Church of Sweden apologizes for abuse of the Sámi People

The Church of Sweden apologizes for its complicity in the abuse of indigenous Sámi People. Magnus Aronson / Icon
The Church of Sweden apologizes for its complicity in the abuse of indigenous Sámi People. Magnus Aronson / Icon

“An essential step forward on the long road of reconciliation”

(LWI) - The Church of Sweden (CoS) delivered a public apology on 24 November for its role in “legitimized repression” and centuries of “mistreatment and complacency” toward the Sámi People. The apology to leaders of regional indigenous groups took place in the Cathedral of Uppsala, at a special service of worship of the General Synod.

The apology is the first of two outlined in a statement released this June by CoS declaring eight commitments toward ongoing reconciliation with the Sámi People. The second public apology is planned during the Sámi church conference in Luleå in October 2022.

Non-Sámi and Sámi People, as well as Lutheran church leaders from neighboring Nordic countries, encircled a flame at the front of the Cathedral as Church of Sweden Archbishop Antje Jackelén referenced the Gospel story in Luke of the woman who suffered a crooked back for eighteen years.

“As Archbishop of the Church of Sweden, I stand before you, the Sami, and confess that we have NOT engaged with you at eye level. We have been curved inward on ourselves, we have not stood up to racism and abuse of power. Our backs are bent by the guilt we carry. We have placed unjust burdens on you. We have burdened your ancestors with shame and pain that has been inherited by new generations.”

Jackelén continued, “We cannot undo what has been done. But we can feel remorse for our part in Sweden’s colonial history. We can feel remorse for our inability and unwillingness to accept the truth and meet you at eye level.”

The Sámi shared personal accounts of mistreatment, the colonialization of Sámi land and horrific boarding school experiences inflicted on the Sámi People.

“The testimonies we have heard today confirm our church’s complicity in the abuse of the Sámi, said Archbishop Jackelén. “The wounds, the pain, the shame, the self-loathing, the anger and the difficult memories are real. When we failed the Sámi people, we also failed our Creator. We have not been faithful in our discipleship. We have not been responsive to the presence of the Holy Spirit in Creation.”

Warning that the church must not repeat the errors of the past, Jackelén urged, “While we wait, we pray to God and ask you that we may increasingly meet each other at eye level. That we do not repeat past mistakes. That we all let ourselves be touched by Jesus, who gets down on his knees to straighten those who stoop. Both those of us who bear the burdens of the victims and those of us who bear the burdens of wrongs committed in the name of the Church. Those of us who bear the perpetrators’ burdens of guilt and those of us who bear the victims’ burdens of suffering. So that we can recognize Christ in each other.”

Members of the Sámi community attending the service described the event as the beginning of a long journey. "My hope and belief is that this apology will lead to a change," said Ingrid Inga, chair of the Sámi Council of the Church of Sweden. “I feel very humble to be part of this apology, and that it isn't just empty words from the Church. It comes with commitments and a ten-year process where they will be realized."

The Church of Sweden will allocate EUR 3.9 million toward a 10-year plan to achieve the eight commitments for reconciliation. These include pledges to strengthen and revitalize the Sámi languages, to increase the influence and participation of the Sámi people in the Church of Sweden and to increase awareness of the church’s historical relations and abuses against the Sámi people.

LWF/A.Gray