Foto: Tor Lundberg Tuorda
Foto:Tor Lundberg Tuorda

The Colonization of Sápmi

Despite being taxed and forcibly converted to Christianity, the Sami were viewed as unpredictable by the Swedish state. Their mobility as nomads was threatening and they could not safeguard the state's claim to the territory in the north.

For the state there was only one way out: Swedish farmers would have to move to the wilderness and cultivate it. With a settled farming population, they knew what they had, and this meant that they could claim territorial rights to the land.

Claim territory
However, there was little interest among Swedes in moving north. As long ago as the 16th century, King Gustav Vasa had been interested in encouraging people to move to the wilderness in the north. However, the event that really awakened the interest of the Swedish state in colonising the Sami region was the discovery of silver in Nasafjäll in 1634. With a silver mine in the Sami region, it became even more important to claim it as Swedish territory.

The Lappmark Proclamation
So what should be done to attract settlers to the north? The solution was the Lappmark Proclamation of 1673. This stipulated that anybody who settled in the Sami region would be granted tax exemption for 15 years and would not have to serve as a soldier in any war. The latter offer was a very attractive promise, because Sweden was often at war at that time. As the Sami's contribution to the public treasury was considered to be significant, it was stipulated that settlers were not allowed to disturb the Sami in the exercise of their trade, nor to colonise land in their Lapp tax lands, but only land that was considered to be unused.

Sami forced back
The Lappmark Proclamation was renewed in 1695. In this new version it was emphasised that the settlers should clear arable and pasture land, and that excess burn-beating should not occur. In Kemi Lappmark, the influx of settlers had entailed major problems for the Sami. That was the destination for the majority of the settlers, and they burn-beat the land as they advanced. Hunting and fishing were still the most important trades for the Sami in Kemi Lappmark, and burn-beating caused the game to disappear. The Sami complained time and again in the courts, and as the lay assessors were still Sami at this time, their complaints were met with understanding. The settlers were fined and ordered to cease with the burn-beating, but this did not help. During subsequent centuries, the Sami in Kemi Lappmark were consequently forced off their land.

The Lappmark Regulation
The state eventually realised that it was necessary to clarify the division of trades between settlers and Sami. The Lappmark Regulation therefore followed in 1749. In this it was determined that the settlers should primarily devote themselves to farming and the keeping of livestock. To ensure that they did not encroach too much on the Sami's trades, they should not spend too much time hunting. However, they were entitled to fish in the Sami fishing waters. The hunting and fishing rights extended for a radius of 5 km around the colony, although hayfields could be owned further away. The colonial rights were now also opened up to the Sami. The people in power thought that since the Sami and the settlers were supposed to use the lands in different ways, they could live side by side. In reality it wasn't possible to survive only by cultivating the soil in this harsh climate.

Strong position
Historically the Sami had a good reputation, especially the Vasa kings liked them because of their contributions to the public treasury. The Sami hade their own representatives in the old Swedish Riksdag, in the yeomanry, and they could exercise influence on their own trades. Up to the middle of the 18th century the position of the Sami in the Lappmark areas was fairly strong. The majority of the lay assessors could be Sami and their was both understanding and knowledge about the situation in the courts. In court disputes with settlers on land use, the Sami usually won. Reindeer herding was considered an important trade, alongside with agriculture and stock-raising.

The same rights
All inhabitants in the Lappmark area had the same kind of rights up to the 19th century. Then colonization of the lands really took off and the Sami had to accept encroachment in the Lapp tax lands. More settlers resulted in more conflicts, especially about fishing lakes. The authorities' view on land properties gradually changed. More often the Sami lost court cases on land disputes.

Industrialization
The industrialization changed everything. Water power plants and mining caused devastation of reindeer grazing grounds and hunting grounds. The state took the language, the lands and the common law from the Sami. Ideas about lower and higher races spread, Sami heads and bodies were measured in the name of racial biology and the extinction of the Sami people was merely a matter of time. Reindeer herding and Sami culture was a burden to the society. The Sami were supposed to settle down, assimilate and pursue other trades and occupations.

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