Education International
Education International

UEN congratulates the Sámi people on their Day

published 7 February 2013 updated 8 February 2013

On 6 February, the Sámi National Day, or Sámi Álbmotbeaivi (Sámi People’s Day), was celebrated throughout Sámpi, the land of the Indigenous Sami in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. This is the date of the first Sámi gathering in 1917 in Trondheim, Norway.

EI’s affiliate, Union of Education Norway (UEN), has cherished this celebration, and pointed out that this year’s Sámi National Day is the 20th anniversary of the first celebration of the national day in 1993.

The Sámi movement adopted the key symbols of a nation – national day, flag and national anthem - at the Nordic Sami Convention in 1986. These were major achievements for the Sámi people, whose population is estimated to be between 70,000 and 100,000 in northern Europe.

Standing up for basic principles

As with many Indigenous peoples, the Sámi suffered a past dominated by discrimination, particularly regarding language, culture and ownership of land.

Nowadays, the situation is much improved, but far from ideal. Sámi people still experience discrimination within Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia and struggle to have their rights enshrined by law.

Since the 1960s, however, the Sámi have increased their international presence greatly, becoming a major force in Indigenous politics and human rights. They have interacted with other Indigenous groups at all levels of national and international organisations.

Indeed, a teacher from the Norwegian Sámi, Ole Henrik Magga, was elected the first chairman of the United Nations Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues (2002). Therefore, the Maya in Central America, Inuit in Greenland, aborigines in Australia, pygmies in Congo and all the other indigenous peoples around the world, are represented by a Sámi from Norway.

Affected by the same mechanisms

“Some say we Scandinavians should be quiet because we are so well-treated compared with other Indigenous peoples,” said Ole Hendrik Magga.

“We do not risk being murdered, no, but the same mechanisms affect us too, irrespective of the standard of living. And it is silly to say that we have nothing to complain about because our standard of living is higher,” added Magga. “It’s like saying that our unions should not fight for better wages because workers in Central America only earn 1% of what we do.”

Top concerns

Sámi work for the recognition of their culture, language and rights, including land rights.Their rights and general situation differ considerably depending on the nation state in which they live.

The Sámi language is currently used in local schools, and a Sámi Parliament has been established in Norway. The Sámi are also campaigning for first rights to ownership of natural resources in their region.

The Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of Indigenous people, James Anaya (January 2011)on the situation of the Sámi people in the Sámpi region of Norway, Sweden and Finland concluded that Sámi people do not have to deal with many of the socio-economic concerns that commonly face indigenous peoples throughout the world, such as serious health problems, extreme poverty or hunger.

In particular, the governments of Norway, Sweden and Finland each pay a relatively high level of attention to Indigenous issues, at least in comparison to other countries. However, more remains to be done to ensure that Sámi people can pursue their right to self-determination and their right to natural resources.

Today their flags are raised and the song of the Sámi people is sung in the regional Sámi dialect. In some places the Sámi celebrations last over a week with features such as concerts by Sámi musicians, lectures, outdoor markets, art displays and Sámi sports competitions.

These events are an opportunity for the Sámi people to come together and at the same time teach others about their culture and history.

Trade unions play a key role

Education unions have an important role to play in the achievement of the Education For All (EFA) for indigenous peoples.

The EI Committee on Indigenous Issues has been established and its working agenda includes a review of the implementation of the EFA goals for indigenous peoples, preparation for the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (2014), and consideration of the Millennium Development Goals’ agenda for indigenous peoples beyond 2015.

EI’s affiliate, Union Education Norway (UEN), which is represented on the EI Committee on Indigenous Issues, has supported the process, initiated by EI’s Latin America office in Costa Rica, on public policies for education of indigenous populations.

To read ‘Intercultural Multilingual Education in Latin America’, published by EI Latin America Regional Office in cooperation with Union Education Norway (UEN) in 2011,  please click here(PDF).


EI World Congress resolutions concerning Indigenous education: