According to Denzin, Lincoln and Smith (2008, p. 564), ‘The issue of ethics . . . is unfinished business in both the West and among First Nations peoples.’ . What constitutes ethical behaviour within and among research related to First Nations? This text was born out of an urge to explore the challenges faced by ethnically non-indigenous researchers who wish to study a living indigenous culture in a way that contributes not only to increasing knowledge but also to improving indigenous communities’ living conditions. The present article does not to seek to provide conclusive answers. Instead, it aspires to discuss some issues raised in relevant decolonizing literature and reflect on the challenges they raise.

It is internationally widely acknowledged that European powers historically subjugated indigenous peoples and largely disrespected their cultures, including the Sami – by colonising their lands and subjecting them to hierarchical concepts of race. Despite post-war decolonisation and increased rights for minorities around the world, most indigenous peoples’ organisations, also those representing Sami people1 , report that indigenous rights are still not respected in their countries.

Over the last few years, requests for addressing the negative impacts of the past have gained momentum. The Swedish and Finnish Sami parliaments, and The Saami Council, that represents central Sami organisations from four countries demanded national historical truth commissions be set up to discuss historical injustices.2 The Church of Sweden and the Umeå University have published a scientific anthology about the historical relations of the Lutheran Church of Sweden with the Sami, showing many injustices (Lindmark & Sundström, 2016).

The right to self-determination in the fields of culture and knowledge is described in Article 313 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that was adopted in 2007. Sami self-determination in research in Norway has, in particular, been an important topic of debate (Henriksen, 2009; Stordahl, 2008; Stordahl et al. 2015). The majority of research on Sami and other indigenous cultures is still defined and implemented by ethnically non-indigenous individuals and mainstream research institutions. Indigenous ethnic groups, including the Sami, are underrepresented in the academic world. In addition, according to the Sami scholar Jelena Porsanger, research on Sami culture by non-Sami individuals often is less useful or even dangerous. ‘Indigenous peoples are tired of research primarily because of their experience of being treated as objects, but also because research, taking extensive indigenous knowledge away, has given very little or nothing back to indigenous peoples. (Porsanger 2004, p. 108). As to my personal experience, stories about abusive researchers circulate informally amongst Sami. The wide-spread racist research before World War II is still vividly remembered in the oral history of Sami families.4

The literature by culturally conscious indigenous scholars, like the landmark book of Linda Tuhiwai Smith ‘Decolonizing Indigenous research’ from 1999, harshly criticises and dismisses scholarly texts written by well-meaning, ‘Western’ researchers on indigenous peoples by non-members of these communities. The new scholarship proposes ‘decolonising’ research, which can only be achieved by means of ‘indigenous research methodologies’ (Denzin et al., 2008; Tuhiwai Smith, 1999/2012). These methodologies can be summarised into three main points: increasing the number of ethnically indigenous persons in research, which implies prioritising indigenous individuals and; using culturally compatible ontological and epistemological approaches and maintaining indigenous communities’ control over the identity of the researchers including their ethnicity, contents and methods of research.

Indigenous claims made on the formalisation of indigenous methodologies and, therefore, political indigenous control over research have, in countries like Canada and New Zealand, resulted in a certain number of indigenous nations imposing strict rules for power-sharing procedures between researchers and indigenous organisations. However, in Scandinavia, indigenous methodologies are not obligatory – with the exception of investigations about Sami skeletal remains that are in possession of the university in Oslo, for which the Sami Parliament of Norway has to give its approval (Fossheim 2013).

In recent years, the specific nature of Sami-related research ethics has become an increasingly important issue on academic agendas. In Scandinavia, indigenous methodologies are criticised, and no consensus has been reached. Established academics have made it clear that they consider these methodologies a misguided attempt to assuage a bad conscience, which leads to biased research (Semb & Niemi, 2009). Nonetheless, Sami political representatives and organisations have persisted in asking for more respect for, and knowledge about, Sami culture – as demanded by the international research community – and requested formalised ethical codes for Sami-related projects in more, and sometimes even in all, academic fields. Some scholars consider certain research issues to be ‘internal affairs’ and ask for the right for Sami political institutions to decide when to grant permission for research (Fugelnes, 2016; Henriksen, 2009, pp. 28–30; Sami Parliament, 2015, Ingrid Inga m.fl. Samisk forskningspolitisk strategi 140520-22).

