Sámegillii På norsk

Article in the book Sami school history 1. Davvi Girji 2005.

Svein Lund

Sami without education: A 20 year struggle

English translation: Simon Aldridge

On 4th April 2005 the Norwegian parliament decreed that Sami and Kvens (Finnish speaking minority in Norway) who were deprived of schooling due to the 2nd World War should receive compensation from the state. It was the beginning of the end of a 20 year struggle for restitution.

This article traces the whole story, from the war right up until 2004, and is up to date up to and including the government’s proposal of 2 July 2004. In June 2005 the matter had reached the Justice Secretariats and it is hoped that those still remaining who suffered loss of schooling will receive their compensation before the end of 2005.

Svein Lund is the main editor of “Sami school history”. He was born in 1951, grew up in Skien (Telemark county, South Norway) and has lived in North Norway since 1973, mostly in Hammerfest and Guovdageaidnu (Kautokeino). He is educated in mechanics, pedagogy, Norwegian and Sami. He has worked as a mechanic in the fish-processing industry and as a teacher in further education. More recently he has worked on education research and as a supply teacher as well as with writing books and articles. He has published, among other books, Samisk skole eller Norsk Standard?(Sami school or Norwegian Standard?)

In Finnmark there are still many elderly Sami who can hardly read and write, neither in their own mother-tongue nor in the state language. Many of them also have problems communicating in spoken Norwegian. This is a result of loss of schooling due to the 2nd world war allied to the policy of norwegianization, which meant that they got hardly anything out of the little schooling they did receive.

Uskav 4 out of them who have lost education and who have fought for compensation: From left: Ole Larsen Gaino, Sara Tornensis Bongo, Elmine Valkeapää, Kirsten Karen Tornensis
(Photo: Svein Lund)

After the war, people didn’t use to talk about not being able to read and write. It was something to be ashamed of and therefore kept secret. The historian Henry Minde writes: “all in all it isn’t really so strange that people got complexes that made it difficult for them to talk about their schooling, even to those closest to them. In the multi-ethnic areas of northern Norway, school became as big a taboo as rape and incest once were in western countries.” [1]

Today in 2004, it is 65 years since the first schools were closed and 60 since the overwhelming majority of schools in Finnmark and North-Troms were burnt down. About half of those who lost schooling have already gone to their grave, without ever receiving recognition or compensation for what they lost. Those who survive still have an unresolved case with the authorities.

"Internáhtta - stuoris ja balddonas", according to the words of a song by Nils Aslak Valkeapää. The boarding-school was big and scary.    The boarding-school in Guovdageaidnu, the picture was taken between 1935 and 1940.
(Source: Muitalusat ja dáhpáhusat Guovdageainnus 8)

War and burning

During the 2nd world war there were many who were deprived of education in Norway. In some places the Germans commandeered the schools and another building had to be found to house the school, or the pupils were simply sent home for a time. Many teachers got the sack because they refused to accept the Nazification of the school and hundreds were sent to prisoner-of-war camps. During the coldest part of the winter many schools closed for a “fuel holiday”. Many pupils couldn’t go to school through lack of clothes and shoes..

From the Ministry of Education there was a steady stream of memos about how school children should use their school-time for things other than learning. For example a message was sent out which said that the older school children could do a fortnight’s spring work on the farms, and school pupils were used to collect moss, leaves and medicinal and “tea-plants”. In 1942 service with the youth organization of the Nasjonal Samling (Norwegian Nazi party) was made obligatory for everybody between the age of 10 and 18. Yet another memo declared such service to be valid grounds for absence from school.

In South Norway, Nordland, and South- and Mid-Troms, the overwhelming majority of pupils still received a relatively normal education, or at least so that they learned to read and write and get by in society. In North-Troms and Finnmark it was worse. Here the first schools were closed as early as 1939, because the Norwegian army needed them for neutrality guard . During the war schooling in many places was interrupted time and again for periods of varying duration. In the school year 1941 -42 for example, 13 of Finnmark’s boarding-schools were completely out of operation. Here are some examples from Kautokeino of how schooling was cut back:

 When the school year in Kautokeino at that time was no more than 12 weeks, it is obvious that there weren’t many weeks of schooling the municipality could offer, especially to those pupils who were dependent on boarding. In addition, the school board’s archive shows that many parents wrote letters saying that, unfortunately they could not send their children to school. Here are a couple of extracts:

In the autumn of 1944 the Germans burnt nearly the whole of North-Troms and Finnmark. Altogether 150 schools were burnt down. In Finnmark there were 50 boarding-school residences and 70 schools. Of these there remained only 10 boarding-school residences and 16 schools. In as many as 15 of Finnmark’s municipalities there was not a single school left.

