Breaking the ice

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Publicerad: 2012-01-17


ISSN: 1650-3686 (tryckt), 1650-3740 (online)


Of all the Nordic countries; only two have ratified the ILO convention 169 on indigenous peoples on behalf of a minority group: Norway in 1990; and Denmark in 1996. The minorities in question are the Norwegian Sámi and the Greenlandic Inuit. These two peoples share a history of cultural and political discrimination; but also a growing awareness of their cultural and indigenous identity from the 1970s onwards. Cultural historical museums were established in both areas during the following decades; yet the oldest and largest collections of Sámi and Greenlandic material were to be found in the institutions of their former suppressors. This paper compares Norwegian/Sámi repatriation processes to those of Denmark/Greenland.

In 1981; a huge collection of watercolours was handed over to the Greenlandic Home Rule Government as a first step in the process of repatriating 35 000 items from the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen to Greenland’s National Museum in Nuuk. The process was completed in 2001 and is acknowledged by UNESCO as an exemplary one; providing general guidelines for cooperation on the subject of repatriation. The earlier and more conflictual cases of reacquisition of Icelandic and Faroese cultural heritage; demonstrates however that successful Danish repatriation strategies have developed only gradually. Repatriation of Sámi heritage from Norwegian institutions has not been an equally smooth process as the Greenlandic one; and is mainly connected to human remains. The return of the skulls of two beheaded leaders of a socialreligious revolt taking place in Kautokeino in 1852 became a symbolic victory. The Norwegian Museum of Cultural History (Norsk Folkemuseum) is in these days about to transfer half of its collection to Sámi museum institutions; and in 2011 a delegation of Norwegian and Sámi museum professionals went to Nuuk in search of inspiration for the work that lies ahead.


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