A member of the indigenous Sami people, from the northernmost region of Norway, leads a reindeer..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Norway’s third largest city, Trondheim, has announced a boycott of all Israeli goods originating in areas beyond the 1967 line.
Ironically, however, the policies of occupation, colonization and discrimination that these Norwegians are accusing Israel of imposing, have been practiced for centuries by Norway against its own indigenous minority.
Long before there was such a thing as Norway, the northern part of that country was the homeland of an indigenous people known as the Sami. While the Norwegians’ first king, Harald Fairhair, ruled in the 9th century CE, the roots of the Sami nation are much deeper – going all the way back to prehistoric times, according to archaeologists.
The name “Sami” first appeared in recorded history in the writings of the Roman historian Tacitus in the year 98 CE. Coincidentally, that was at almost the same time that the Romans tried to wipe out all memory of the Jewish inhabitants of Eretz Yisrael by renaming the country “Palaestina.”
Giving the Land of Israel a new name did not, however, change the ethnic, religious or national identity of the inhabitants, and claims of a “Palestinian” nation would not be heard until the late 20th century. In the meantime, in far-off Scandinavia, the poor Sami were enduring long centuries of mistreatment at the hands of their Norwegian occupiers.
In the 15th century CE, Norway began encouraging its farmers to establish settlements in the Sami region, an area the indigenous people call “Samiland” but the Norwegians renamed “Finnmark.”
By the late 1800s, the Norwegian authorities were officially pursuing a policy known as Norwegianization – a concerted effort to stamp out the natives’ culture. Teaching children in the Sami language was banned in 1880, and the right to purchase land was restricted to Norwegian-speakers as of 1902.
Church officials played a major role in the crusade against the Sami, according to the cultural historian Bente Persen, of the University of Oslo. Bishop Peter W. Bockman of Trondheim – yes, the same Trondheim now pointing an accusing finger at Israel – wrote in 1914 of the need to combat “darkness and the trouble of heathenism” by forcing the Sami to become “viable Norwegians.”
Persen reports that the popular consensus in Norway, all the way up until modern times, was to “classify [the Sami] in the same categories as the ‘mentally disabled’ and the ‘insane.’”
This racist attitude provided a rationalization for Norway’s efforts to suppress and forcibly assimilate the Sami, including the creation of state-funded boarding homes that gave the authorities considerable control over Sami children.
To this day, “the Sami experience ten times more discrimination than ethnic Norwegians,” according to the United Nations Regional Information Center for Western Europe.
“Furthermore, their language is severely threatened – UNESCO has classified three of the Sami languages which are, or have been, spoken in Norway as extinct, two as severely threatened, and the last one as threatened.”
THE SAMI nation’s sacred lands also continue to be encroached upon by Norwegian mining, logging, gas exploration, commercial exploitation, and the government’s expansion of bombing ranges in the region.
The rights of the indigenous people do not seem to be very high on the agenda of the Occupation Regime.
But there may be hope on the horizon. Despite centuries of abuse by oppressive occupiers and illegal Norwegian settlers, the Sami have refused to succumb.
A modern Sami flag and national anthem were created in 1986, and a Sami parliament was established in 1989. Could a campaign for self-determination be far behind?
In fact, the Sami have an advantage that the PLO did not initially enjoy: a naturally skilled English-speaking spokeswoman. Aides to then-Secretary of State James Baker had to bring in an American public relations adviser to teach the PLO’s Hanan Ashrawi “how to speak, smile, and move in front of an audience and a camera” (according to Ashrawi’s sympathetic biographer).
By contrast, the Sami already have someone who is quite comfortable in front of audiences and cameras: Academy Award winning actress Renee Zellweger, whose mother is of Sami heritage.
One can already imagine Ms. Zellweger modifying the signature line from her first major film, Jerry Maguire, as she implores American consumers to boycott products originating from Norwegian settlers in Samiland: “Don’t show them the money!” The writer is the author or editor of 16 books about Jewish history, Zionism and the Holocaust.