Makeshift buildings and temporary solutions

 After the war it took up to several years for school to get back to normal again. Following liberation there were established three schools for children from Finnmark resident outside the county; the camps in Trondenes and Finnfjordbotn and the state boarding-school for children from Finnmark in Oslo. Even after people had started to move back to Finnmark, some children continued to be sent to Finnfjordbotn, because the schools still hadn’t been rebuilt.

 When the schools finally started, it was often under very difficult conditions: The school premises were dilapidated cold sheds, lacking both textbooks and other teaching materials and most of the equipment necessary for maintenance of the boarding-schools.  

In Kautokeino, in autumn 1945, the school board, responding to an inquiry from the director of schools, reported: “No building or complex has been left standing following the havoc wreaked by the Germans.” At first, attempts were made to get school started in Swedish Karesuando, but this proved to be impracticable. Then, in the winter of 1945 -46 school was to start at the mountain-lodge in Lahpoluoppal. A letter from the lodge-keeper tells of the problems confronting them: “Since it is intended that school shall be held at the mountain-lodge, I would like to inform you that I have not managed to procure neither wood-saw nor axe. You must try and get hold of these. There is also a lack of lamps at the mountain-lodge since a number of these are broken and it has not been possible for me to replace them. It will therefore also be necessary to bring a lamp. I can borrow cooking-utensils.” In December 1946, the director of schools writes to ask: “when the school-board supposes the makeshift buildings in Kautokeino and Masi will be ready to accommodate boarders.”

Many of the teachers who had taught at schools in Finnmark before the war were now absent. Some had reached their pension – some teachers didn’t survive the war, while others were dismissed when peace came because they had been Nazis. The biggest problem though was that many teachers did not return following the evacuation. In a letter to the school-board in Kautokeino director of schools Lyder Aarseth regrets this development: “Something that affects me deeply is that many are now taking advantage of the opportunity to leave Finnmark for good.” The result was that a great deal of the teachers, who started after the war, were unqualified and in addition there were very few of them who spoke any Sami language

It was precisely in the areas that were burnt that the majority of pupils lived who didn’t have Norwegian as their mother tongue. At that time, all teaching was done in Norwegian, a language that a great many understood little or nothing of. Neither was anything done to teach the pupils Norwegian as a foreign language, which it was to them. It was therefore not uncommon that many Sami and Kven (of Finnish origin) pupils were halfway through folkeskolen (precursor of today’s primary school) before they started to understand any of the teaching. So for those who lost two or more years, the amount of knowledge gained was minimal.

School - a strange world

The war alone cannot explain why so many have received a poor education. Just as important is the question of what sort of school it was. In addition to the language of instruction being foreign, the educational content was far from the lives of the pupils and parents of the locality. School was, on the whole, a phenomenon the Sami, to a greater degree, considered of little benefit. Many parents therefore, failed to send their children to school in the year they became of school age,  (7 years old) as the law demanded, putting it off as long as possible. School didn’t give the pupils anything they had use for. From the school’s point of view, the pupils were both poorly equipped and poorly motivated to learn what law and the syllabus required. It was, therefore, not only those who were deprived of schooling due to the war who received a poor education. This was, to a great extent, true for almost the whole of the Sami and Kven population, also for those who attended school for the obligatory seven years.

When, in later years, remedial schooling and possible compensation were discussed for those deprived of schooling, this aspect of the case was not taken into consideration. Only lost years were counted, without consideration of the education that was, in formal terms at least, actually given.

Remedial schooling

It was a long time after the war before the central authorities took the problem of lost schooling seriously. Lydolf Lind Meløy, who was then chairman of the school council for Inner Finnmark, wrote in 1955: “The authorities had, through various channels, been made aware of the poor state of literacy and numeracy among the young people who attended school during the war, but only after a military report on this state of affairs was sent from Porsangmoen (garrison in Finnmark) to the Ministry of education were alarm-bells rung.” [3]
The report showed that, among the recruits from Finnmark, 15% were illiterate, while about half had got no further than infant school level. When this became known, the director of schools in Finnmark was summoned to the Ministry of education, and the government passed a royal decree on the remedial schooling of young people in Finnmark. No survey, however, was made of how many had such needs and neither has any subsequent summary been made of the whole period of remedial schooling. The various sources are quite contradictory, both in regard to the length of time such schooling was offered and to how many benefited from it. It was certainly 4-5 years after the war before such schooling became available and for many, several years after that. 170 pupils received remedial schooling at the Sami folk high school in Karasjok. In addition, many pupils from Finnmark received offers of remedial schooling at other folk high schools, especially in Troms.

In the period 1950-54 in Finnmark and North-Troms, grants were given to a total of 731 pupils in voluntary “framhaldskole” (corresponds to final years of today’s secondary school) and 793 in folk high school; some of these pupils have probably attended both the above mentioned types of school. These were partly ordinary courses, partly special courses for those who had suffered loss of schooling. This only covered a fraction of the need. Even so, initial meagre funding was quickly reduced and since funds were only made available for one year at a time, planning was extremely difficult. Then in 1954-55 the Ministry cancelled all funding of remedial schooling. Lydolf Lind Meløy then wrote: “I would like to stress that remedial schooling will be necessary for many years to come if all those who, through no fault of their own have suffered loss of schooling, are to be compensated for this loss. If the need to save money has been the primary concern, then it is hardly good economics not to put post war youth in a better state than it is today to take part in work and society.”

