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Five Tips for Teaching About Indigenous Peoples and National Minorities
Tips and Guidance

Five Tips for Teaching About Indigenous Peoples and National Minorities


  • Pedagogy and Didactics
  • Indigenous Peoples and National Minorities

Think interdisciplinary and holistically

It can be advantageous to work interdisciplinary, ensuring that the history of the Sámi people and national minorities is treated as an integrated part of a shared narrative for Norwegian history and society. An alternative approach to addressing the Sámi people and national minorities as a separate topic is to make them recurring themes throughout various parts of Norway's history in social studies and history classes. A pitfall of treating Sámi people and national minorities as a separate block on the timetable is the reinforcement of minorities as "the other," which can contribute to existing prejudices.

Diversity is natural, and all individuals have multiple identities

Working with diversity and identity opens the door to practice critical thinking and nuance among students. There is always significant diversity within a group and between groups. A person's perception of themselves is also diverse, with different aspects becoming important in various situations. The portrayal of indigenous peoples and national minorities in textbooks, for example, may not necessarily align with the identity of a student with Sámi or national minority heritage. Teachers can break down how groups and group affiliations are discussed by emphasizing the diversity within a group. For instance, although a rule within Judaism is to observe kosher (Jewish dietary laws defining permissible food), very few Jews in Norway follow all these dietary rules.

Culture is a dynamic entity

It can be challenging to grasp meaning and depth in cultural expressions not personally experienced. The challenge lies in the lack of opportunities for nuance. Actively using static cultural expressions as symbols for a group's distinctiveness can lead to static expressions and stereotypical perceptions. Freezing or locking the cultural expression to a fixed part of certain groups attributes characteristics to individuals from minorities that they may not necessarily identify with. For example, the Forest Finns represent the last major swidden culture in Europe, and this livelihood can explain the group's settlement in Eastern Norway in the 1600s. This way of life is part of many people's group identity, but it is essential to emphasize that swidden cultivation has not been practiced for several hundred years, and this livelihood is not necessarily a significant identity marker today.

Be cautious about making individual students representatives of the group

The Council of Europe's Framework Convention provides protection against discrimination for individuals with indigenous status or national minority background. It states that any person belonging to an indigenous people or national minority should have the right to choose to be treated as such. While it can be enriching if students with minority backgrounds want to share about themselves with the class, identity can be private and sensitive. Assuming that parts of students' identities are openly shared with classmates should be done carefully. If the student initiates, the representation can also be nuanced by highlighting diversity within the group through teaching. For example, as a teacher, one cannot assume that a Sámi student can speak a Sámi language or has a connection to cultural expressions like flags and traditional attire.

No individual represents the entire history or identity of a group

There are various ways to perceive history, present, identity, and belonging. An individual cannot define on behalf of others what it means to be part of a minority group. If external representatives are brought in to discuss the Sámi or a national minority, diversity can be emphasized by highlighting that there are more than one organization for each minority group and that different individuals will have different views on the group's history, characteristics, and what it means to belong to a national minority or to be Sámi.

All individuals from national minorities are Norwegian citizens.

It can be essential for education to clarify that both Sámi people and national minorities are Norwegian citizens. Norway's national minorities have a connection to the country going back at least 100 years, and the Sámi, of course, even longer. Clarity on this can prevent misunderstandings, such as students confusing Norwegian Roma with Roma from other countries. Racist attitudes towards indigenous peoples and national minorities can also be expressed through comments like "get out of the country" or "go back where you came from."