Racism against indigenous peoples in Europe

Truth Commissions to assess racism against Sami (Press Release)

The Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) welcomes the decision of the Swedish government to provide the Sami Parliament with funds to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Since 2017, Truth Commissions have also been introduced in Norway and Finland in order to address racism against the indigenous Sami. "This important step should help the indigenous Sami to gain recognition and respect. In Sweden, Finland, and Norway, racism against the Sami and a lack of respect for their culture, their society, and their rights are still widespread," stated Yvonne Bangert, STP expert on indigenous peoples, in Göttingen on Friday. It is crucial to allow the Sami to speak up for themselves – and to ensure that they will be heard. "It is up to them to specify how forced assimilation, forced resettlement, and the denial of their basic rights should be dealt with," Bangert said.

Sweden's Minister for Equality and Integration, Asa Lindhagen, admits that Sami still often become victims of racism in the country. The Swedish Sami parliament "Sameting" has been calling for the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission along the lines of the Canadian model for years. From 2008 onwards, the Canadian commission had assessed the catastrophic consequences of the forced assimilation of indigenous people in the school system – and the results were presented in its final report in 2015.

The Sami in Sweden are planning to specify the goals of the commission by autumn 2020. Will its work be primarily concerned with the topic of children who were taken away from their parents in order to forcibly assimilate them in Swedish schools – or should it be a priority to come to terms with the forced resettlement and the systematic denial of indigenous land rights? "Based on testimonies of their elders, but also on reports of current cases of racism, the aim is to assess the widespread discrimination in order to advocate for more respect for their history and culture among the majority population," Bangert stated.  

Sweden's Sami have also received support for their cause from the Catholic Church. Antje Jackelén, Archbishop of Uppsala and chairwoman of the Swedish Bishops' Conference, who is originally from Germany, had already called for a comprehensive review of racism against the Sami in 2016, emphasizing that it is also necessary to investigate the role of the church with regard to human rights violations – as Sweden's church ran most of the schools in which Sami children were forcibly assimilated.