The Sami folk high school in Karasjok was one of the schools that accepted most pupils for remedial schooling after the war. Here is the school’s choir.
(Photo: Hans Lindkjølen)

It is difficult to ascertain how many received an offer of remedial schooling and how many accepted, though it is probable that less than half those who were deprived of 2 or more years schooling  completed remedial schooling. For some the offer simply never reached them while for others there were economic barriers. Although grants were given, these didn’t cover the full cost, and many were needed for work by their families, in reindeer husbandry, farming and fishing. Those who had got gainfully employment were not likely to give this up to go to school of which the benefits were uncertain.

Also, one of the main reasons why many didn’t accept the offer of remedial schooling was that they had learnt so little at school that they were embarrassed to show how little they knew. Remedial schooling, as all other schools at that time had Norwegian as its sole language of instruction and many felt that it would be a waste of their time. Surveys from Karasjok showed that it was those who had lost most schooling who were most reticent in applying for remedial education. This trend was probably even more pronounced in the other Sami municipalities, for they offered no schooling locally so prospective pupils would have to travel outside their home municipality to get schooling.

Lydolf Lind Meløy sums up remedial schooling thus:
“If, finally one was to give an assessment of the work on remedial schooling and the terms and conditions of this work, they may be summarized in a few brief points:
1. 1.The authorities have not followed a consistent line as regards covering the cost of remedial schooling and this has created uncertainty around the matter and hindered properly planned schooling.
2. The terms of the remedial schooling have, in most years, been announced so late that one has not been able to develop a plan of action to persuade young people to attend remedial school
3. Parliament has always been willing to authorize remedial school and authorization has always been given unanimously...
4. 1.The local authorities are not given the opportunity to have their say on whether there are grounds for suspending remedial schooling.”

In conclusion Meløy recommends in 1955 that “remedial schooling should be maintained for a further 5-6 years”. This does not, however, appear to have been followed up. For the period after 1955, we have only found material from Karasjok, where, after an interval of a couple of years, an offer was sent out from 1956 to 1958. Later, the school authorities in Karasjok offered the full 9 years of primary – secondary school as adult education.

When the Ministry of education have subsequently advised against giving indemnity, it has been pointed out that remedial education was offered after the war. What is striking about this argument is that it comes from precisely the same ministry that, three decades earlier held back necessary funding for this remedial schooling, and was not willing to follow up the recommendations made by the school authorities in Finnmark.  

The long silence

From the end of the 1950s, those who still lacked schooling had to manage as best they could, and for a period of nearly 30 years there was little or no public discussion of the problem. During the 60s and 70s courses were organized in some places by educational organizations but it is difficult to say to what degree these courses were attended by those who had been deprived of schooling.

For the overwhelming majority, earning a living meant hard, unskilled manual labour, in reindeer-husbandry, fishing and farming, on road works and building-sites, in cleaning and nursing. Jobs that required reading and writing skills were closed to them. For the young people who went into the primary industries (fishing, farming etc) together with their parents or other older relations, the need to read and write was not pressing. It was only later that the problems became apparent. For some, it was when they assumed responsibility for a herd of reindeer, a farm or a fishing-boat, for they had to do their accounts and be in contact with the tax authorities and the respective authorities for their particular industry. For others it came when they started a family and had to administer their own house and home. The problems increased when they got children and these started school. Many had, themselves, learnt so little at school that they were unable to answer when their children asked for help them with their schoolwork and it wasn’t easy to admit, either to their children or to the teachers that they weren’t able. The problems therefore, became progressively greater. Modernization and the changing society made the need to master the written language even greater. One of those who experienced this has described “the paper age” thus:[4]

When you’re young you don’t think too much
It’s worse when you’re an adult
It’s then that the paper age begins
There’s been many a crisis with papers
Forms were worst

It’s not easy to say that you can’t write
I’d say I’d left my glasses at home and took the paper home with me
There I had the children to help me

It’s difficult to keep up with things
When you can’t read newspapers or advertisements
I got a lot of bad thoughts at that time

In this book we have reproduced extracts from some of the stories. The people telling parts of their story here are probably not among those who have suffered most. They are, rather, among those who have, gradually managed to throw off the feeling of shame and stand up and say “It isn’t our fault”. Many however, have not managed it.

Signs of research

 It took a long time before researchers started to investigate the combined effects of loss of schooling and norwegianization policy. The municipal doctor in Porsanger, Per Fugelli, found, during the so-called Skoganvarre survey of 1980 that, in the above mentioned area 14% of Sami couldn’t read, and over 30% couldn’t write, either in Sami or Norwegian. He also showed that the loss of education had led to health problems both physical and psychological. Apart from this survey, little has been done to map the effects of lost schooling.