To address these issues, the discussion in the following article is divided into four sections, each addressing separate research questions. First, what are the most debated issues related to boundaries of indigenous Sami ethnicity? Second, how can indigenous ontologies and epistemologies best be understood? Third, what are the potentially positive roles of ethnically non-indigenous scientific researchers for indigenous communities that wish to decolonise? Fourth, what is the current state of discussions about the definition of legal standards for Sami-related research ethics in Scandinavia?

Fluidity of boundaries for a diverse Sami ethnicity

To avoid making invisible Sami who have been colonised and discriminated against, and to cover liquid ethnic identities, researchers have to be attentive to the broad spectrum of Sami identity positions and their discourses. Ethnicity is explained based on genetic provenance combined with cultural distinctiveness, neither of which can be taken in isolation. Anthropologists who have researched the Norwegian Sami population, both registered and unregistered, describe Sami ethnic boundaries as rather fluid (Olsen 2010; Ramstad & Saugestad, 2015). This is a not surprising observation given a Scandinavian history of identities formed in prehistoric times through continuous interactions with neighbouring non-Sami peoples (Hansen & Olsen, 2015).

Rigid legal standards for recognition of Sami ethnicity are set by the regulations for admission to the electoral registers of the three Sami parliaments. They are controversial and differ between Norway, Sweden and Finland. The two decisive points for inclusion in the registers are that the individual has to have at least one forbearer who used Sami language at home, with a generational distance of over two (i.e. Sweden) or three (i.e. Norway) generations –or even more in Finland, as persons who are descendants of persons who have been entered in a land, taxation or population registers as a mountain, forest or fishing Lapp, are by current Finnish law Sami, even if this is heavily contested by Sami organisations and became the object of a controversy that recently reached the highest national political and legal levels.5 In addition, he or she must consider him- or herself Sami.

Sami identity in Norway and Sweden was for centuries legally not linked to ancestry or language, but to the professions of hunter-gatherer and reindeer herder. Sami individuals who changed their economic role were formally regarded as non-Sami. They were forced to assimilate, which caused widely diverse reactions (Gaski, 2008; Olsen, 2010; Selle, Semb & Strømsnes, 2013; Stordahl, 2008; Valkonen, 2014). Who today considers him or herself a Sami and who does not and whether and how an individual chooses to claim or affirm ethnic identity in public is, therefore, directly related to historical heritage.

This situation has caused several specific complications within Sami ethnic identity in contemporary Scandinavia. First, many individuals – no one knows how many (Selle, Semb, Strømsnes & Nordø, 2015, p. 149) – who are formally entitled to be listed in Sami registers have not applied to be so. Some of these individuals might not consider themselves Sami, or, even if they consider themselves Sami, they have little interest being part of the political discourses generated by Sami parliaments. Some scholars have criticised a ‘modern indigenous ideology’ that ignores the diversity of Sami identities and reduces Saminess to the definitions established by institutions (Selle et al., 2015, pp. 284–293). In addition, participation in Sami parliament elections is thought to be rather low, in particular as it is based on voluntary registration (Gaski, 2008; Selle et al., 2013).6

Second, some groups who consider themselves to be ethnically Sami and wish to be put on the parliamentary registers have not been allowed to do so, and they have denounced exclusionary and discriminatory mechanisms inside Sami society (Sarivaara, Määttä & Uusiautti, 2013). Political debates and legal proceedings are ongoing in Finland and internationally. The participation in Sami society of Sami people who consider themselves as non-ethnic is another important issue.7 These elements put into question the current Sami parliaments’ monopoly on representing Sami culture and people.

