Address by the Prime Minister to the Sámediggi (Sámi Parliament)

Mr Chair, Members of the Sámediggi. This is a momentous occasion – to be standing before you in the plenary hall of the Sámi Parliament – the Sámediggi – as Prime Minister. Thank you for this opportunity to greet the Sámediggi in plenum. As is customary, I would like to acknowledge that we are now in the traditional homeland of the Sámi people. We will conduct ourselves with consideration and respect.

Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre in the Sámi Parliament
Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre in the Sámi Parliament. Credit: Anne Kristin Hjukse / Office of the Prime Minister

Here, in this beautiful building, the concrete symbol of the political and legal status of the Sámi people in our country.

Against the backdrop of this major work of art, Luottat (‘Traces’), where artist Hilde Skancke Pedersen has incorporated traces of ancient Sámi ruins and burial sites.

Traces, remnants, patterns and labyrinths left behind by a culture and its stories.

Mr Chair,

My visit here has been planned for a long time.

But it has gained new significance following the recent protests and actions in Oslo in support of the Sámi reindeer herders on the Fosen peninsula. 

It is now one week since the Norwegian Government apologised to the Sámi reindeer herders from Fosen.

We apologised and acknowledged that the decisions taken in 2013 to award licences to build and operate the wind turbines entail a violation of human rights. Because, as the Supreme Court of Norway has established, they have a substantive negative impact on the ability of the Sámi reindeer herders to enjoy their own culture.

The right of the Sámi people to enjoy their own culture is enshrined in various conventions that Norway has joined in order to safeguard indigenous rights. We have a responsibility to ensure that these rights are upheld.   

And I would like to emphasise, standing at this podium today, that the Government takes this responsibility very seriously, and will work meticulously and as quickly as possible in the ongoing effort to follow up the Supreme Court’s ruling.    

This has taken too long.

We will do all we can to rectify the situation.

I look forward to close cooperation, in an atmosphere of trust, with the reindeer herders on the Fosen peninsula, and with the Sámediggi, to find a solution that safeguards the rights of the Sámi people. And that shows that we are working together to resolve this issue – taking joint responsibility. 

And, Mr Chair, I would like to share something that was said to me by one of the reindeer herders from Fosen when I met with them last Friday. He told me that over the years of challenges and setbacks in connection with this matter, the reindeer herders felt that the Norwegian state was not there for them. They felt that they were not seen. Not understood. They felt they were alone, in an uncertain and very difficult situation.  

His words made a deep impression on me. Because that is not how it should be.

We are all equal before the law in Norway. We must all be able to trust that the state is a fair and just custodian of laws, that laws are followed, that our rights are safeguarded and that we will be met with respect by the authorities.

This is essential to be able to live together, in all our diversity. For there to be a ‘we’ that embraces all of us in Norway.

The Sámi people and the Norwegian people share a common story, a common history.

But the history of the Sámi people, as an indigenous people, goes back further. Your history has deeper roots.  

You were here a long, long time ago.

Long before borders were drawn, states established, state institutions created, and laws written down.

The Sámi people discovered the natural resources to be found here, on land, in the rivers, in the sea, and learned how to use and protect them.

You shared the knowledge you gained from living at one with nature, with us, Norwegian society at large.

A broad fellowship that today is made up of mainstream society and local communities, majority and minority groups, indigenous groups and new settlers – and the many immigrants to our country. Which we celebrated so joyfully across the country on Sámi National Day. The 6th of February has now been an official flag day for 20 years. 

Mr Chair,

For hundreds of years, the Norwegian and Sámi peoples coexisted side by side, including when it came to the use of natural resources.

But there have been many painful decades during which the Norwegian state pursued a policy of Norwegianisation, implemented by force, a grave injustice with consequences for Sámi language, culture and identity.

An injustice perpetrated by the Norwegian state against the Sámi people – for which His Majesty The King has formally apologised on behalf of the whole country, here in this very hall.   

We still need more knowledge about what took place during the period of Norwegianisation.

How it could have happened, why it happened and what we can learn from it today.

So that we can look to the future.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission therefore has a crucial task. It will be submitting its report to the Storting before the summer, and this will give us a foundation on which to move forward, based on knowledge and reconciliation.

That is what we need.

Truth and reconciliation. Human dignity and equality.

