Article Sweden: Parliament Directs Government to Investigate Return of Sámi Cultural Heritage Objects

On May 4, 2022, the Swedish parliament voted to direct the Swedish government to propose rules and a framework for returning cultural heritage items, including cultural objects and human remains, to the indigenous Sámi population. As part of its general mandate, the parliament, in addition to passing laws, can also direct the government to initiate certain actions. In this case, the parliament specifically instructed the government to “investigate the legal, financial, and practical conditions for creating a cohesive body of rules for identification and return of Sámi objects and remains.”

The vote comes as part of a larger, 11-item Committee for Culture report (Kuturarvsbetänkandet, Cultural Heritage Report). The first item on cultural heritage included eight motions, all of which were approved. The members of parliament who proposed the motions argued that the legislation would be “part of reconciliation efforts with the Sámi people and that it is important that the state expedite the return of Sámi human remains and ceremonial items by taking a greater responsibility for the process, legally, administratively, and financially.” (Cultural Heritage Report at 11, translation by author.)  Another issue discussed in the report — protection for museum holdings on loan from other institutions — was rejected because it is currently under review.

An initiative that was partly refused included a motion that all holdings of Sámi cultural objects held by the state should be transferred to the Ájtte Museum (Stiftelsen Ájtte – Svenskt Fjäll- och Samemuseum) in Jokkmokk, which is located in the Swedish part of Sápmi — the traditional Sámi homeland — but is a state museum. Under that proposal, the Ájtte Museum would have owned the holdings and could display the items on location or through traveling exhibits.

The Sámi people have long argued for the return of Sámi items that are held by public museums. The Swedish Sámi Parliament in 2007 requested that the government direct Swedish museums to undertake an inventory of all Sámi holdings.

The ownership of cultural heritage items has been subject to recent review by public institutions, and objects and remains have been returned or are scheduled to be returned by Swedish entities, both to the Sámi people and to native peoples abroad. For example, on May 5, 2022, the Swedish government reportedly announced that it would approve the return of cultural items of the Yaqui people, particularly the sacred Maaso Kova, a deer head used in religious ceremonies that was purchased by a research group during their visit to Mexico in the 1930s and is currently held by the Swedish Världskulturmuseum (World Culture Museum). The museum has decided that it will return the items for humanitarian reasons, citing article 15 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention and article 12 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Before the decision, the museum had expressed particular concern over the risks of returning the object to the wrong recipient and maintained that there was no legal obligation to return the item because of how it was acquired.

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Sweden: Parliament Directs Government to Investigate Return of Sámi Cultural Heritage Objects
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Chicago citation style:

Sweden: Parliament Directs Government to Investigate Return of Sámi Cultural Heritage Objects. 2022. Web Page. https://www.loc.gov/item/global-legal-monitor/2022-06-12/sweden-parliament-directs-government-to-investigate-return-of-sami-cultural-heritage-objects/.

APA citation style:

(2022) Sweden: Parliament Directs Government to Investigate Return of Sámi Cultural Heritage Objects. [Web Page] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/global-legal-monitor/2022-06-12/sweden-parliament-directs-government-to-investigate-return-of-sami-cultural-heritage-objects/.

MLA citation style:

Sweden: Parliament Directs Government to Investigate Return of Sámi Cultural Heritage Objects. 2022. Web Page. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/global-legal-monitor/2022-06-12/sweden-parliament-directs-government-to-investigate-return-of-sami-cultural-heritage-objects/>.

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