Going beyond cultural sensitivity? Indigenous ontology and epistemology

Where the Norwegian standard research ethic prescribes fine-tuned cultural sensitivity for outsider researchers (Kalleberg 2002), have Sami and Indigenous scholars developed proposals for an ‘indigenous paradigm.’8 This paradigm consists of culturally situated theoretical models encompassing culturally situated ontologies, epistemologies and axiologies. Scholarly texts on indigenous research methods frequently present tables that categorically dichotomise theoretical representations of dualistic versus individualist and ‘Western’ versus relational and holistic indigenous paradigms – labelling these worldviews (Chilisa, 2011; Helander-Renvall, 2010; Kovach, 2009; Kuokkanen, 2009, p. 55; Wilson, 2008). Classic elements of this Western versus indigenous dichotomy are hierarchical versus equal, individual versus relational, written versus oral, global versus local, competitive versus cooperative, linear versus circular, compartmentalised versus multiple, fragmented versus relational and positivist-rational versus intuitive and inclusive of spirituality. The lists of supposed opposites are often presented as rigid, normative and immovable.

Indigenous scholars frequently see the power asymmetry between indigenous and non-indigenous as the primary distinctive characteristic of this paradigm. This asymmetry is connected to a consciousness or of mutual interdependence as opposed to hegemonic attitudes, that are interpreted as consisting of an absence of consciousness of relationality’s implications and obligations. Relationality in indigenous contexts implies that, in order to exist, every element in the network has to assume responsibility for their acts’ effects on related elements. For example, the central terms for this among Northern Sami are gaskavuohta (reciprocity), oktavuohta (cohesion, cooperation), birget (survival and well-being) and láhti (gift) – all used to describe the nature of ontological relationality (Henriksen, 2011; Kuokkanen, 2009, p. 103–107, Porsanger, 2012).9

The second most important aspect of this paradigm is that a specific form of religiosity is fully integrated into the ontology.10 Porsanger (2007, p. 21), for instance, confirms that ‘the aim of the indigenous methodologies is to demystify the knowledge about indigenous peoples and to decolonise them. Dependence on spirituality and indigenous ethics are the key issues for research in the decolonising process.11 Kovach (2009, p. 58) writes, ‘All indigenous researchers showed respect for holistic knowledges. They held as legitimate inward understanding imbued by spirit.’ The religiosity of indigenous peoples, thus, continues to be the subject of academic research and debate.12

Most indigenous scholars currently express, in one form or another, the opinion that Western scientific models cannot grasp their cultural specificities (Kuokkanen, 2008, 2009). Vigdis Stordahl (2008, pp. 259–260), a well-established Norwegian anthropologist, recalls the Sami philosopher Alf Isak Keskitalo, who proposed, in the 1970s, an indigenous epistemology formulated as ‘the question of ethnic monopoly’. In this approach, only ethnic Sami were considered to possess the ability to understand and properly describe their own indigenous culture (Thuen, 1995, p. xi). This perceived incompatibility of any but the Sami is sometimes referred to as tacit knowledge, which could be impossible for outsiders to access (Oskal, 2008, p. 333). Based on this logic, any attempt to create commonly shared, generalised discourses that define shared aspects of indigenous identity can be perceived as imposed assimilation. Even the concept of hybridity is generally not used by indigenous scholars, as it is deemed to be colonising. However, this is unfortunately not elaborated upon in much detail in the literature (Jones & Jenkins, 2008, p. 475; Junka-Aikio, 2014, p. 5).

Kovach (2009, pp. 30–35) writes that indigenous research is not only relational but also includes two additional characteristics that are difficult to integrate into Western research: tribal languages and distinctive tribal knowledge and epistemologies. These are unique because they are spatially and temporally situated and born out of a historical, spiritual, practical and material relationship with indigenous lands. The use of local languages is generally considered an important factor in decolonising research. Porsanger (2011), for example, proposes a set of Sami terms to be used to describe Sami culture. Guttorm describes a culturally situated form of research, in which research on duodji (handicraft) has to be accompanied by making the duodji (Guttorm, 2014, pp. 57–62). For Sami education, P. Keskitalo & al. have contributed with comments on educational research methodology (Keskitalo, Määttä & Uusiautti 2012).