In the post-war years, the reindeer-herding Sami have, time and again, been hit by modern society’s incursions into their way of life, through hydro-electric projects, mining, firing-ranges and road-building. As many had difficulty in understanding official documents in Norwegian and in expressing themselves in writing, they could neither defend themselves against these incursions nor secure compensation for projects carried out on their land. This was the case with hydro-electric projects in North-Troms in the 1960s and 1970s.

When the plans to dam the Alta-Kautokeino river appeared, the affected reindeer herders once again experienced problems defending themselves. But now they were not alone. For the first time both Sami and other local inhabitants rose against the project. This gave the Sami recognition, which in turn  laid the ground for an organization  of those who had lost schooling.

20 year struggle

In the 1980s the time was ripe for people who had lost schooling to come together, form an organization, and make their case public. They formed associations both in Karasjok and Kautokeino, formulated demands, and contacted lawyers and politicians to help them put forward their claims. In Kautokeino, the late Klemet Hermansen became the first leader of the association of Education Victims of the Second World War (USKAV – EDVISW). After him came Ole Larsen Gaino, who was the leader for many years. We have talked to Ole Larsen Gaino together with the present leader, Elmine Valkeapää and Sara Tornensis Bongo, who has also been there from the start. Here, they tell of their struggle, while further on in the book they each tell their own personal story.

It started in Karasjok

Sara Tornensis Bongo tells of how it started in Kautokeino: - It was in 1986 that I heard on the radio that in Karasjok, Anne Margrete Teigmo had started to work to try and get compensation for those who had lost schooling. When I heard that, I rang Elmine and said that we ought to do something about it. So we rang Karasjok but Klemet Hermansen had already rung. So we three started to organize meetings. We invited everybody born between 1926 and 1939 Of course, not everybody came. Some got angry and said that it was a sin to put forward a claim.

Sara, Elmine and Ole tell of how it was later on:  - At one time we had over 200 members, but many of them have already died. We’ve paid a lot of money and had a real struggle with it. We got nothing from the state. We got 30000 kroner from the Sami parliament after we had used our own money for many years. Tens of thousands have gone to lawyers, who haven’t helped us one little bit, just exploited us. The lawyers don’t speak Sami, which meant we also had to pay for an interpreter. It’s no use going to a lawyer with the Norwegian we speak. Our main claim is for an indemnity payment and increased pension points. The only thing the authorities have offered us is a few school lessons. A few short courses were organized in the 1990s which some of us attended. At first, USKAV also asked for courses, but later we withdrew this demand. Now it’s too late, now we’re all in our seventies. The only thing we want now is a secure old age.

As late as the 1990s reading and writing courses were held both in Norwegian and Sami, for those who had lost schooling during the second world war. This picture shows course participants on an excursion to Alta.
(Photo lent by Ole Larsen Gaino)

No help from victims’ association

 -         For a time we had ties with the association “Justice for victims”, led by Ola Ødegård. He organized a meeting in (Masi), but nothing came from it. He even charged an entrance fee, 50 kroner it cost to get into the meeting. He didn’t understand us. It seemed as though he was only interested in getting more members for his association. First we paid 300 kroner as a subscription for USKAV to become affiliated to the victims’ association. Then we got a letter saying that we had to pay 100 kroner per member. So we paid, but then we got another letter saying that we had to pay 150 kroner for each member and finally we were to pay 200 kroner, but by then we’d had enough and decided to have nothing more to do with the victims’ association.

- After a decade of struggle, with rejection after rejection, most of the members lost heart and on 28.12.1995, at USKAV’s annual meeting, a motion was passed to disband the association. But not everyone was ready to give up and not long after, the association was reconstituted. As with all associations, USKAV has had its internal disagreements about which claims to put forward and which tactics to employ in order to achieve their aims. There has, for example, been disagreement on whether to put the main emphasis on schooling or economic compensation. With the passing of time, more and more have come to the conclusion that it is too late for schooling.              

Departemental deception

The lost schooling case has now gone back and forth between the Norwegian parliament, the Sami parliament and at least three governmental departments for 15-20 years. When the case involves a group who, through no fault of their own, have received so little and so poor schooling that they have problems exercising their rights in the modern “paper” society, it might be expected that this would be taken into consideration in the procedures for dealing with such cases. Unfortunately the opposite appears to be the case; both the authorities and the lawyers have exploited the fact that those with little schooling have had difficulty getting a full grasp of all the laws, rules and documents pertaining to their case. The story of how this case has been dealt with by the Norwegian Parliament and the various government departments must be one of the biggest administrative scandals of the post-war era.

