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The General Synod of the Church of Norway

Resolution of the General Synod of the church of Norway

02 September 2002

World Council of Churches
Geneva, Switzerland
26 August - 3 September 2002

The General Synod of the Church of Norway


1. The General Synod expresses its satisfaction over the involvement and sense of positive self-awareness which characterizes church life today, and looks forward with great anticipation to better taking advantage of the resources which this can bring to Norwegian church life in general.

2. The General Synod recognizes that the public authorities’ norwegianizing policy and the role of the Norwegian Church in this context has resulted in infringements upon the Sami people.
The General Synod wants to contribute to the discontinuation of injustice.
The General Synod recommends that further work be carried out with reconciliation services.

3. In order to ensure the edification of competence and skills, as well as recruiting for Sami church life, the General Synod requests that the Church Council continue to work for:
s the budgetary prioritization of education and research;
s the establishment of expedient scholarship programmes;
s actual competence within Sami church life being evaluated as comparable to formal requirements for admission to education.

4. In accordance with the Sami Church Council’s statute §2a: “The Sami Church Council has a duty to incite towards Sami church life being sustained as a necessary and equal part of Norwegian church life”, and §3c: “The Sami Church council is to attend to tasks related to the General Synod and Church Council which are pursuant to the language regulations of the Sami Law”, the General Synod requests that the Ministry of Church, Education and Research and other allocating institutions make available the necessary economic resources, so that a plan of acceleration for positions within Sami church life may be realized in the course of the next four years.

5. The General Synod requests that the Church Council follow-up on the Sami Parliament’s inquiry regarding intercessory prayer, both for the Sami Parliament as well as for the Norwegian Parliament and Government.

6. In order to follow-up on the intentions – both nationally and internationally – of that which has been initiated in connection with the UN’s International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (1995-2004), the General Synod requests that:
s the relevant departments make available the necessary economic resources;
s the central church councils, as well as the three northernmost dioceses promote work locally, nationally and internationally towards securing the language, culture and land rights of Indigenous peoples and hereby follow-up on the message of the member churches of LWF’s General Assembly of 1997 and the ILO Convention 169.
s the central church councils and the three northernmost dioceses take the necessary measures so parishes may continue to work on questions related to reconciliation – in correlation with the main theme of the General Assembly of the Conference of European Churches in 1997.


Case KM 13/97

Recommendation from the General Synod Committee

As a church we are called upon to proclaim the faith that all people are created in God’s image and in possession of the same human worth. Further, we are called upon to ensure that the cultural heritage of Indigenous peoples is respected and that their contribution is fully valued in the church. Both the World Council of Churches and the Lutheran World Federation have wished to follow up on this challenge in relation to its member churches. Also the UN’s International Decade of Indigenous peoples (1995-2004) challenges us to place the Indigenous people question on the current agenda. Many Indigenous people have by way of their own awareness of their cultural specificity contributed to making the challenge visible.

The Norwegian Church accepts this challenge. This year’s General Synod has chosen to address the large area this matter encompasses, concerning Indigenous peoples’ possibilities for survival, spiritually, culturally and materially speaking, with a starting point in Sami church life and the thorough basis documents which have been produced by the Sami Church Council and at the diocese of Sør-Hälogaland.

As part of an international church fellowship, we teach and believe that:

“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and they that dwell therein” (Psalm 24-1).

The Indigenous people of the world see their existential foundation being threatened. The close to 15% of the earth’s surface populated by Indigenous people, has for centuries been administrated in correlation with nature’s endurance limits. The pressure upon Indigenous peoples from far more intensive and far less durable industrial activities, now represents a threat to the existential foundation of many Indigenous peoples.

The earth to which we have received beneficial rights, belongs to God, according to the Old Testament:

“The land shall not be sold for ever: for the land is mine, for ye are strangers and sojourners with me” (Leviticus 25:23).

As humans, we have been given the task of caretakers in the best interests of the community, and of those who are to succeed us. Those with the greatest appurtenance to the area they inhabit, usually possess particular qualities which will ensure its proper management. This has often been overlooked and ignored. In areas where the pressure on the natural subsistence level is constant, it is important that the population’s own organizations contribute to sustainable management. Property rights and in particular private property rights to land, are concepts which have been foreign to the Indigenous peoples’ mentality. They are therefore in a weak position, when confronted with operations focused on drawing resources from areas which have been administrated by Indigenous peoples.