In terms of epistemology, the boundaries are less rigid. The Sami philosopher, Nils Oskal (2008), underlines that epistemology cannot prescribe research methods. Oskal perceives the reflexivity of the ‘Western’ hermeneutic method as a fundamental questioning of all assumptions, which is compatible with indigenous epistemology. Broader definitions of Western science, therefore, can include indigenous epistemologies (Kovach, 2009, p. 78).

Some indigenous epistemological issues that researchers have to take into account are orally transmitted knowledge and intuitive ways to obtain knowledge, as well as local spatial and temporal situatedness and practical embodiment (Guttorm, 2014; Miller, 2015; Myrvoll, 2002; Nergård, 2006). To get past ontological and epistemological misunderstandings, researchers who wish to understand the indigenous paradigm and its epistemologies may need to make a special effort on a personal level to overcome hegemonic discourses and dominating attitudes. As Kovach (2009, p. 169) suggests, researchers have to ‘decolonise [their] mind and heart’ and, as Spivak and others (Helander-Renvall, 2010; Junka-Aikio, 2014; Kovach, 2009; Spivak, 1988) state, scholars must accept ‘learning from the subaltern’. This can be experienced as ‘unsettling’ according to Regan (2010).

The required personal changes contain two main aspects: overcoming asymmetric power relations and accepting different concepts of time, space, logic, reality and spirituality. Kovach (2009, p. 156) writes in reference to Marlene Brant-Castellano’s work, ‘In speaking specifically about research in the academy, she said that indigenous people must [work to] suspend distrust and non-indigenous disbelief.’ Indigenous scholars, for their part, might have to end ‘colonial mimicry’ and decolonise their minds (Laroque, 2010, pp. 120–122).

An inspiring model in this context is that non-indigenous researchers’ main goal, when working with indigenous cultures, could be to gain more insight in their own society and ways in which it is entangled with colonisation. The relationship between colonisers and the colonised becomes a focus of research (Jones & Jenkins, 2008, p. 482). In this way, research can become a reflection on mutual involvement, which breaks down hierarchical relations and forms fertile ground for innovative ideas and approaches to research.

Several indigenous scholars mention the positive role of non-indigenous researchers who have managed to obtain not only the appropriate cultural knowledge and sensitivity but also community trust of them as individuals, thereby engaging in productive and respectful relationships. Harvey (2003, p. 141) states, ‘Even to establish the host-guest relationship (and therefore researched-researcher relationship) requires recognition of the sovereignty, rights, priority and knowledge of the hosts.’ Non-indigenous researchers who adopt decolonising methods and attitudes can change their status from visitors to guests of indigenous nations, and they can even be considered allies (Jones & Jenkins, 2008, p. 484; Harvey, 2003; Kovach, 2009, pp. 166–172; Oskal, 2008; Tuhiwai Smith, 2012).

How an ethnically non-indigenous person can strengthen an indigenous society with research methods

Indigenous scholars who preconise decolonisation through research strongly criticise postcolonial approaches as just another confirmation of the status quo and not as a way to support indigenous peoples. For example, the Sami scholar, Storfjell (2011, p. 8), similar to Kuokkanen (2007, 2008, 2009), summarises his decision to cease using postcolonial methods by stating that he has studied colonisers’ way of thinking enough and, instead, wishes to indigenise academia.

Researchers currently working in Sami contexts not only advocate indigenous methodologies but also discuss and propose new methodologies, such as aboriginography (Longman, 2014) or feminist-inspired indigenous standpoint theory (Sehlin McNeil & Marsh, 2015), which cannot all be discussed in detail here.

The development of approriate research methods for non-indigenous researchers have until now not been the first preoccupation of indigenous scholars. Indigenous scholars have designed methodological models for use by indigenous researchers, leading to concrete community transformation and healing all partners involved. These methods use, for instance, talking circles, medicine wheels, auto-ethnographic research or decolonising interviews (Chilisa, 2011, pp. 112–116,120; Denzin et al., 2008; Kovach, 2009, pp. 56–58; Porsanger, 2004; Tuhiwai Smith, 2012; Wilson, 2008, p. 137).