The first applications for compensation were rejected with arguments like this from the Ministry of Justice: “It should be emphasized that generally, primary education for Sami speaking children at that time was relatively poor and was made even worse because of the situation during the war. Efforts were, however, made to alleviate this situation through a relatively comprehensive adult education scheme after the war.” Thus, they shall not receive compensation because, in general, the quality of education offered to Sami speaking children was poor at that time! At the same time, remedial schooling is used as an argument against compensation. This has now become “relatively comprehensive adult education schemes”, and it has been long forgotten that this offer of remedial schooling was wholly inadequate, in the opinion of the county school authorities.

In 1990, both associations put forward a demand for indemnity, The claim was put forward in the name of 123 Sami in Karasjok and 300 in Kautokeino.

The system of indemnity was introduced by Parliament in 1917. It allows compensation to be given to people who have, through no fault of their own suffered a loss which is not covered by normal social security. Applications for indemnity are dealt with by the Ministry of Justice, which asks for a statement from the relevant department. Cases of indemnity are usually decided by a committee appointed by Parliament, but in some cases involving an important matter of principle, the committee presents only a report and the final decision is made by Parliament.

This case was first raised in Parliament on 17.12.1991. Following reports both from the committee on indemnity and from the justice committee, Parliament passed a resolution rejecting the applications for indemnity. This despite the fact that a number of representatives had raised the matter in Parliament claiming to support the demands. At the same time, Parliament passed a resolution calling for the case to be further investigated and asking that the government set up a committee to look into the matter.

Following Parliament’s rebuff, everyone who had applied for compensation received notification that their application had been rejected. Here is an example of the sort of answer they received:

Ministry of Education 20.05.92:
The Ministry of Education- Research- and Church Affairs has, in a letter of 20th May 1992 to the Ministry of Justice, stated:
“The grounds for the application are lost schooling during the war. There has, however, been a long and fixed practice in this area. The applicant is of a large majority who received inadequate education during and after the war. This group has now received an offer of adult education. We cannot see that this case deviates from this practice and can not, therefore, recommend indemnity.”

The Ministry of Justice has stated: ”The applicant is a nomadic Sami and was part of the large group of Sami who together applied for indemnity in 1991. The Ministry  of Justice concords with the evaluation and conclusion of the Ministry of Education- Research- and Church Affairs. We cannot, from the case documents, see that there is any particular factor that distinguishes it from other similar cases. The Ministry of Justice recommends therefore, in line with previous practice, that no indemnity be paid by the treasury in this case.” The committee on indemnity concords with the statement from the Ministry of Justice.
Ruling: The committee on indemnity has not found grounds to grant or to recommend the granting of indemnity by the treasury to Inga Elmine Valkeapää.

Copy of the minutes from the committee on indemnity meeting of 13.10.92.

The committee that Parliament had called for in 1991, presented its report in 1993. It proposed both an offer of schooling as well as economic compensation. The government, however, only agreed to the offer of schooling, thus once again rejecting economic compensation. The argument this time was: "“Such solutions cannot be argued as being reasonable towards other groups in a similar situation without it seeming like preferential treatment.” (Nowhere has It been possible to find which “other groups” were in “a similar situation”. The committee had, besides, done a thorough job of limiting the criteria for who would receive compensation.) In addition, came the repeated argument that ”The circumstance of it being a group made it difficult to recommend the granting of such compensation. The committee did not, however, exclude the possibility that some of the applicants might be entitled to compensation based on their individual situation.”  

From their own pocket

The USKAV board members tell that most of the money used in their fight for compensation, has had to come from their own pocket. The authorities granted them 81 hours of free legal aid, but when they applied for more, their application was turned down by the chief administrative officer in Finnmark with the argument: “Based on the size and membership of the three organizations, it should be possible to employ a lawyer, if legal assistance is necessary and desirable.” The fact that they have managed to organize themselves and get a lot of members is thus used as an argument against giving them support! Everywhere else in society, the complete opposite is the case, the more members an organization has, the more support it receives. The authorities don’t want to deal with a collective group, they only want individual applications and so the victims of lost schooling take them at their word and send in individual applications. For those applying again, this meant a lot of extra work, and for many, high lawyers’ fees. But all applications were, once more turned down, not based on an individual evaluation, but with collective arguments from the same authorities who did not want to give a collective ruling!  

Schooling cut short

From the time those deprived of education started claiming there have been two rounds of schooling. The first was in 1989-90. Of 130 USKAV members in Kautokeino 43 had expressed a wish for lessons, but there were few of them who were able to attend the courses that were organized. There were at that time only evening classes, and most were still in a full-time job and either didn’t the energy to attend courses after work or didn’t have the opportunity because of travel distance or that they worked in the evenings. At that time, no form of economic compensation was offered for course attendance.

