Political geography lecturer writes on Norwegian minister’s fancy dress error

Friday, 27 October 2017

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Earlier this month (13 October) the Minister of Finance for Norway raised eyebrows by dressing up in a Native American costume for a ministerial fancy dress party.

Being a politician and a public figure in a country with its own indigenous population, the Sami, her outfit was the subject of great debate.

Dr Ingrid A. Medby from the Department of Social Sciences at Oxford Brookes University has recently written on this for The Conversation discussing the country’s political history and also the issue of cultural appropriation.

Siv Jensen is leader of Norway’s Progress Party, or Fremskrittspartiet, currently in coalition government with the Conservative Party, Høyre. The Progress Party is known for its right-wing and populist policies, in particular when it comes to immigration. 

Dr Medby discusses how it is a party which has advocated for the dismantlement of the Sami Parliament, an elected institution representing the people’s political and cultural rights.

There is widespread recognition of the importance of indigenous peoples’ inclusion in Arctic politics, something I found while researching the views of politicians and civil servants about their country’s “Arctic identities.

Dr Ingrid A. Medby, Lecturer in Political Geography, Oxford Brookes University

Today, the Sami people in Norway have recognised rights as an indigenous people. In 2005 a historical land-use agreement, the Finnmark Act, established that roughly 95% of land in the Norwegian county of Finnmark belongs to its inhabitants, who are represented by an equal number of county- and Sami-elected members in the Finnmark Estate.

Dr Medby says: “There is widespread recognition of the importance of indigenous peoples’ inclusion in Arctic politics, something I found while researching the views of politicians and civil servants about their country’s “Arctic identities”. But the right to vote and veto lies with the eight member states. In other words, consultation or not, final decision-making on Arctic matters remain with the eight states’ representatives.

“Therefore, minority inclusion in the Arctic context may implicitly require the Sami to adhere to political representation that mirrors and fits that of the majority. Power relations remain asymmetrical, whether dressed up in feathers and frills or not.”

Dr Medby also outlines how the Minster’s costume choice brought up issues on cultural appropriation, with Sami representatives criticising the reduction of indigenous cultures to Halloween costumes and the other side arguing that it was being taken too seriously and was just harmless dressing up.

“In the end, the issue is not just about one fancy dress costume,” says Dr Medby. “In Jensen’s case her choice connected to deep concerns about the lack of respect felt by indigenous peoples around the world – both in the past and present.”

Read her full article online in The Conservation published today (27 October).