The Sami Parliament’s intention of direction is to promote, develop and preserve the Sami language to a viable language for the Sami society and for Sami solidarity. A living language is actively used both at home and in official contexts.
Most of the older Sami have never been allowed to learn to read or write in their own native language in school. Many can tell about punishments and threats they were victim to under their school time, when the northern population was to be “made Swedish”. In the elementary school one was not allowed to speak Sami during school time. Sami wasn’t even a school subject in the nomadic school. The Sami children were not given the opportunity to learn to read and write in their own language. (The same applied to the Finnish-speaking population in the Torne Valley). Older generations of Sami that have Sami as a social language use therefore Swedish when they read and write. When we speak of literacy in Sami contexts, it does not mean that Sami are illiterate.
The generation exposed to unpleasant experiences from their school years chose to a greater part to not speak Sami with their own children. As adults, many of the 60’s and 70’s generations cannot speak Sami “although they should be able to”. They have Sami as a passive language to a more or less degree. It can be a rather steep threshold to reclaim one’s language, and many speak of “psychological barriers”. Here there is a need for great education efforts and a positive attitude from the surrounding society, both the Sami and the Swedish. The State has a great responsibility for historical events which affect the Sami still today.
Sami Language Act
The international law has great significance in many ways, even for language preservation. Questions about cultural autonomy, with rights to an own culture, language and self-determination in own matters has been emphasized. An example is the European Council’s convention on protection for national minorities and the statute on minority language, which has led to the Minority Language Act in Sweden. The present development of the political and ideological relationships speaks for Sami language preservation, but there is also a need for added resources in order for the Sami Parliament and other actors to be able to actively work for an increased use of the Sami language.
Read the summery of the government bill that recognizes, among others, Sami as a minority language here.
Change in attitude
The Swedish people’s attitudes to minority languages and particularly to the Sami are positive. This is evident from a questioner survey (2001) where more than 80% of the population feels it is important to preserve minority languages in Sweden. 86% feel it would be a shame if the Sami language in Sweden were to disappear. The interest for the language grows in pace with an increased self-esteem and strengthened identity perception with the Sami themselves. Together with increasingly broad-minded minority policy, a growing self-confidence speaks for new possibilities. A rich diversity of Sami cultural expressions appear in an open and obvious manner. Increased mobility and more areas of contact grant new opportunities for a broadened use of language.
Read the “Act concerning the right to use the Sami language in dealings with public authorities and courts” here
Read more about history, dialects and legislation of the Sami language here