Because there are still challenges to overcome: Languages that are dying. Traditional ways of life not being passed down to the next generation. Health challenges. Population decline in traditional Sámi settlement areas. 

Many Sámis also have to contend with discrimination and harassment. News stories about the Sámi people often trigger the spread of hateful comments. The President of the Sámediggi, your most prominent representative, has been subjected to harassment and threats on social media in the last few days. Many Sámi young people have reported the same.      

This is very serious.

It creates a sense of insecurity.

It is unacceptable. This is not how it should be.

Ignorance breeds prejudice.

And prejudice can lead to discrimination.

Mr Chair,

We need to acknowledge the past – and the present – to be able to tackle what lies ahead.

The new National Museum, the largest art museum in the Nordic region, opened in Oslo in June last year.

One of the first things the more than a million visitors to the museum have seen is a three-metre-high and five-metre-wide work by Máret Ánne Sara from Kautokeino: a wall hanging featuring 400 reindeer skulls arranged to reference the Sámi flag.

It is a powerful work.

The political message is clear – and brutal: the battle for animals, grazing land and rights.

In 2022, the Nordic Pavilion at the Venice Biennale was dedicated to the works of Máret Ánne Sara and two other Sámi artists.

This is one of many examples of how Sámi culture is gaining a wider footprint – in Norway and internationally – films, TV series, and music, traditional and contemporary, are topping the charts.

We want to see more of this.   

As stated in its political platform, the Government will implement a major initiative to strengthen the Sámi languages and promote Sámi culture at the national level. 

The construction of a Sámi national theatre and Sámi upper secondary school and reindeer husbandry school is going according to plan. And the planning process for the construction of a Sámi art museum is under way.

Our aim is to strengthen the Sámi languages at all levels, from pre-school day care, through primary and secondary school, and into higher education.

This year, the Government is increasing its allocation for Sámi language training and is setting aside more funding for Sámi teaching materials.

And as of 1 August, pre-school day care is free in northern Troms and Finnmark.

We are doing all of this because knowledge of the Sámi languages is diminishing and under threat.

I recall my visit to a school in Tana a few years ago. The Sámi language teacher was pregnant at the time and told me she was very concerned about what would happen when she was on maternity leave. Who would teach the children Sámi in her absence?  

Many municipalities are making a tremendous effort to improve the situation. Many individuals, both teachers and administrators of schools and day-care centres, are working tirelessly to provide Sámi language training.

They deserve greater recognition.

At the same time, we cannot simply rely on the efforts of dedicated and passionate individuals. Everyone’s right to receive Sámi language training and tuition in Sámi must be fulfilled. Regardless of whether or not they live in a Sámi district.   

If we are to achieve this, we must recruit and train more Sámi-speaking teachers than is currently the case.   

This is why the Government has chosen competence and recruitment as the main themes of this year’s white paper on Sámi language, culture and way of life.   

There is a bigger picture here: If we succeed in getting more people to keep using the Sámi languages throughout their education, from pre-school all the way through higher education, it will broaden the recruitment base for pre-school day-care centres, schools and Sámi institutions. It will strengthen the Sámi languages – and in turn reinforce Sámi identity.

And as a result, knowledge of Sámi history and culture among the rest of us will increase.

Mr Chair,

Today, we are faced with challenges and opportunities that will demand the best of us as a society, in all parts of the country.

We are now faced with tasks that will require us to find solutions that reflect our diversity and respect the rights of minority and majority groups alike.

We need to use and manage our natural resources in a responsible and sustainable way.

Together, we must adapt to and combat global climate change. The impacts affect us all – and they are particularly pronounced here in the north.

As the elected politicians of today, we have a special responsibility to take action to address climate change for the sake of future generations. There is a great deal at stake.

The Arctic is becoming warmer, the ice is melting, ancient artefacts and other traces of the past are emerging from the glaciers. The shape of the landscape is changing.

The weather conditions are becoming increasingly harsh. We are seeing longer periods when the sea and its riches are less accessible to coastal fishers – and we are seeing reindeer grazing grounds that are freezing over, as I was told this morning on a visit outside Karasjok.  

We must stand together and unite behind a prudent policy that can enable us to adapt to and limit the impacts of climate change, as we have promised the rest of the international community and the generations to come.