As Kovach (2009, p. 152) writes, ‘Well, we don’t do interviews in Aboriginal culture. We have discussions and talks.’ Indigenous research can in this way be experienced as a ceremony that is locally situated and embodied in identifiable persons and that integrates community spirituality and, as such, is a source of healing (Wilson, 2008).

Researchers who identify themselves as ethnic appear somehow to be inherently able to supersede asymmetric and colonial power relations. Non-indigenous researchers, in contrast, have to follow several methodological procedures to be seen as safe. The influential Aotearoan Maori scholars Tuhiwai Smith and Graham Smith (Tuhiwai Smith 1999/2012, pp. 179–180) have presented much discussed models for culturally safe cooperation with non-indigenous researchers.13 Tuhiwai Smith’s proposed model distinguishes between four options: 1) no research or a strategy of avoidance; 2) a strategy of personal development, that is, learning the Maori language, attending hui (Maori traditional gatherings) and focusing on Maori concerns; 3) consultation with the Maori and 4) a strategy of making space or letting indigenous researchers do the research. The four methods mentioned by Graham Smith are: 1) the tiaki or mentoring model in which authoritative indigenous people sponsor and guide the research, 2) the whangai model in which research is negotiated and the non-indigenous researcher is a part of the daily life of indigenous people and sustains a life-long relationship with them, 3) the power sharing model in which the community assists and support the research enterprise and 4) the empowering model in which the local community decides the research questions and the research empowers local society.

The central challenges of these approaches are how to create equal power relations, obtain cultural knowledge and sensitivity, do research that is accepted by the community and be useful to the researched community. Formal procedures to obtain individual consent or consent by legally recognised or organisations can be ineffective for indigenous communities in which knowledge is owned by the informal collective (Myrvoll 2002). The terms ‘insider or outsider researchers’ appear to have lost most of their relevance in recent methodological texts and are replaced by ethnic categories. Indigenous researchers have experienced that they easily become outsiders even in their own community and previous outsiders can gain insider status during research; the ethnic category seems to be more significant in research contexts (Porsanger, 2004; Tuhiwai Smith, 1999/2012).

Most indigenous scholars recommend the formalised methodology of participatory action research (Denzin et al., 2008; Kovach, 2009; Tuhiwai Smith, 1999/2012). This type of research requires formalised procedures for power sharing in all decisions regarding projects and the inclusion of concrete community-based activities that encourage transformative processes. Participatory action research in which Sami and non-Sami institutions share power has been used in some larger projects in Sami-related research in the health sector, in both Norway and Sweden.14 This model normally requires extra funding for meetings and the time Sami participants need to manage the sometimes lengthy consultative structures.

Consultative relationships without formal common decision-making, such as using a non-remunerated reference group, should not be seen as a viable alternative. This model might not establish truly equal relationships and the necessary interest and engagement of indigenous communities (Ween & Riseth, 2011).

Kovach has made a rare attempt to describe a research situation in which non-indigenous researchers have become allies and, on a personal basis, integrated into indigenous communities. Their holistic involvement goes beyond a neutral professional relationship and the standard requirements of informed consent and cultural sensitivity (Kovach, 2009; Tuhiwai Smith, 1999/2012, p. 177).

