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Published: 12 Jun, 2015

Debate article: “The state rejects research in legal process against a Sami community”

NEWS In a debate article recently published in Swedish Dagens Nyheter initiated by representatives from the Centre for Sami Research (CeSam) at Umeå University, 59 researchers have signed to show how the state’s handling of the research results in the Girjas sameby courtcase poses a threat against Sweden as a constitutional state.

Anna-Lill Ledman and Isabelle Brännlund, both researchers at CeSam expressed how listening to parts of the court case and the problematic reasoning put forward by the state representatives made it evident how the court case had taken an ominous turn.

“After having discussed the matter with researchers from other higher education institutions it was clear that a public statement needed to be made. The response to our appeal has been enormous. Great parts of Swedish researchers support the debate article and the discussions revolving the text have been intense,” they say in a joint comment.

The English translation of the debate article can be found below.


The Sami in Sweden are recognised as a people, an Indigenous people and a national minority.

The traditional Sami lands, Sápmi, encompass parts of northern Sweden, Norway, Finland and the Kola Peninsula of Russia.

In a current civil case in the Gällivare District Court, Girjas sameby (the Girjas reindeer herding community) has together with the National Union of the Swedish Sami (Svenska Samernas Riksförbund, SSR) sued the Swedish state for the confiscation of the sameby’s exclusive rights to hunt and fish on its land. In the lawsuit, the state is represented by the Office of the Chancellor of Justice and its appointed legal representatives.

Debate article published in Dagens Nyheter on 11 June 2015

The state rejects research in legal process against a Sami community

The state shows a problematic attitude towards modern research about Sami matters and questions the Sami people’s status as an Indigenous people. Furthermore, the state’s characterisation of Sami people uses a rhetoric that evokes an antiquated cultural hierarchy and racial biology. The individuals signing this debate article are researchers at Swedish universities and higher education institutions with sound knowledge of Sami related research. It is our strong opinion that the state’s standpoint and use of language poses a threat to Sweden as a state dedicated to the principle of justice and as a nation that respects research and knowledge.

Sweden is keen to profile itself as a nation with a strong focus on knowledge, where research is highly valued. When research is used in a court case, or when it is used for guidance in social development, it should be self-evident that the state’s arguments and decisions are based on scientific foundations. However, in the state’s treatment, research results have been taken out of context, and modern research in the area is undermined. The following quote illustrates our point:

“The state perceives the considerations and suggestions in these parts of the investigation [referring to the Swedish State Official Report, SOU 2001:101] as an expression of a tendency in recent decades by the official investigative system and research literature to emphasize and support Sami interests and demands. This tendency has in all likelihood been inspired by the international situation of concern for the rights of the indigenous peoples and, generally speaking, by the increased focus on Sami interests in the public debate.” (Statement and evidence in case T323-09, page 34).

Over the past decades Indigenous research has strived actively to include historically ignored perspectives. We argue that the state intends to disqualify this research as biased in order to appear as a neutral and objective party. By doing so, the state disqualifies significant parts of Swedish as well as international research. In a democratic society that claims to value knowledge and research, this is as regrettable as it is ominous.

Furthermore, the state takes the interpretive prerogative to redefine Sami ethnicity, by resurrecting the outdated and derogatory term “Lapp”.

“In the past one has spoken of Lapps and nowadays one speaks of Sami, but these are not really the same thing, since the Lapps were the nomads without reference to ethnic belonging, while the Sami are an ethnic group. […] we consider it important to keep these terms distinct and will therefore try to talk about Lapps with regard to nomads and people who lived by the Lapp livelihoods which were hunting, fishing, and reindeer herding.” (Oral claim, Gällivare District Court, 2 June 2015)

Worrying use of language

This linguistic usage harkens back to the era of racial biology and bears witness to an astonishing ignorance of historical conditions.

Another controversial statement made by the state questions the status of the Sami as an Indigenous people. The state’s representatives maintain that:

“The state’s point of view is also that the sameby’s claim that the Sami are an Indigenous people is of no consequence to this case […] Sweden has no international obligations to recognise special rights of the Sami people whether they are considered an Indigenous people or not.” (Claim, Gällivare District Court, 2 June 2015).