In the winter of 1995-96 another course was organized in Kautokeino. The aim of the course was to improve reading and writing skills in both Sami and Norwegian. Again, there were relatively few who attended the course, most believing themselves to old to learn. The state offered up to 3 * 48 lessons, with a grant of 2400 kroner to be paid out on completion of the course. Instruction in Sami was limited to 48 lessons. This was, of course, far too short a time, so the participants decided to apply to the authorities to be allowed to continue. Together with their Sami language teacher, they planned a project which was to be based on their own knowledge. This they wanted to get down on paper so that it could be of use to others. But the authorities said no, They obviously thought that they had done what was necessary.

The legal aid office

The legal aid office for Inner Finnmark has, for many years, done a lot to help the victims of lost schooling. Firstly, they have given advice and help with the legal problems of everyday life, secondly, the office has helped in the writing of applications for indemnity, and has followed up the matter with the authorities.

In 1999 the legal aid office wrote a letter to Parliament, pointing out that the office had received an answer to 82 of 162 applications, and all had been rejected. A common appeal was written, criticising “the ideological foundation on which the committee on indemnity had based its decisions” and demanding that Parliament should take a “historical and moral stand against the unworthy treatment of the Sami people, which lasted right up until the 1970s”. The appeal was followed up by a thorough briefing on the matter “where the connection between norwegianization and inadequate schooling is documented”. This briefing also referred to the attitude of the central state burocracy, quoting TV2’s tele-text 11.05.1998: “300 Sami from Finnmark who have applied to Parliament for compensation for lost schooling, will have their applications rejected. The department which has evaluated the applications, believe the Sami had the opportunity to attend school. People in the department have told TV2 unofficially, that the Sami played truant from school in order to watch over their reindeer in the mountains”. This never, of course, appeared in any official document. But it can help to explain why all the applications were turned down.

In the autumn of 1999, the legal aid office was instrumental in arranging a meeting between representatives of the victims of lost schooling and the Prime Minister. Trond Biti, of the legal aid office tells that they have put a lot of work into documenting the grounds for the compensation claim. But it was never good enough for the authorities. Following the meeting with the Prime Minister they were informed that there wasn’t sufficient documentation of what kind of social problems people had had due to lost schooling. They then contacted the social services in Karasjok and asked if they could find out more, but were told that this was not possible.
- And even if we’d produced a hundred pages of documentation of how individuals have been hit, it still wouldn’t have helped, says Biti. – It isn’t through lack of documentation that the applications have been rejected, they were rejected with a reference to the norwegianization policy of the time. On the one hand the talk is of compensation for the policy of norwegianization, while on the other this same policy is used as an argument against giving compensation to those deprived of schooling.

Short-term help-office

Kautokeino is undoubtedly the municipality with most Sami registered as victims of lost schooling, and everyone who is familiar with the municipality knows that here there are many who need help to deal with paperwork and bureucracy. A few years ago therefore,  the municipality applied for funding for an office where people could go and ask for help. The Ministry of Municipal Affairs gave funding to maintain such an office with one employee for a year. But after the one year, no more money was forthcoming, and since the municipality was already on the edge of bankruptcy they couldn’t see their way to keep the office going with external funding. Nils Mathis O. Hætta, who worked at the office as its single employee, tells that he received numerous inquiries every day, and hundreds in total during the year the office was open. He has no doubt that the need will be great for a long time to come. He now works in another capacity for the municipality but continues to be contacted by those needing help, but his new position no longer allows him time for this.

New hope?

After the central authorities had, for the second time, turned down the claim for compensation, there were many who gave up. But then came January 1st 2000 and the Prime Minister’s speech on the new millennium, in which he apologized for the policy of norwegianization and promised the Sami compensation. Now, thought those deprived of schooling; at last, here comes our money. But their joy was short-lived, for on 17.03.2000 the following letter arrived from the Prime Minister’s office:
"Collective restitution for the Sami
The fund, which Prime Minister Bondevik, in his new year’s speech, suggested should be set up is intended as a collective restitution for hurt which the norwegianization policy has, in previous years, caused the Sami people. The whole of Sami culture has suffered through norwegianization, and the Bondevik government has therefore considered that it would be right that restitution should be given collectively to the Sami population. It is, in other words, not to be understood as compensation for individuals who have suffered injustice or loss. These must, in the normal way, apply for compensation through the system of indemnity.”
(our emphasizing. SL)

This happened after both the committee on indemnity and Parliament had, on two occasions rejected all applications! It is tempting to ask if one half of the state apparatus knows anything at all about what the other half is doing.

However, USKAV’s toughest still hadn’t given up and they found a new possible source of compensation, namely, the national-aid fund for war victims. But there the applications ended up at the Ministry of Education- Research- and Church Affairs which, on 19.02.01 who responded by pointing out that all applications for indemnity were rejected, some hope however, could still be derived from the conclusion: “Parliament passed a resolution last year to set up a Sami fund. The interest from the fund shall go to various different undertakings that will strengthen the Sami language and culture. This shall be the collective compensation for the damage and injustice that the policy of norwegianization has caused the Sami people”, as it says in the committee report.”
It doesn’t say as much, but it is difficult to interpret in any other way than that this is where the victims of lost education can apply for compensation. This letter was sent out 11 months after the Prime Minister’s office, as shown above, had underlined that the fund is specifically NOT to be used for this.