Debates on rules and regulations in Scandinavia

The demand for Sami rights in research and different fields of knowledge has far from clear implications for the type of desired relationships in the academic world (Minde, 2008). Swedish and Norwegian national research authorities currently believe that existing legislation and ethical research guidelines that prescribe cultural sensitivity, informed consent and return of knowledge to local communities, as well as not hindering participatory action research, are satisfactory for Sami-related research.15

The debate about research ethics is not new. It started in the 1970s when some Sami intellectuals claimed that ethnic Sami individuals should have an exclusive right to do Sami-related research and that only the Sami themselves could properly understand Sami society (Stordahl, 2008; Thuen, 1995). However, that position was subsequently rejected by Sami and non-Sami academics. The current phase of increased ethnic consciousness in Sami-related research started without ethnic research regulations (Stordahl, 2008; Stordahl et al. 2015), with a cooperative Scandinavian academia striving to achieve transformation of power relations without changing ethical research regulations. The national states have started to support the formation and long-term financing of Sami research centres in which mostly Sami academics educate mainly ethnically indigenous researchers and strengthen the use of Sami language in research.

Anthropologists have intensified their efforts to produce research useful to Sami society without changing legal research conditions (Ramstad & Saugestad, 2015). Nonetheless, indigenous methodologies have not until now been supported by Sami academic institutions, and some Sami scholars express clear preferences for some ethical code. According to Porsanger (2004, p. 107), ‘The process of decolonisation requires new, critically evaluated methodologies and new, ethically and culturally acceptable approaches to the study of indigenous issues. These approaches may differ in various ways for indigenous and non-indigenous scholars.’

Already in 1995, a group of experts nominated by governments and Sami parliaments included Sami-related research as a topic in their draft proposals to the Nordic Sami Convention. In 2005, experts finally presented their proposal of 51 articles defining common rights for Sami people in Finland, Sweden and Norway. Article 27 and its comments indicate that Sami-related research needs to consider specific ethical rules related to the Saami’s status as indigenous people. This article and its comment refer to indigenous methodologies, which go beyond existing legislation and guidelines (Nordic Sami Convention, 2005, p. 238).16 Until today, the relevant national governments have not formally discussed approving the draft proposal.17

In recent years, various academic gatherings have been followed by publications on ethics in Sami- related research in Sweden and Norway (Bockgård & Tunón, 2010; De nasjonale forskningsetiske komiteer, 2002; Drugge, 2016; Sáme – ja álgoálbmotdutkama etihkka 2008; Guttorm & Somby, 2014; Henriksen, 2009; Porsanger & Guttorm, 2011).18

Many specific ethical measures of indigenous methodologies conflict with existing guidelines. Some examples are the desire not to be anonymous in research; the need for collective, informal consent of Sami communities; recognition of ontological and epistemological differences; decision making on the research contents and benefits and the authority to approve research given to specific Sami organizations or even political bodies. In Norway, an official report published in 2012 by a committee appointed by the Norwegian government presented findings on the situation of Sami research in Norway, Finland and Sweden. The report specifically highlights the proportional lack of ethnic Sami scholars (Regjeringen 2012). The Sami Parliament of Norway is in the process of compiling a report on research policy. This organisation has already requested formalised ethical codes for separate sectors of research related to health and human remains, and the parliament may consider deciding overall ethical guidelines.19 Recently, Norwegian and Swedish reindeer herding organisations have asked that a mandatory consultative mechanism be included in research concerning their communities.20

Overall, indigenous methodological approaches have been criticised for being too vulnerable to self-censuring. They are seen as potentially uncritical, compensatory and overly based on a ‘nation to nation approach’, which some interpret as a nationalist approach (Selle et al., 2015, pp. 284–286; Semb & Niemi, 2011). The principle of the interdiction of ethnic discrimination is profoundly anchored in the academic live.


The two central approaches proposed by Sami academics in discussions about Sami-related research can be described, on the one hand, as a ‘scientific-political’ approach and, on the other hand, as a ‘scientific-philosophical’ or ‘scientific-theoretical’ approach (Oskal, 2008, p. 331). If these two challenges are formulated as research questions, they could be articulated as follows. The scientific-political approach asks: How do we address the ongoing asymmetrical power relations and political divisions and avoid perpetuating them via research? The scientific-theoretical approach asks: How do we generate appropriate scientific understandings of different cultural systems? These two questions can be linked to each other in an attempt to create approaches that take into account the fluidities of ethnicity and improve possibilities for cooperation and the transmission of cultural knowledge.

