Colonialism, Statehood, and Sámi in Norden and the Norwegian High North

In: Human and Societal Security in the Circumpolar Arctic
Author: Wilfrid Greaves

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This chapter examines the role of colonialism in constituting the region of Norden and the modern state of Norway. It argues that complex historical relationships of political domination between Norway, Denmark and Sweden – and of Sámi people by these states, Finland, and Russia – are key for understanding Norwegian state-formation and the construction of the Norway’s national interests in the ‘High North’. The first section outlines Scandinavian colonialism, and argues that colonialism is an appropriate, though underused, analytical lens for understanding interstate relations, state formation, and state-Sámi relations in Norden. The second section focuses on colonialism as it relates to the traditional Sámi homeland of Sápmi, outlining the role of Sámi in Scandinavian state formation and of colonialism in the establishment of modern Norway. It notes that Sámi were important to Norwegian national interests in two ways: by helping to consolidate Norwegian territory in Sápmi/northern Scandinavia, and for facilitating the extraction of northern resources. The third section describes how state policy toward Sámi in the 19th and 20th centuries shaped Sámi people and broader Norwegian society. It then discusses how colonial repression of Sámi cultural identity was challenged from the 1970s onwards, resulting in the establishment of Sámi political institutions and major policy changes for the Norwegian state to better respect Sámi indigenous rights.

Human and Societal Security in the Circumpolar Arctic

Local and Indigenous Communities



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