Sáhkavuorru konferánssas Truth and Reconciliation in stable Democratic States

Sámediggeráđđi Runar Myrnes Balto doalai sáhkavuoru konferánssas UiT:s Romssas golggotmánu 16.b. 2023 mii čalmmustahtii duohtavuođa- ja soabahankommišuvnnaid, oktan Norgga kommišuvnna loahpparaporttain, mii biddjui ovdan geassemánu 1.b. dán jagi. Sámediggeráđi sáhkavuoru fáddán lei geainnu meroštallan duohta soabaheapmái - konkrehta vuordámušat sámi-dáru oktavuođaide (Defining the Road to True Reconciliation – Concrete Expectations for Sámi-Norwegian Relations). Sáhkavuorru lei eŋgelasgillii:

Buore beaivi buohkaide. Háliidan erenomážit sidjiide geat bohtet guhkkin eret sávvat buresboahtima deike Sápmái.

Good day everyone. I would especially like to say to those who have travelled from afar, welcome to Sápmi!

My name is Runar Myrnes Balto, I am a member of the governing council of the Sámi Parliament in Norway, where I am assigned the task of preparing the Sámi Parliament’s positions with regards to the Truth and Reconciliation process. I am honoured to be able to address you, and on behalf of the Sámi Parliament, I would like to thank UiT for arranging this important conference. I would also like to thank the honourable members of the Commission who are present here today, for their important contributions. 

Reconciliation for the Sámi is a future goal, an ideal for a society where the Sámi and the majority can live with mutual trust and security for their own culture. If the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has shown us anything through its meticulous documentation of Norwegianization, it's that the road ahead is long. 

Thousands have lost their language. Thousands have lost their identity, and their relationship to their own culture. And several thousand others are today in a situation where they live with the enduring pressures inherited from the official Norweganization policy. 

With this I mean issues such as hate speech and racism, health issues as well as an ongoing outer pressure towards our culture. My summary of the report is that Norwegianization has inflicted, and continues to inflict, harm on the Sámi population. And then there is the pain, from lived experiences, and inherited pain. 

The pressing question is, what happens now? From the Sámi Parliament's perspective, we are in the middle of a process where we are asking the Sámi for their input on this very issue. We want to hear their direct reactions to the Commission's report, their thoughts on reconciliation, and their vision for the way forward. The deadline for the written hearing is October 31, and we have a digital hearing scheduled for this week. For us, it is important to listen to the people before we start outlining the Sámi Parliament’s official views on the matter.

As we contemplate our next steps, it's crucial to look beyond our borders. We can learn valuable lessons from the experiences of indigenous peoples in other countries who have undergone similar truth and reconciliation processes. Their journeys offer insights into the complexities and challenges of such a monumental task. So I am glad that this conference gives us the opportunity for a broader approach with experiences from Canada, Greenland, Finland and Sweden. It is indeed always a very emotional experience to listen to the experiences of the Canadian Indigenous peoples. We feel the pain, and even though it is a different and perhaps more dramatic experience in Canada – it still gives us tools to start tackling our own pains.

As the Commission itself states, reconciliation is a process, not something that can be decreed. It's a relationship between each people on one side, and the majority and the state on the other. Just as the Sámi have a right to a reconciliation process with the state, we also respect that the Kvens and Forest Finns have the same right.

So far, there hasn't been much debate in our society about the content of the report. That's not surprising. The report is extensive, and it takes time for us all to let the scope sink in. There is a lot of pain. We read about the pain of the 700 who have contributed their personal stories, and we feel a collective pain. Also, this happens at a time when there is a lot going on in and around our societies. Last week’s massive protests – by Sámi standards – against the government’s failure to follow the Supreme Court ruling in the Fosen case, is an obvious example. There is a pain in the realization that Indigenous People’s rights in this country may be ignored, even when the Courts have sided with the Sámis. When today our brave youth meet with King Harald the Fifth to talk about the Fosen situation, it illustrates the grooving lack of trust between Sámis and the state. 

When the government will not listen, they must put their trust in the king. Albeit the king today only has symbolic power, it is a move that has a long history. Arnfinn Nygård today has a very interesting opinion peace written in the Nordlys newspaper that compares this situation with one from the height of the Norwegianization process when in 1906 Ole Thomassen from Hattfjelldal and Martin Jonassen got a private audience with King Haakon the seventh. The issue, as today, was the legal standing and future survival of the reindeer husbandry. Nygård argues that the striking similarities between today’s situation and the one from the first year of Norway’s independence from Sweden, show that the Norwegian government is undermining the Truth and Reconciliation process.  

