Church of Sweden to apologize for ‘dark’, ‘colonial’ Sámi mistreatment

The church will issue an apology twice for its role in repressing Sámi in Sweden.

By Kevin McGwin - June 10, 2021
Two Sámi girls look at a book in nomad school dormitory in the 1950s. Originally created as church schools, nomad schools are considered to be a part of a system that mistreated Sámi and legitimized their repression (Karl Heinz Hernried / Nordiska Museet)

Church leaders in Sweden say they will apologize to that country’s Sámi community for centuries of mistreatment that contributed to what it describes as “legitimized repression.”

The apology comes after what has become a 10-year study of the Church of Sweden’s treatment of the Sámi throughout history, and is based in part on the findings of a two-volume publication, published in 2016, that details Sámi relations with the church.

Archbishop Antje Jackelén, the church’s leader, announced on Tuesday that the apology, which the church had been working on since last October, been now approved by its governing authority.

“We need to own up to our dark pasts, no matter how painful it may be. In failing the Sámi people we’ve also failed ourselves and God. The church board’s preparation of an apology is an important step forward,” Jackelén said.

[Sámi group asks Swedish museum to return human remains held in archives]

The apology will be made twice: first during a church service on November, then again in October next year during a conference dealing with the church’s past treatment of the Sámi.

In addition to encouraging and participating in efforts to collect Sámi remains for use in eugenic and genetic studies, the church also promoted a system of schools for Sámi known as nomad schools.

Started in the 1600s as missionary schools, nomad schools were taken over by national authorities in the 1900s. The schools, which were closed in the 1960s, have been criticized for separating children from their parents, providing inadequate education, contributing to the loss of Sámi culture and language and for allowing students to be used in racially motivated biological studies.

Nomad schools were portrayed in the 2017 film “Sameblod” (“Sámi Blood”).

The effects of what Jackelén has called the church’s “colonial mistreatment” of the Sámi are still being felt today.

“Abuse has a tendency to linger, and shame that has been inflicted is also passed on for generations. The Church of Sweden has been a part of efforts to marginalise the Sámi, and thus has caused division amongst the Sami people.”

In addition to the apology, the Church of Sweden will set aside 40 million kronor (about $4.9 million) to promote the inclusion of Sámi spirituality and traditions in its services, as well as for revitalization of Sámi languages.

Ingrid Inga, chair of the church’s Sámi council, and a past president of the Sámi Parliament, said: “We are pleased that the Church of Sweden is actively working to recognise and understand the consequences of the church’s dark actions towards the Sámi throughout history.”