In Sweden, the Church apologizes to the Sami people


A campfire erected in front of the altar of the prestigious Uppsala Cathedral, north of Stockholm; all the bishops present; and on the benches, Sami people, in traditional costumes, seated next to representatives of the Lutheran-Evangelical Church and anonymous people, all gathered for this historic moment. On November 24, in a religious ceremony, unique in the history of the institution and the kingdom, the Church of Sweden officially apologized to the Sami, the indigenous people of northern Scandinavia.

This reconciliation process was initiated in 2011 in Kiruna, during a meeting between senior representatives of the Church and Sami organizations. He began by writing a white paper: more than a thousand pages, describing in detail the abuses committed by the clergy from the XVIe century. “At the time, the Church was a State Church. It was part of the state apparatus and it contributed to colonization, giving it ideological legitimacy ”says Daniel Lindmark, professor of history at Umeå University, who oversaw the writing of the white paper.

The Church has not only committed abuses, “She also often watched without doing anything when the rights of the Sami were violated”, explains Mr. Lindmark. On November 24, he attended the ceremony in Uppsala Cathedral. A necessary step to move forward: “Recognizing what happened is a first step in the process of reconciliation”, he says.

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“Locked up, divided, silenced”

For an hour and a half, the numerous testimonies in the Sami language, punctuated by songs and prayers, drew up a detailed picture of the atrocities committed over more than five centuries. The writer Nils-Henrik Sikku spoke of the “nomadic school”, where he was sent at the age of seven: a boarding school for the children of reindeer herders, considered by the Church and the State to be the “real ones” Samis, unlike the sedentary, living from hunting and fishing, who had to be assimilated and whose children attended the municipal school.

“We have learned to write and speak a foreign language. Read the Bible, sing psalms, recite the names of kings, by heart. (…) We have been locked up, divided, silenced. (…) We were no longer Sami, just Lapps [terme péjoratif] and nomads. Soon we would be gone for good. “

The poet Rose-Marie Huuva describes scenes from everyday life. A priest and his servant dig the Sami graves. The researcher from the Institute of Racial Biology, who accompanies them, demands the skull of a newborn baby who has just died. The head is separated from the body. The poet continues: “Naked mother frightened in front of the white veil, photographed from the front, from the back, right and left side, and the iron ruler of the terrifying racial seeker, like an arrow in the head. “ Eighty-five years later, Rose-Marie Huuva found the cliché in the archives of the Institute of Racial Biology at Uppsala University, established in 1922 to conduct research on eugenics: on the photo, her mother was eight years old.

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In Sweden, the Church apologizes to the Sami people