Indigenous people who have been deprived of their resources have not received adequate compensation for that which has been stolen from them. A destroyed natural subsistence level is detrimental to all survival, but for Indigenous people the material survival – through the natural subsistence level – is entirely crucial to the survival of their cultural heritage. Because of the strong connection between nature and religion, destruction of the environment will also imply spiritual crisis and despair.

Respect for the earth and appurtenance to specific land areas has through time immemorial characterized Indigenous people, and the dignity of Indigenous people is tightly bound to their relationship to the land upon which their ancestors have lived.

The development of a standardized global culture places its mark on all ethnic groups. The Indigenous people of the world are also influenced by this, but in contradiction to members connected to greater society, members of Indigenous peoples have often been coerced into assimilation with the very culture in relationship to which they have felt foreign. The language – as the strongest identity-bearing, cultural expression – has in this fashion been taken from both generations and entire groups.

The Norwegian Land Sale Law of 1902 made it possible to sell land in Finnmark solely to people who spoke and wrote Norwegian. The school policy contributed for many decades to a consistent policy of norwegianization. For the Sami in Norway, this has led to an extremely difficult identity conflict, since many have been taught to believe that being a Sami is of lesser value. Use of Sami in divine services has in Indre Finnmark been of decisive significance. From the 1800s up to 1960, Læstadianism (Christian revival movement, strong among the Sami people) has represented a counterculture to external influences. Under the process of the authorities’ norwegianization process, which was most intensive along the coastline, the Sami language, ideas and values from the Læstadian assembly survived and through the efforts of the Norwegian Sami Mission in Finnmark.

Language and cultural heritage comprise a fundamental part of the identity of all people. For Indigenous peoples in contact with greater society, it is of particular importance that this identity be taken care of.

As Christians, we have a responsibility to promote community values in the face of an accelerating individualism. Redemption in Christ, which all people may take part in, frees us to enter into the service of others. The community values which we perceive as threatened for us, are preserved to a greater extent by Indigenous people. We know that Indigenous people take part in carrying on the Christian community values within their own religious and cultural traditions. In Norway, more of such teachings from the Sami and other Christian sisters and brothers, can help us rediscover this aspect of the Christian message.

We have much to learn from the community and solidarity of Indigenous peoples.

On the basis of this, the General Synod recognizes that:

v Christianity has been good for the Sami People and the Læstadian revival has contributed to strengthening the Sami self-image. In spite of this, the Norwegian Church has, particularly in this century, allowed itself to be used by the Norwegian authorities in a norwegianization policy which viewed the Sami cultural as inferior. There is still far too little political will towards providing the space and the economic framework for Sami liturgical life, particularly with respect to the Lule-Sami and South Sami language areas.

v The Norwegian Church has not to a sufficient extent been present for those who have experienced the attempted misappropriation of their pride and dignity. Many Sami have experienced this, but we would here particularly emphasize the Lule-Sami in Sø-Hålogaland Nidaros and Hamar dioceses.

Two brief glimpses of two different lives can illustrate how difficult it can be to acknowledge one’s own Sami identity – after the family, school system and church have effectively contributed to one’s being deprived of this:
s A woman would not allow a pastor to mention at her mother’s funeral that her mother – and consequently her mother’s successors – was of Sami descent.
s Another, somewhat younger woman, has parents who have not had the chance to learn Sami at school, but who appreciate that she in her adult life, is learning the language which they had never had the chance to learn.

v The Norwegian Church has not to a sufficient extent shown respect for the Sami Christian faith. They have neither received satisfactory space for the own particular spirituality and cultural specificity, religious experiences and language. We still have a lot to learn and derive from Sami cultural heritage and church life, also in the areas of theology, church music and liturgy.

The General Synod recognizes that this has created wounds and that the Sami have often been alienated in relation to the church. Nonetheless, they have through their Lutheran Christian understanding – particularly in relation to their faith in God as creator and savior – shown a strong attachment to the church.

In the reconciliatory process, we now need the Sami people to state for themselves how the wounds may be healed. We recognize that we have a need for dialog and that this can first be realized when it takes as its starting point needs expressed at the local level. A reconciliation can never be “passed”, but the framework can be established so that this reconciliation may take place.

