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President Egil Olli Sami Parliament, Norway Presentation: Safety in Indigenous Areas ICPC 8th Annual Colloquium on Crime


On behalf of the Sami Parliament, I would first of all like to thank you for inviting me to this conference. The Sami Parliament is a representative assembly elected by the people. We are there to strengthen the Sami people’s political position and to assist in making sure the Sami people in Norway are treated fairly. I am pleased to see that we shall have a follow-up of last year’s topic, which was indigenous peoples and crime prevention, in that this year will focus o n safety in indigenous areas. It cannot be taken for granted that everyone who is present here today knows a lot about the Sami people, so I would like to tell you a little more about who we are. The Sami are a true indigenous people. The Sami are one people, but they live in four states: Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. The traditional Sami settlement area stretches from the Kola peninsula in the northeast to Engerdal in Southern Norway, and to Idre in Southern Sweden. In our own language we call this area Sápmi. There are three official Sami languages in Norway: Southern Sami, Lule Sami and Northern Sami. There are also big differences among the Sami, in that some have Sami as their first language, some have Norwegian as their first language and some are bilingual. What language a Sami person chooses to speak will often depend on who he is talking to. What language a person feels most comfortable with, will often depend on the situation. Because the Sami were exposed to a massive norwegianisation until not that many years ago, it cannot be taken for granted that today’s Sami all have a good command of their own Sami language or are fully acquainted with their own Sami culture. The Sami population, and particularly those who have Sami as their mother tongue, that is their first language, have a great need for police services in their own language in order to have proper legal protection.

A police service which is well acquainted with Sami culture, Sami customs and the Sami sense of justice will therefore be of crucial importance for a good police service for the Sami population. For this reason the authorities have a particular responsibility to facilitate a police education that can give future police officers a thorough functional competence in Sami language, culture and social understanding. More should also be done to make Sami young people train as police officers. Having said that, let me underline that the ability of the police to create secure conditions in the Sami areas of Norway is extremely important for the Sami people’s legal protection. In many ways the Sami will have exactly the same needs for security as the rest of the Norwegian population. In addition, though, issues may arise that are related to the Sami language, culture and history which police officers serving in a Sami area must know about. If they are interviewed by the police in Norwegian, Sami people whose mother tongue/first language is Sami will encounter major problems in understanding and in making themselves understood. This is directly connected to issues of legal protection. There is both a language barrier and a cultural barrier, and people in this situation depend on a good interpreter, or on the interviewer speaking Sami. The Sami Parliament emphasises that Sami speakers in the Sami administration area now have a statutory right both to speak Sami during a police interview and when filing a verbal complaint. This has not always been the case, but it is a pleasing development. Then one might ask whether these rights are properly safeguarded at the various police stations. Sami people who speak some Norwegian are likely not to want to be a bother, and so they try to speak Norwegian as best they can. In such situations the police officers also have a personal responsibility to assess when communication becomes so unclear that an interpreter should be present. Since the police have limited resources and there are only a few good interpreters, an interpreter is in practice only called if a person is to be interrogated and a wish for an interpreter has been expressed in advance. On the basis of the rights of the Sami people, the Sami Parliament wants to underline that it is often the police who need an interpreter from Sami to Norwegian, and not the Sami speaker who needs the interpreter. Prison services in our northern counties Troms and Finnmark face some of the same challenges. The law states clearly that prisoners are entitled to speak Sami to each other and to their relatives. Since there are few prison guards who speak Sami, however, Sami prisoners are nevertheless often not allowed to speak their native Sami with family and friends. This is unacceptable in today’s society, particularly since Sami and Norwegian are languages on an equal footing in Norway. The Sami Parliament believes it is important to develop the Sami language, so that it has a future in a modern society. It is also important to us that those Sami language rights which have already become statutory, will be upheld and safeguarded at all times. Traditional Sami is without many of the concepts that are used in Norwegian legal terminology. This creates a problem when the police for instance have to read people their rights. A project is being carried out today with the support of The Sami Parliament, where the purpose is to develop Sami legal terminology. This is important work because it will allow Sami to be used in more police contexts.

