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History professor Knut Dørum at the University of Agder says that the Fosen case is a conflict of interest where one must understand both the perspective of the wider society and that of the Sámi.

“The Sámi have a moral right, but they can still lose against wider society”

The Sámi have since 1990 enjoyed special protection and been granted extraordinary rights as indigenous people, but this does not guarantee traction in the Fosen case, according to this professor.

“The Sámi people currently have grazing rights to 40 per cent of Norwegian land. This is rooted in the established customary rights spanning several centuries, settlements for the Norwegian assimilation policies, and indigenous rights. In addition, they now have the law on their side when the Supreme Court deems that the government violates their human rights in Fosen,” says Knut Dørum.

Dørum is a professor at the University of Agder (UiA). He says the Fosen case is a conflict of interests where one must understand both the larger society and the Sámi perspective.

“Yes, the Sámi people have rights to the grazing areas in Fosen as a result of centuries of use. They also have a moral right to it after being oppressed historically by society. They have a right to it according to the ILO Convention of 1990. The convention guarantees the rights of indigenous peoples. And the Sámi now have a recent Supreme Court ruling which gives them all the rights to the grazing areas,” says Dørum.

He nevertheless reminds us that there is an equally clear no on the question of rights to grazing in Fosen.

“No, after the climate initiative from 2007, and the green shift we are in the middle of, Sámi grazing areas are threatened in the face of larger societal interests. A small industry linked to a few reindeer herders will not be able to stand up to the obligation the government and society at large have towards pursuing the green shift,” he says.

Historical and moral rights

Dørum has just started reading the report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on how Norwegian authorities and the wider society treated the Sámi over the years. The report was released in June 2023 (link in Norwegian).

“I am well acquainted with Sámi history. It is well known that the Norwegian state over many years sought to eradicate Sámi culture. It is perhaps less known that the Danish-Norwegian absolute monarchy until 1814, and subsequent authorities until the 1850s, respected the rights of the Sámi more than Norwegian authorities did between 1850 and 1950,” Dørum says.

The 20th century was a dark era for the Sámi

Dørum says the Norwegian state and wider society almost managed to erase Sámi identity and culture towards the end of the 1800s and into the 1950s–60s.

“The assimilation policies were so pervasive that many Sámi people after that time did not acknowledge their Sámi culture. In that way, the assimilation of the Sámi continued even after the policies had been abandoned,” says Dørum.

A debt owed to Sámi culture

“The Norwegian society, like the Swedish and Finnish, sought to eradicate the Sámi. They took steps towards carrying out ethnic cleansing. What we’ve done to the Sámi shares features with what we know from the Holocaust,” the professor says.

Here are some of the prohibitions, orders, and demands the Sámi had to comply with in the 20th century:

  • You were required to learn Norwegian and leave behind your Sámi identity and culture.
  • You were banned from speaking Sámi in school.
  • You were branded as inferior for wearing traditional Sámi attire.
  • You were ridiculed for singing joiks or otherwise expressing your own culture.
  • You were perceived as uncivilised, primitive, and a threat to society.

“The historical and moral perspective is in favour of the Sámi. They have a moral right to particularly good agreements with the wider society because they have been subjected to massive oppression. But they have also acquired rights over large areas of land through customary use and old agreements,” Dørum says.

Sámi rights against the green shift

“However, reindeer herders represent a minority compared to all those who stand to benefit from wind turbines. In this conflict, reindeer herders are fighting against wind turbines but also, somewhat inadvertently, against green energy initiatives and the interests of other Sámi communities. The interests of the wider society, the need for electricity, and climate concerns are likely to prevail over Sámi reindeer husbandry in several areas,” says Dørum.

He does not want to speculate on the outcome of the Fosen case but points out that the Sámi community seems to have already lost the case.

“A resolution has been reached for the southern parts of Fosen. The wind turbines will be left standing, and the Sámi will receive financial compensation and alternative grazing land. In my opinion, this compromise signals a defeat for the Sámi,” Dørum says.


Read the Norwegian version of this article at

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