The Bible’s message of equality and justice places and obligation on the worldwide church. The oppression which we read about in the Bible is always followed up by a confirmation that God is against the oppressors – on the side of the oppressed:

For I know your manifold transgressions and your mighty sins: they afflict the just, they take a bribe, and they turn aside the poor in the gate from their right” (Amos 5-12).

At the same time, the Bible is full of reconciliatory messages – in the midst of our sundered time. In the midst of the sufferings of this world, we find hope by turning to God:

“Accordingly, if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. The old is gone; lo, the new has come. But all things come from God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:1718).

· Through the foundation of the Sami Church Council, founded in 1992, Norway has been a pioneering nation, in terms of providing Indigenous peoples in the church with greater influence on their own situation in different aspects of Christian life. The five years which have passed since the resolution, have also been used to establish contacts with the international Indigenous peoples network, primarily through the Indigenous Peoples Program in the Church World Commission. Among others, “Mother Earth” and “Spirituality” have served as title for the working contribution which Indigenous people make world-wide.

· As the first nation, Norway in 1990 ratified the ILO Convention 169 (International Labour Organization) on Indigenous people and tribal people in independent states; the first Indigenous people s convention without an assimilative objective. Norway had already accepted in the Constitution § 110a that: “It is incumbent upon the national authorities to make the necessary arrangements so that the Sami People can ensure and develop their language, their cultural heritage and their societal life”. Through other resolutions as well, Norway has committed itself to the promotion of Sami interests.

· The Sami Rights Commission’s report, delivered at NOU 1997: The Environmental Basis to Sami Culture sketches a model for Sami co-determination within Finnmark county, which has significance for Sami culture and Sami industry. The decision model which is proposed is, briefly, based on placing the control of non-renewable resources in Finnmark at the county level (Finnmark basis administration). A minority from the Sami Rights Commission proposes a reinforced Sami representation in the administration of non-renewable resources in the municipalities where this is approved by the municipal council (Sami basis administration). The Sami Rights Commission further proposes that control over renewable resources be placed a municipal level or town level. Such a system ensures local administration to a much larger extent than previously. In relation to Norway’s obligations as regards international law, pursuant to the ILO Convention 169 and other ratified documents, the Sami Rights Commission has contributed to the Sami being able to strengthen their rights without the discrimination of others.

· Subsequent to the Sami Rights Commission’s report being commissioned and various school plans for administration of the Sami language and culture being passed, we have experienced the surfacing of strong expressions of Sami discrimination. It is difficult to pinpoint general explanations, but we must adhere to the standpoint that we as Christians can never take part in creating distinctions between peoples.

· In addition to the Norwegian authorities being responsible for follow-up of the work for Sami people in Norway, a long list of tasks awaits internationally. The work towards reinforcing the vital necessities of Indigenous people’s of the world, has been included in Agenda 21, but in the years which have passed since the Rio Conference 1992, we have among other things witnessed that within the WTO (World Trade Organization) regulations, it has been possible to purchase rights and acquire the patent on biological and genetic material, so-called “intellectual property”. This allows for significant exploitation of all biological materials. Indigenous peoples must purchase at a high price resources to which they formerly had natural access. The establishment of a so-called permanent forum in the UN, where representatives for both Indigenous peoples and states will have seats, will also evaluate the operation of larger enterprises. The establishment of this limited meeting place must not lead to the disappearance of other forums for the international participation of Indigenous people.

The pain and infringements which Indigenous peoples have experienced all over the world, have many common features. The oppressed have at all times used the kyrie – appeal to God – and prayer to appease the pain and some of the most essential theology we have had passed on, has arisen through such situations. This contextualization and challenge to solidarity and the call to conversion has come to us from Christians among oppressed population groups in nations such as the Philippines, Botswana, South Africa and El Salvador (The Road to Damascus, 1989).

The Norwegian Church is, from many quarters, challenged to work on with contextual theology and thereby make the gospel pertinent and current for people within their own context. The report from the study programme, “The Gospel and Culture”, is testimony of how our Christian understanding is shaped by different geographic, social and cultural environments. The experiences from both the coastal culture and Sami culture in Northern Norway were extremely useful in this process. There is a clear desire for such processes to continue.


The General Synod wishes to apply to the following bodies with these requests:

v The Government must ensure that the convention stipulations for Indigenous peoples which we have undertaken, survive. Particularly important here is paragraph 14 in ILO Convention 169, where it reads:
When conditions so dictate, measures shall be taken to ensure the rights of the people in question to use land areas where they are not the sole residents, but where they have traditionally had access, for their subsistence and traditional activity.”