We must stand together in regional and national forums – and at the global level. We must draw on the knowledge and experience of the Sámi people, as I realised when I was foreign minister and shared my allotted speaking time in meetings on Arctic issues with the President of the Sámediggi.

Mr Chair,

I welcome the engagement of Sámi organisations, businesses and individuals, particularly young people, in addressing climate and environmental issues. Here, indigenous peoples across the world are playing a crucial role – raising their voices, ringing the alarm bells and rousing countries and authorities from their slumber.

Because you understand what is happening.

We have some important choices to make.

To achieve the climate targets, to restructure the economy and promote more sustainable growth, to provide heating for households and energy for businesses, we will need more renewable energy – and that means we will need a larger electricity grid – and greater energy efficiency – across the country.

This will require a comprehensive restructuring process.

Throughout the country, plans are now being drawn up for how to exploit our renewable energy resources – onshore and offshore wind power and solar power. The green transition is well under way.

At the same time, in some areas of the country, we are moving towards a power deficit that is limiting companies’ income and growth – and making electricity unusually expensive.

This is not yet the case in the northernmost part of Norway. But it will be. If we stand idly by and do not act now.

There are significant opportunities for renewable energy development in the north.

And numerous opportunities to develop new industries and create a wide array of new, modern workplaces.

Just like other young people, Sámi young people want to be able to choose from a diverse range of jobs when they are deciding where and how to live their lives.

They want to take part in value creation.

If we are to maintain settlement patterns – and ensure that we have Sámi language users, bearers of Sámi culture, in the areas of the country where Sámi is the language of everyday use – secure jobs will be essential. And they must be varied.

To preserve and create new jobs in the north – especially in Finnmark – we must increase power supplies and strengthen the basic infrastructure.

This will not happen on its own.

In order to succeed, we must make use of all our wisdom and knowledge, as a society.

We must ensure that those who are affected are involved at an early stage.

We must ensure that we have good routines in place for consultation and dialogue.

And let me reiterate: we will safeguard traditional industries – such as reindeer husbandry, coastal fisheries and agriculture. We will respect and take steps to protect the right of indigenous people to enjoy their own culture.

We must improve our routines for consultations with the Sámediggi, and with the reindeer husbandry industry and other relevant industries. This we have learned.

We must take responsibility for ensuring that consultations are carried out in a respectful manner, and that the decisions taken are binding.

We must start our consultations early on in order to promote constructive processes and prevent conflicts over land use in the future.

We must safeguard the right of all parties to be heard.

Taking full advantage of democracy’s open channels of communication and cooperation.

The Sámediggi represents legitimacy, fosters identity and belonging, and brings together diverse Sámi voices.    

As a result, we should now be better equipped to tackle challenges. And better able to establish cooperation and consensus, than we were just a few decades ago.

We should be able to give weight to many different considerations at once – even if we cannot always reconcile them. And when interests collide, we must have good routines in place for finding solutions that are worthy of a state governed by the rule of law.

The door to dialogue must be kept open.

The meetings I had last week with Sámi young people in Trinity Church in Oslo and with two generations of Sámi reindeer herders from the Fosen peninsula made a strong impression on me.

And on behalf of the Government, I would like to make it absolutely clear:

We will strengthen our dialogue.

Strengthen our cooperation.

Strengthen the way we listen to, respect and learn from the Sámi people.

And I would like to thank the President of the Sámediggi for the open and frank discussions we have had over the last few weeks.

Mr Chair,

In closing, I would like to say that it is especially important to stand together now. We are living in turbulent times.

Our neighbour here in the northeast, Russia, is trying to conquer one of its other neighbouring countries, with a level of brutality not seen since the Second World War.

In this situation, we need to maintain calm, cooperation, stability and low tensions here in the north. And we need to resolve our internal issues in a manner that is worthy of our democracy.

We need to treat the Russian people with respect, as we have done for centuries, especially here in the border areas. And I know that you are concerned about your Sámi brothers and sisters on the Russian side of the border. I share your concern.

There is a good Sámi saying I have learned: ‘Time is a ship that never casts anchor’. Our journey is never-ending, as a society, as a nation and as peoples. Two peoples – travelling in the same boat.

Democracy at its best is a learning process.

Democracy gathers experiences along the way, some more difficult than others, and uses these as the basis for better decisions at the next crossroads.

This is how we forge new paths forward.

And I am committed to doing this.

Thank you.