The crisis of trust between the Sámi and the state is one of the central

observations being repeated these days. When the state fails to follow up on a Supreme Court ruling, it undermines the principles of legal security. Thousands are raising questions about what this means for the legal protection of the Sámi in general. How safe are the other rights, to language, culture and land and water? This is especially relevant when large-scale developments in Sámi areas are being planned without proper consultation.

The crisis of trust extends to other areas as well, such as the lack of willingness to strengthen laws about students' language rights or the insufficient healthcare provisions for Sámi patients. There is also a lack of trust regarding measures to counteract racism and hate speech. In addition, the lack of will to fund Sámi measures, such as institutions and projects, is a cause for concern and eroding trust. Most Sámi institutions are severely underfunded in relation to their task and to comparable institutions in the greater Society. 

What then does this lack of trust and ongoing human rights violation mean for the possible reconciliation? Is it possible at this time, and how can we still move forward if the answer turns out to be no during our deliberations?

As I see it, there are two central pillars in reconciliation: building trust on

one side and restoring what has been damaged and lost on the other.

Trust-building must be central to the work of reconciliation. It involves the

state showing a willingness to take Sámi rights seriously.

Sámi individuals, no matter where they live, must be offered tailored services. They must have the opportunity to learn and practice language, culture, traditions, and Sámi natural use. For many, this will be a deeply personal journey. It will be about identity, self-worth, equality and belonging.  When something is damaged and broken, it must be fixed and healed. For me, it's clear that the state has a responsibility to make amends for the harm that has been done.

On a collective level for the Sámi as a people, it's about the survival of our

culture. Therefore, there is an urgency for us as a people to take measures to repair the damage. My stance is that this is where we must start. At the restoration part of the reconciliation, with measures for repairing what is lost. To take back. 

Yet a list of measures in itself cannot be equated with reconciliation. So, when the Sámi Parliament deliberates in March of next year, the question of what reconciliation means will surely be debated. For many the notion that the parliament should treat reconciliation as an issue of quid pro quo, where a list of measures of a sum of money is traded in for reconciliation, rings hollow. Especially in a time where the trust is so low. 

Surely, the conversation about reconciliation will need time. The questions are so personal and complex, and the Commission itself does indeed point to the fact that reconciliation is a process. 

The repair process on the other hand cannot wait, as it is a pre-requisite for a future reconciliation. Perhaps it is too early to talk about reconciliatory measures, as it implies a certain quid pro quo and a final settlement. Maybe we should talk first and foremost about measures to fix the damage. What is needed first, are restorative measures, repairing measures, remedial measures, or whatever word we prefer.

I believe the choice of words is important. Even though the commission addresses reconciliatory measures, as requested by the Norwegian parliament, I believe that reconciliation is such a complex process that it needs to span several generations. Furthermore, it is the oppressed people that need to have the final say. 

So, my advice to the Norwegian Parliament will be to be very cautious in terms of defining what measures will be needed for reconciliation after the Norwegianzation. After all, the ugly policy of Norwegianization reared its head to several generations of Sámi, time and time again. 

And then, in the future, we can assess whether we are closer to a state of reconciliation. Whether the state has been able to build trust and restore what has been lost. 

The next steps after the Sámi People and the Sámi Parliament has had its say, must be to facilitate true consultations between the Norwegian Parliament and the Sámi Parliament in terms of the measures. Nothing about without us, is a popular saying among Indigenous Peoples internationally. It certainly applies here, especially when the goal is to facilitate reconciliation after the policy of oppression. 

I am afraid that this may be forgotten in the hectic times in Oslo, since we do not have the formal framework of a system to facilitate consultations between the Norwegian Parliament and the Sámi Parliament, as we have between the Government and the Sámi Parliament. It will be very important for the Norwegian Parliament to remember this. Otherwise, one may ask whether the Parliament has learned anything at all from the report, which portrays a time when the Norwegian government decided policy for the Sámi against the Sámis will. Furthermore, I would call for the Parliament to respect the right of the Kvens and the Forest Finns to their own process of reconciliation, to ensure their right to determine reconciliation themselves. We will support their process with clear solidarity.   

In conclusion, while reconciliation is a complex, long-term process that requires the full engagement of both the Sámi people and the Norwegian state, the work of repair should not wait. Maybe we should first focus on immediate, restorative actions that can pave the way for a more comprehensive reconciliation in the future.

Thank you. Giitu.