These claims are both remarkable and incorrect. The Swedish Parliament recognised the Sami people as an Indigenous people in 1977 (Prop. 1976/77:80) and in 2010 it was decided that this should be made apparent in the Swedish Constitution, where it is clearly stated that the Sami are a people (Prop. 2009/10:80, revised by RF 1:2 6 par). In other words, Sweden has commitments under international law to guarantee Sami rights, with respect to land, water and self-determination. In court cases concerning land rights on traditional land areas, the rights of Indigenous peoples are therefore of central importance. It is amazing that the state dismisses the legal relevance of the facts that the Sami are both a people and also an Indigenous people. This contradicts both national legislation and internationally established rights.

Unfortunately, the state’s behavior in the Girjas case is neither a novel nor a unique phenomenon. Sweden has distinguished itself negatively for a long time regarding Indigenous rights in the international arena. The state seems anxious to perpetuate its position of shame by disqualifying contemporary research and by questioning the established rights of the Sami people.

We find it extremely disturbing that:

the state rejects decades of state financed and academic peer-reviewed researchthe state reverts to a linguistic usage and  rhetoric which derive from the period of racial biology
the state questions the status of the Sami as an Indigenous people.

We urge the state to start acting in a manner befitting a democratic nation ruled by law and informed by knowledge and research.


Christina Allard, JD, Luleå University of Technology

Dag Avango, FD, KTH Royal Institute of Technology

Per Axelsson, FD, Umeå University

Hugh Beach, Professor, Uppsala University

Kristina Belancic, doctoral student, Umeå University

Isabelle Brännlund, FD, Umeå University

Coppélie Cocq, FD, Umeå University.

Öje Danell, Professor emeritus, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

Birgitta Fossum, FD, Saemien sijte

Gunlög Fur, Professor, Linnaeus University

Märit Frändén, FD, Institute for Language and Folklore

Gloria Gallardo, Associate Professor, Uppsala University

Hillevi Ganetz, Professor, Stockholm University

Carina Green, FD, Uppsala University

Sven Hassler, MD, University West

Lis-Marie Hjortfors, doctoral student, Umeå University

Leena Huss, Professor, Uppsala University

Lars Jacobsson, Professor, Umeå University

Peter Johansson, FD, University of Gothenburg

Rasmus Kløcker Larsen, FD, Stockholm Environmental Institute (SEI)

Marie Kvarnström, researcher, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

Gunilla Larsson, FD, Uppsala University

Lars-Gunnar Larsson, Professor emeritus, Uppsala University

Rebecca Lawrence, FD, Stockholm University

Anna-Lill Ledman, FD, Umeå University

Annette Löf, FD, Umeå University

Eva Johansson Lönn, FD, Umeå University

Jon Moen, Professor, Umeå University

Ulf Mörkenstam, Associate Professor, Stockholms universitet

Lena Maria Nilsson, FD, Umeå University

Ragnhild Nilsson, doctoral student, Stockholm University

Erik Norberg, FD, Saemien sijte

Gabriella Nordin, FD, Umeå University

Christer Nordlund, Professor, Umeå University

Björn Norlin, FD, Umeå University

Hanna Outakoski, lecturer, Umeå University

Kaisa Raitio, Associate Professor, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

Elsa Reimerson, doctoral student, Umeå University

Camilla Sandström, Associate Professor, Umeå University

Per Sandström, FD, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

Moa Sandström, doctoral student, Umeå University

Kristina Sehlin Macneil, doctoral student, Umeå University

Per Sjölander, Professor, Akademi Norr

Eva Silvén, FD, Nordiska museet

David Sjögren, FD, Uppsala University

Anna Skarin, FD, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

Peter Sköld, Professor, Umeå University

Krister Stoor, FD, Umeå University

Christina Storm Mienna, MD, Umeå University

Anna Lydia Svalastog, Professor, Uppsala University

Charlotta Svonni, doctoral student, Umeå University

Torbjörn Söder, Associate Professor, Uppsala University

Sverker Sörlin, Professor, KTH Royal Institute of Technology

Håkan Tunón, Farm. Dr., Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

Camilla Widmark, FD, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

Mikael Vinka, FD, Umeå University

Birgitta Åhman, Professor, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

May-Britt Öhman, FD, Uppsala University

Åsa Össbo, FD, Umeå University

Read the Swedish article at

Read Radio Sweden’s coverage at

Editor: Anna Lawrence