The international literature on decolonising methodologies rarely mentions recorded benefits created by non-indigenous researchers for indigenous cultures. Nor do these researchers reflect on the way their research on indigenous cultures has profoundly and positivity influenced dominant societies. Such research seldom questions ethnic boundaries, the authority of indigenous institutions or the dangers of one-sidedness in indigenous-controlled research, which often appears to be idealised in the literature. Even though a lack of staff and resources make this understandable, non-ethnic readers of decolonising methodologies may find it disappointing that indigenous Sami academics do not regularly take fluid identities into account and that their texts show reduced interest in developing fruitful cooperative approaches. In my opinion, too little effort has been put into describing and propagating open and critical dialogues and to integrating and mentoring ethnically non-indigenous researchers to do decolonising research.

Formal mechanisms for obtaining cultural knowledge and sensitivity, as well as structures providing power-sharing and decolonising research methods, are non-existent and not even under development. The current non-ethnic researchers might still be perceived as lacking cultural knowledge and as a person to whom Sami research person just needs to tell the most general and generally known information about a given issue. Asymmetric and relationships that can be perceived a colonial might still today often persists in research situations. No contact points have been established with Sami society that could help to facilitate and improve Sami-related research processes. Sami academic research centres do not have any financial means nor the duty for routines to tutor non-indigenous researchers who are not affiliated with their institutions.

Scholars might agree that not every research project requires a participatory action approach. Power sharing mechanisms and action projects demand experienced researchers, significant amounts of time and sufficient funding, which are not always possible to find. This is the case, in particular, for individual researchers such as masters or doctoral students. Can well-conducted consultative and dialogical methods might be more appropriate for small research projects? The current unsatisfactory situation and the lack of accessible research methods that are supported by indigenous academics for results in uncertainty for many non-Sami researchers (Drugge 2016a).

Meanwhile, national authorities allow increasing pressures are being put on Sami living conditions by major reductions and pollution of reindeer grazing lands and threats to water quality and fish stocks in fjords. Persistent discrimination in terms of human rights also is a reality that researchers encounter in the field. Memories of racialist research before World War II are alive in oral history and contemporary debates among the Sami. Increasing numbers of Sami academics and politicians are requesting that more sensitive indigenous research ethics be developed, inspired by the situation of first nations in the US, Canada and Aotearoa, New Zealand (Gaski, 2013).

The quality of research and its reception and impact on improving the Sami people’s situation might depend in many cases on researchers’ personal engagement, which goes beyond – or can even contradict – standard formal academic requirements. Researchers who cannot somehow achieve an acceptable research situation by their personal initiative, might end up with running into problems with Sami and achieve unsatisfactory research results. The current lack of mechanisms specifically adapted to meet Sami-related research standards creates a situation in which ethnically non-indigenous researchers working with the Sami can easily be forced into colonising positions and research projects.


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  1. See the Joint Pronouncement by the fourth Sami Parliamentary Conference held on 20 February, 2014, in Ubmeje/Umeå, and Gärdebo, Öhman & Maruyama (2014) on the need for Sami decolonisation. 

  2. The Saami Council has expressed by its delegate Anne Nuorgam on 17. May 2016 during the 15th Session of the Permanent forum on Indigenous Issues on the theme, ”Indigenous peoples: conflict, peace and resolution” will take place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from 9 to 20 May 2016. The Sami Parliament of Sweden approved an official request for a truth commission in 2014. The Finnish Sami parliament has this as an objective in its Sami Parliament’s objectives programme for 2016-2019. 

  3. This article states: ‘1. Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions, as well as the manifestations of their sciences, technologies and cultures. (…) ’ 

  4. See, for instance, Semb and Niemi (2011), Fossheim (2013), Hagerman (2015), the presentation by Stefan Mikaelsson at the Thomasson Seminar on 6 March, 2014, in Umeå, and the exhibition, Nammaláhpán, by Sikku in 2014 that included interviews with elderly Sami on this issue at Umeå Bildmuseet. 