Not an øre (a farthing) from the Sami fund

As this is being written, it is nearly 5 years since Bondevik announced the setting up of a Sami fund, yet there still hasn’t been paid out an øre from the fund. The main reason for this is precisely the arguments about compensation for lost schooling. First the Ministry of Municipal- and regional affairs said that they would draw up guidelines for the fund in co-operation with the Sami parliament, after which they spent a year drawing up a proposal which they sent to the Sami parliament for consultative comment with a “return by” limit of 2 weeks. - This can hardly be called co-operation, stated the President of the Sami parliament, and made it clear that the Sami parliament would spend as much time as was necessary to circulate the matter further and to “consult the Sami people.” [5]

In the draft charter from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, it states that “The fund shall not be used for individual cases of compensation.” The Sami parliament has at its disposal the interest from the fund, yet it can’t use this interest in order to give compensation for lost schooling. The consultative comment “from the Sami people”, in reality, from municipalities and Sami organizations, showed that very many reacted negatively to the fact that the victims of lost schooling were still being denied compensation. Many of the comments stated that the fund, or a major part of it, ought to be used for this purpose. At the same time there were many who let it be known that the state couldn’t buy itself off from 100 years of norwegianization with such a derisory sum.

When the Sami parliament dealt with the case on 30.05.2002, they agreed not to accept the central authorities mixing the issues of compensation for norwegianization with compensation for lost schooling during the war. There was though, no agreement on how the fund should be treated. Some representatives of the Sami parliament wanted to use the fund to give compensation for lost schooling, but the majority felt that this matter should be resolved without resorting to the fund. The result was that the Sami parliament demanded that the government resolve the question of compensation for lost schooling, and made this a condition of their accepting the fund.

In 2002, some of those who had been deprived of schooling demonstrated outside the Sami parliament, with the demand that the Sami People’s Fund should be used to give them compensation.
(Foto: Seija Guttorm)

The Sami parlament: God dag, mann – økseskaft [6]

5 A battle with the authorities at various levels is not an easy matter, even for someone with a normal education. With a poor knowledge of Norwegian and poor reading and writing skills it is, of course, even harder. The thing about USKAV is that it is an organization consisting solely of people with little schooling. Here, there are no academics among the leadership and no general secretary with qualifications in administration and the processing of applications. In order to be able to keep up the necessary correspondence with the authorities they have had to ask for help, and many have helped, both paid and unpaid. Therefore, on 3rd September 2003, USKAV applied to the Sami parliament for ”50000: kroner to cover the cost of secretarial assistance, travel, stamps/telephone etc.”

After 6 months and 23 days the Sami parliament answers:
We refer to your letter of 11.09.04 (wrong date, should be 11.09.03 ed.) We regret that you have had to wait so long for an answer from us. Unfortunately, the Sami parliament has not set aside funds for the purpose for which you have applied. At the Sami parliament’s plenary session in November 2003 the question of the Sami People’s Fund and the victims of lost education was raised. We enclose and refer to the answer which the council of the Sami parliament gave on this matter. In St.meld nr 10 (2003-2004) the Government points out that; - The Government has now decided that an assessment shall be made of how to deal with the claims from the different groups in a comprehensive and orderly manner. This assessment will have an effect on processing of the claims from the victims of lost education due to the 2nd world war. The Government will emphasize that one should not lose sight of the particular background on which the various claims are based. The council of the Sami parliament will await the Government’s assessment on this matter.

The Sami parliament’s support for those deprived of education is undeniably shown in a rather unfavourable light when it takes them over half a year to respond to such a simple application. And when the answer does come, it is way off the mark in relation to the application. USKAV is applying for secretarial assistance for their organization, but the Sami parliament respond by referring to the processing of the claim for compensation from the victims of lost education, a matter in which their efforts, for the time being, seem to be to “await the Government’s assessment”. In addition, the answer is written in a language that is both bureaucratic and unclear. If we take the sentence “Unfortunately, the Sami parliament has not set aside funds for the purpose for which you have applied.” Literally, it says that the Sami parliament regrets that the Sami parliament itself has not set aside funds. It may be surmised that they meant that the Sami parliament hasn’t received funds for this purpose (from the state), but this is not actually what it says.

Took over the speaker’s chair at the Sami parliament

When the victims of lost education received a letter like that, they obviously realized that the Sami parliament wasn’t thinking of doing anything apart from waiting. They had themselves waited for 20 years and thought that was enough, and their patience was at an end. So when the Sami parliament met in Karasjok at the end of May, 60-70 elderly Sami walked into the parliamentary assembly-chamber. Some of them went up to the parliamentary speaker’s chair and spoke, demanding that the Sami parliament take up the lost schooling matter anew. They made it clear that they would not leave the parliament building until their demand was met. This got them a meeting with the Sami president, who promised to put the matter on the agenda. The result was that two days after the demonstration, the Sami parliament passed a resolution demanding that the government change the rules so that those who had suffered lost schooling could get compensation from the Sami-fund.