Written Sami is a relatively new phenomenon, and not all Sami speakers are able to read the language. The young generation growing up now has a much better opportunity to learn this skill than their parents and grandparents had. But even within the Sami administrative area, most of the forms and application forms you get from the police are in Norwegian only. If you are applying for a passport, a firearm licence or you are reporting a lost driver’s licence, the forms you fill in will be in Norwegian. Since the goal is that Sami and Norwegian shall be on an equal footing, that principle should apply here, too. Nevertheless, one can spot encouraging trends. I would particularly like to mention that the police are now cooperating with The Norwegian National Collection Agency in developing several hundred standardised letter templates in Sami for use in the police’s administrative work. This is work which the Sami Parliament strongly approves of, as it allows for bilingual case processing. At present it is possible to issue fines and salmon rights in Sami. A few information brochures have been translated into Sami. Certain laws that particularly affect the Sami population have also been translated, but they need quality assurance as it turns out they are not always accurate. The Sami Parliament believes it would also be useful to have the rest of the legislation translated into Sami. The Sami Parliament realises that conflicts might arise between Norwegian legislation and Sami customs and sense of justice. Sami customs have developed outside of the Norwegian legal system. The legislation and administration that have been set up for Norway and which also apply in the Sami areas, have not paid much attention to Sami customs. In those cases where a Sami sense of justice is different from the Norwegian, it is time to look at new solutions. That way we can avoid situations where the Norwegian legislation says something which the Sami in practice find difficult to understand. In this connection it is important to assess what are genuine customs and what are fictitious ones, in order to give real Sami customs the necessary credibility. This work has been started, particularly through the Sami rights committees. The establishment of the Inner Finnmark District Court, which is to pay particular attention to and emphasise Sami customs, is another step in the right direction. In connection with the Finnmark Act, a commission will clarify what rights are already in existence. The Sami Parliament wants to express its expectations with regard to the further developments, hoping for legislation and administration that are more in line with the actual, acknowledged sense of justice in the Sami population. In their daily work, the police make decisions on the basis of discretionary assessments. Then it is of great importance that the police officers understand the people they are dealing with. In most Sami areas, local communities are small and tight-knit, and the local population will also be close to police officers serving in the area. Whether the local population trusts the police will thus depend on what approach the police adopts when dealing with local people.

There are some differences between Sami and Norwegian manners and mores that may affect the interaction between the police and the Sami population. If you for instance, like the Norwegians have been raised to think that punctuality is important, it might be rather frustrating to deal with people who have a rather relaxed attitude to time. Norwegians tend to think that silence expresses consent, while the opposite is true with many Sami people. It is possible to learn to understand a culture. It is important for police officers to realise that some of the problems and disputes they encounter may be the result of cultural differences. If you want the Sami to express trust in the police, it is important that the police are conscious of their own attitudes and behaviour. This will not only create a sense of confidence, it will also make the work of the police easier and give them access to more information. We know there are problems recruiting police to some locations, particularly to smaller local communities. This means that it can take quite a lot before the police can attend in some locations. Many Sami people feel that their problems are not taken seriously enough, and that they don’t receive help when they ask for it. This makes people feel insecure, and it is an issue that needs to be addressed by people higher up in the system. People will often understand that it can take the police some time to arrive if they have to cover a large geographical area. People are used to that. But given the recruiting problems, increased centralisation and districts being merged, the Sami Parliament is concerned that the police services and their availability in the Sami areas will deteriorate. Outside some brief office hours, everyone trying to reach their local police office will be redirected to a centralised operations centre. The police officers taking the call may not be all that familiar with the areas they receive reports from, and they do not speak Sami. It can lead to misunderstandings when Sami people call in a stressful situation and then have to explain the problem in Norwegian. Those who speak Sami as their mother tongue feel safer and more confident when they can explain things in their own language. Then they feel much better understood. Many places have both a Sami and a Norwegian name, but the Sami will often use just the Sami place names. Then it is important for the police to know these Sami place names, and that is a big challenge for the police. With that in mind, it must be a top priority to recruit Sami-speaking students into the police training. Today we have very few police officers with a Sami background, which means that many of the police officers working in a Sami area come from a different linguistic and cultural background. If we look back on Sami history we realise how important it is that the Sami of today don’t feel run over, but meet police officers who conduct themselves in the right way and show a good understanding of the community where they are working. The Sami Parliament has for some time been asking for the introduction of measures to enable those police officers who have expertise on the Sami sense of justice, their customs and language, are given the opportunity to serve in a district where this expertise is needed. The Sami Parliament wants the police to be given framework conditions that will allow such people to be recruited to the Sami areas. More should also be done to enable officers already working in these areas, to take further education.

It is important to us in the Sami Parliament that the Sami rights that already exist are being followed up in the right way, while one also has to work for a further strengthening of the Sami perspective in our future work.