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Sámi Role in Arctic Affairs: Politics, Research and Activism

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July 28, 2017

Since the 1970s the global Indigenous movement, building on the human rights movement, has gained considerable momentum. In 2000, the United Nations founded the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues as the central coordinating body for matters related to Indigenous peoples; in 2007, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was ratified establishing international legal norms. Indigenous peoples are now playing a significant role in influencing international affairs via new transnational networks. The Sámi are a model for such influence.

Like the Inuit, the Sámi form a multi-nation state – Sápmi – home to approximately 100,000 Sámi from the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola Peninsula of Russia. Sámi culture and traditions evolved over thousands of years through a close relationship to the land. The traditional Sámi economy included fishing, hunting and reindeer herding and husbandry. Beginning in the 17th century the new Scandinavian states began a process of colonization including assimilation efforts. Through the mid-20thcentury the Sámi began mobilizing to protect their rights, forming one of the first international Indigenous organization in the world – the Sámi Council, 1956. In 2016, the Nordic Sámi Agreement was reached to safeguard Sámi constitutional rights and to maintain Sámi language and culture. The Sámi have made significant strides to ensure their rights as a people and to provide effective models for engaging in domestic and international relations.

On June 20th 2017, the University of Washington Henry M Jackson School of International Studies was honored to host five special guests and delegates from Sápmi – Lis-Mari HjortforsMargaretha UttjekMay-Britt Öhman, and Inge Frisk, as well as UW’s colleague from Pacific Lutheran University, Troy Storfjell, and UW’s doctoral candidate in Sámi Studies, Karin Eriksson. Most of the presenters were Sámi themselves, working with aspects on reclaiming Sámi identities and the struggle for the Sámi right to survival and well-being. Scholars and activists presented their work followed by an open discussion with all participants and guests.

This event was sponsored by the International Policy Institute (funded by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York) and Arctic and the International Relations initiativeHenry M. Jackson School of International Studies; the Canadian Studies CenterCenter for West European Studies, and Center for Global Studies, Jackson School (with Title VI grant funding from the Office of Post-secondary Education, International and Foreign Language Education, U.S. Department of Education); UW’s Scandinavian Studies; and UW’s Future of Ice initiative.