  5. See for instance the statement of the Sami Parliamentary Council in after the ruling of the Supreme Administrative court of Finland on Sept. 30. 2015. 

  6. A full 42% of surveyed people did not register for the Sami parliament elections, indicating as their main reason their lack of support for the register’s existence (Selle et al., 2015, pp. 156–159). 

  7. One well-known example is Max Machké, an ethnically non-Sami musician and activist who is integrated into Sami society and writes about this in his blog, ‘Sami Wanna Be – Can One Convert to Become a Sami?’. Some Sami politicians in Sami parties in Norway have pleaded for the right to register spouses or socially integrated individuals with cultural competence , see NRK article ‘ Vil ha ektefeller i valgmanntallet’ from 7. april 2013; (, read on 12 February, 2015). 

  8. Wilson (2008) has written a historical overview of the academic debate that developed the indigenous paradigm. 

  9. These values are also found in Australia and many other indigenous cultures. See the Swedish article by Sehlin McNeil & Marsh (2014), in which she expresses the wish to include these values in her research ethics. 

  10. For descriptions of the Sami worldview, see Kuokkanen (2000, 2007, 2009) and Porsanger (2012). 

  11. The Northern Sami original wording is ‘Álgoalbmetodoligijaid ulbmil leage demystifiseret (eng. demystify) dieđuid álgoálbmogiid birra ja dekoloniseret álgoálbmogiid. Vuoiŋŋalaš sorjjasmeahttunvuohta ja álgoálbmotethikka leat čuovddaáššit dutkama dekoloniserenprosessas’ (Porsanger, 2007, p. 21). 

  12. Postcolonial scholars have discussed these topics. A recent publication, composed of writings by both Sami and non-Sami academics, provides improved insights on religiosity and secrecy in Sami ontologies and epistemologies (Miller, 2015). 

  13. Denzin et al. (2008) present various examples. 

  14. Some recent examples of non-indigenous scholars having successfully used participatory or power sharing in research are Lindmark and Sundström (2016) and Heikkila and Fondahl (2012); see Drugge (2016b) for more examples of such PhD researches in Sweden. 

  15. In Norway, the National Committee for Research Ethics in the Social Sciences and Humanities published guidelines for research ethics in law, social sciences and humanities in 2006. In Sweden, the central ethical review board has a Guide to Application based on the legal act from 2003. The Norwegian ethical board edited a booklet with articles on Sami-related research (Samisk forskning og forskningsetikk 2002) The board’s website carries several pages about Sami-related research. 

  16. Non-official translation of Nordic Sami Convention Art. 27, entitled ‘Research’ is as follows: ‘The states will, in cooperation with the Sami parliaments, create good conditions for research that builds upon the need for knowledge about Sami society and promotes the recruitment of Sami researchers. When planning these types of research, the linguistic and cultural conditions of Sami society will be taken into consideration. The states will, in consultation with the Sami parliaments, advance cooperation between Sami and other research institutions in different countries and beyond national borders and strengthen the research institutions that have research of the type referred to in the first paragraph as their primary task. Research that is related to Sami culture and society must apply ethical rules such as the position of the Sami as an indigenous people requires.’ 

  17. See the declaration issued by the fourth Sami Parliamentary Conference on the Nordic Sami Convention, adopted in Umeå in 2014. 

  18. Another gathering was ‘Oovtâst – Together: New concepts, theories and methodologies on Sami studies’, 25–27 September, 2013, in Inari. 

  19. See Fugelsnes’ articles in Forskningsetikk (February 2016 and March 2015, Issue 05/15), ‘Sak 05/15 Sametingsrådets Redegjørelse om Høyere Utdanning og Forskning’ [Sami Parliament’s Council Report about Higher Education and Research]. 

  20. See the online article of the Norwegian Broadcasting Company (2013), ‘Reindriftsnæringen vil ha større innflytelse. Vi skal være med på forskningen, sier leder i NRL Nils Henrik Sara [Reindeer sector wants to increase influence on research. We have to be a part of research, states the leader of NRL Nils Henrik Sara.]’.