Government U-turn

Since the Sami parliament wouldn’t accept the Sami People’s Fund until the question of compensation for the victims of lost schooling had been resolved, it became clear to the authorities that they hadn’t finished with the matter. In Parliamentary bill 10 (2002-2003), On the workings of the Sami parliament 2001, the government stated that they would look into how the resolution from the Sami parliament could be followed up, and in the corresponding bill the following year came notification that a collective re-assessment was to be made of the compensation claims from various groups. So in May 2003, the government set up a working-group with representatives from 9 departments to evaluate the system of compensation in general and to suggest solutions. Based on the report from this group, the government, on 2nd July 2004, presented Parliamentary Bill 44 (2003-2004), with the title: "Erstatningsordning for krigsbarn og erstatningsordninger for romanifolk/tatere og eldre utdanningsskadelidende samer og kvener." (“System of compensation for war-time children and systems of compensation for the Romani people/Tarters and for elderly Sami and Kvens who have suffered loss of education.”)

In the Parliamentary Bill, central authorities admitted, for the first time, that these groups ought to receive compensation, even though they were not thought to have a legal claim to it. It was suggested that the compensation be granted through the system of indemnity, the same system by which all previous claims had been repeatedly turned down. But this time the government wanted Parliament to signal to the committee on indemnity that the claims were considered to be reasonable.

As has been mentioned, this wasn’t the first time a government-appointed committee had recommended compensation for lost schooling, since the committee which investigated the matter from 1991-93 had also done so. Both committees consisted of representatives from different departments. The difference is that, on that occasion the government turned down the proposal of economic compensation, while in 2004 it recommended it. Both the report from the working-group and the parliamentary bill site previous processing of the matter and the reasons given for having rejected the application for compensation. The Parliamentary Bill is, in reality, a crushing condemnation of these reasons. Firstly, it is clearly shown that this group “has been particularly unfortunate, both in comparison with others who lost schooling, with others who were subjected to the policy of norwegianization, and with the majority population in general.” The argument is rejected that compensation is not given for situations caused by the war, by pointing out that compensation was given to Jews whose property was confiscated and to Norwegians who had been Japanese prisoners of war. Also rejected was the notion that the policy of norwegianization could be used as an argument against giving compensation. And not least, recourse to the Sami fund was also rejected, as this was not intended to cover individual compensation claims. In other words, the government, with this bill, dismantles all the previous arguments against giving compensation.

They have thus given complete political restitution to those who have fought for compensation and to all who have supported them. However, as regards the size of any economic compensation, the government’s proposed offer was way under what the claimants had asked for. While the claim from the victims of lost education has, for the most part, been somewhere between 500,000 and 1 million kroner, the government is proposing sums of between 50000 and 100000.

At the time of writing however, the matter still hasn’t been finally decided. First Parliament has to process the parliamentary bill and give the committee on indemnity any subsequent mandate, as well as set aside money in the budget. Then the committee can start dealing with the applications. Here the government has said that those who have applied earlier do not need to apply again. Even so, it can take quite a long time to deal with several hundred applications.

When, in the winter of 2004 we interviewed representatives of USKAV in Kautokeino, they said: - We have tried every way, but lost everywhere. The authorities have ignored us the whole time. They only remember us when it’s time to pay tax. No case has taken such a long time. 20 years have passed since we started our claim for compensation for inadequate schooling, but it seems as though we shall pass away without having received any compensation.

In autumn 2004 it is still unclear if any of them will get any compensation while they are still alive, but they have, in all events, received political restitution and recognition that their previous claims were turned down by the authorities on erroneous grounds.

[1] Solbakk, Regnor (red): Utredning om tapt skolegang. Rapport fra et arbeidsutvalg vedr. samer som har tapt skolegang under 2. verdenskrig. Kommunaldepartementet 1993, kap 4.4.B (Investigation into lost schooling – report from a working committee concerning Sami who have suffered loss of schooling during the 2nd world war. Ministry of Municipal Affairs)
[2] Quotes and information from the school board in Kautokeino are from the archive left by teacher and school board chairman Alfred L Larsen, Sami archive, Kautokeino.
[3] Norsk Pedagogisk tidsskrift 39-1955
[4] This account is from an interview which Hanna H Hansen made in the 1980s with people in Porsanger about their time at school.
[5] Letter from the Sami parliament to minister Sylvia Brustad, 27.09.2001.
[6] Literary "Hello, man – axe-handle". Norwegian saying meaning to talk at cross-purposes.

More articles from Sami school history 1