Report sheds light on Swedish minority’s historic mistreatment

The front page of the report “I was like a prisoner then”. (Curt Persson/Swedish Tornedalian Association)
People from the meänkieli-speaking Torne Valley in Sweden’s Far North were subjected to racial research, including skull measuring, as late as the 1950s, according to a new report.

At least 150 people on record in the archives of the then State Institute for Racial Biology in Uppsala, have been identified as tornedalians – people from the valley of Torneå, right on the border with Finland.

This now infamous institute, which was disbanded in the late 1950s, carried out its research on thousands of people of ethnic minorities, measuring their skulls, checking the colour of their hair – including their pubic hair – and comparing them to what was seen as a ‘higher standing’ Nordic race.

In more recent years, the Tornedalians with their mother tongue of meänkieli – a distinct Finnish dialect – have gained status as a national minority in Sweden.

The report named “I was like a prisoner then” – a pre-study commissioned by the Swedish Tornedalian National Association and funded by the government’s Culture Department – sheds light on the historic mistreatment of tornedalians.

Hanna Aili, of the youth organisation Met Nuoret for people who identify as Tornedalians, said it’s moving to read the report’s interviews with those mistreated.

“For me it was a revelation, that I suddenly understood why my grandmother doesn’t want to speak meänkieli to me,” she told Radio Sweden.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Final Truth & Reconciliation report released in Canada, Eye on the Arctic

Denmark: Nordics report high abuse levels against women, Radio Sweden

Finland: Finland proposes a committee to address injustices toward Sámi people, YLE News

Norway:  Injustices against Sámi, Kven peoples to be examined by commission in Norway, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: More protected lands on Nenets tundra in Arctic Russia, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Treatment of Sami people among Swedish shortcomings: Amnesty International report, Radio Sweden

United States: Bering Sea tribal groups slam Alaska delegation for ‘standing by’ as Trump struck order giving them voice, Alaska Dispatch News

Ulla Engberg, Radio Sweden

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