Recognition of Sami Land Rights

Aila Biret Selfors with a New PhD at the Faculty of Law!

She is smiling and holding her thesis in her hands.
Aila Biret Selfors, PhD in traditional Sami attire. Foto: UiT
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Sollid, Sondre Studentansatt
Publisert: 28.05.24 08:51 Oppdatert: 28.05.24 10:45
Arktis Lov og rett Urfolk

Thursday last week, Aila Biret Selfors successfully defended her doctoral thesis on the recognition of Sami land rights. She delivered the introduction to her defense in Northern Sami, which was simultaneously interpreted into Norwegian for the less Sami-fluent part of the audience—a first in the faculty's history!

Sami law ≠ the law of the Sami people

Aila explained to the audience that her thesis clearly distinguishes between Sami law and the law of Sami people. She explains that Sami law refers to Norwegian legal rules concerning the Sami people as a group. In contrast, the law of the Sami encompasses the Sami people's own laws, legal perceptions, and legal culture.

Different Views on Sami Needs

A central topic in her thesis is how land rights are established according to the law of the Sami and to what extent Sami legal perceptions are recognized within the framework of Norwegian law. She highlights that land rights in the law of the Sami are founded on a more holistic spiritual and physical connection to the land, whereas Norwegian law primarily emphasizes intensive (agricultural) use.

Furthermore, she explains that, according to the traditional Norwegian view, rights of use (usufruct) have been seen as sufficient to satisfy the Sami people's needs in relation to land use. However, Aila's findings indicate that Sami norms for land rights cannot be adequately satisfied by usufruct alone; they also require some degree of governance or managerial oversight.

How to Write and Theorize Sami Law?

She emphasizes that a major challenge in her thesis was writing about and theorizing Sami law. In addressing this challenge, she adopted a legal pluralist and decolonized comparative perspective, treating Sami and Norwegian law as distinct yet equally significant legal systems.

When mapping the Law of the Sami, she found it necessary to employ a holistic and interdisciplinary perspective, integrating both Sami ontology and epistemology, along with insights from other fields such as anthropology and history.

A legal theoretical innovation within Sami jurisprudence, Aila's work involves an attempt to compile and systematize unique Sami legal sources. She emphasizes Sami values, customs, legal perceptions, and traditional knowledge as the fundamental basis for constructing a Sami legal doctrine.

Discussion and Challenges

They are posing together and smiling for the camera.
From the left: Dean Tore Henriksen, Heikki Pihlajamäki, Aila Biret Selfors, Gunnar Eriksen and Kirsti Strøm Bull. Foto: UiT

During the defence, Aila faced challenges from two opponents. The first opponent was Professor Emerita Kirsti Strøm Bull, a prominent figure in Norwegian Sami law for several decades.

Bull questioned Aila about the relationship between Norwegian law and the Law of the Sami, particularly in the context of (Norwegian) Sami law.

The second opponent, Professor Heikki Pihlajamäki, posed questions concerning the theoretical and analytical framework of the thesis, including the compilation of Sami legal sources.

Aila's thesis represents a substantial and innovative contribution to the comprehension of Sami land rights and legal perceptions. Her work underscores the importance of acknowledging, investigating, and theorizing about Sami law autonomously, as well as integrating Sami perspectives into legal research and practice.

Did you know?

The Faculty of Law at UiT - The Arctic University of Norway has a research group dedicated to Sami and Indigenous Peopes Law.

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