuse is now against the rest of the population," Progress politician Per Willy Amundsen told Reuters.

"This is a conflict which only will escalate," he said, adding that the parliament gives the Sami rights and privileges that non-Sami in northern Norway do not have.

The Sami faced discrimination and pressure to assimilate into Norwegian society until the early 1980s, with Sami children punished for using their language in public schools.

Oslo still sets rules on traditional reindeer herding and the Sami have little say over offshore oil and gas activities edging closer to their native territories, but Sami culture is cultivated and Sami flags now fly on Norway's national day.

The biggest single concentration of Sami people is in Oslo, a leading government minister is a Sami and Norwegian Navy vessels help ship Sami reindeer herds over remote Arctic fjords, prompting some to say equality has more or less been reached.

"Progress wants to blow us back to the 'Norwegianisation' period," Sami politician Aili Keskitalo told Reuters. "We have to defend what we have established."

Fellow Sami politician Egil Olli, from the Sami Labour party, says the most important election issue for Sami is "how to provide Sami people with Sami language from cradle to grave."

For millennia the Sami, one of Europe's largest indigenous groups, have lived in the barely hospitable Arctic. Most of the Sami population resides in Norway, with groups also living in Sweden, Finland and Russia's Kola peninsula.

Reuters

Last Mod: 12 Eylül 2009, 11:55
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