A judgment passed in the Supreme Court, October 24, 1997, in a case between property owner interests and reindeer farming interests in the Røros district, implies that the possibilities for reindeer farming are considerable weakened. Although the case has many sides, we request that consideration be taken of the Sami perception of rights and whether the requirement to ensure the Sami traditional activities, is sufficiently provided for in the old reindeer farming law from 1978 which the Supreme Court used as its basis. The new reindeer farming law from 1996, which to a greater extent is based on the ILO Convention 169, represents a strengthened legal protection for the Sami people. Further, a Norwegian follow-up of the UN’s Decade of Indigenous Peoples of the World, as well as work towards establishment of an international legal protection of Indigenous people, must be ensured, also economically.

v The Church Council must, within its budgetary responsibility and in collaboration with the Sami Church Council and the three northernmost dioceses, seek new means by which to finance hiring of professional consultants and language consultants within Sami church life. This work must also be connected to the ongoing initiatives in national, county and municipal management, as well as the Sami Parliament. Central to the work for the promotion of Sami culture and society are existing centres that attempt to promote Sami cultural expressions. This holds for Arran – Lule-Sami centre in Tysfjord and two southern Sami centres – Sijti Jarnge in Hattfjelldal and Saemien Sijtie in Snåsa.

v The three northernmost dioceses must work towards making contact with consultants with a proficiency in Sami language and culture – one for each of the three Sami languages. This is of great importance for the strengthening of all aspects of Christian life in these areas. Proficiency in the Sami language and Sami church life must be strengthened in general. A particular emphasis must be placed on finding professionally qualified persons who have the confidence of the Sami population.

v The Sami Church Council must together with the Council on Ecumenical and International Relations and Norwegian Assistance and Missionary Organizations make a greater investment in spreading the spiritual experiences and religious and cultural expressions of Indigenous people to Norwegian congregations. Norwegian Church Aid must continue work with its Indigenous people strategy. In the nations where Norwegian Church Aid has its operations, collaboration with Indigenous people organizations must be given priority. In work towards the dissemination of different Sami experiences, cooperation must also be sought out with other church societies in the Sami areas, as well as the Norwegian Sami Mission. The Sami Church Council must within the framework of the Coordinating Council for Christian Churches in the Barents Region (SKKB) strengthen cooperation with the Sami people on the Kola peninsula.

v Congregations and congregation employees in the Norwegian Church must attempt to create space for reconciliation where conflicts exist, either in the past or present. The congregations must also outside of the administrative areas for the Sami language, (Karasjok, Kautokeino, Nesseby, Porsanger, Tana and Kåfjord) continue to encourage the use of Sami elements in the framework of the divine service and in liturgical aspects of the service. It must be clearly communicated that this is done to disseminate an inheritance that has been promoted to far too small an extent in Norwegian society. Also the Norwegian Church is subject to the Sami Law §3-6 "Everyone has the right to individual church services in Sami in the Norwegian churches’ congregations in the administrated areas.” The offer of church services in Sami for Sami people residing in Oslo and Bergen must be strengthened.

v The World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation and the Conference of European Churches must continue to work towards spreading the voices of Indigenous people in international organizations, especially in the UN’s Working Group on Indigenous Populations. The work for the General Assembly for the World Council of Churches in Harare in 1998 must be followed by representatives for Indigenous peoples worldwide, and there is a desire that the final document be characterized by the Indigenous people who are present.

The Conference of European Churches (CEC) has appointed a work group on racism and xenophobia that includes a Norwegian representative appointed by the Sami Church Council. This work should be further disseminated to Norwegian church life.

v The theological educational institutions also have a role in emphasizing the Sami understanding of Christianity. Of particular importance is the establishment of the Ecclesiastical Educational Centre in the North. More knowledge of the Sami language and Sami understanding of Christianity is essential to this education receiving the place it deserves in the northernmost parts of the country. A budgetary follow-up from the Parliament is expected in order to ensure this work.

v The Norwegian Bible Society must continue to give priority to the publication of Bibles, liturgical materials and other literature in Lule-Sami and Southern Sami. The work on translation of the Old Testament into Northern Sami must be granted further resources. In connection with the elucidation of legalized right to religious education, it must be ensured that this education can be carried out in the native language.