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Damian Glass
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Niklas Labba, Academic Director of the Centre for Sámi Studies at the University of Tromsø – Arctic University of Norway, explored the importance of First Nations voice and constitutional recognition during his 2018 Narrm Oration at the University of Melbourne last night.

The Narrm Oration, which has been delivered annually since 2009, profiles leading Indigenous thinkers from across the globe.

Mr Labba’s lecture, ‘The Sámi Parliament of Norway – lessons for indigenous peoples’ governance’, drew on his experience working for the Norwegian Sámi Parliament as the Head of section for Sámi language management and language politics development.

Mr Labba grew up as a traditional reindeer herder which he combines today with his role at the University of Tromsø.

“I am Sámi born and raised in a Sámi cross-border reindeer herding family in the north of Scandinavia,” Mr Labba said.

“We have our summer pastures in the Norwegian high mountains. That is the natural summer grazing areas for our reindeer. Winter time we lived in a house in a small village in Övre Soppero - the Torne river valley in Sweden.”

University of Melbourne Pro Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous) Shaun Ewen said Mr Labba’s Oration offered insights into the importance of First Nations’ voice and constitutional recognition to the long-term prosperity of Indigenous peoples. 

“The story of the Sámi offers profound lessons on the operationalisation of an Indigenous voice to Parliament, and the related concept of self-determination. With Sámi people divided across four nation states – Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia – the likely future for the Sámi differs greatly across those states," Professor Ewen said.

“Only in Norway is the right of the Sámi to self-determination recognised and an agreement between the Sámi Parliament and the Norwegian state in place that the former should be consulted about issues concerning the Sámi people. This is, in principle and in part, what the Uluru statement requested: an Indigenous voice to the Australian Parliament.”

Following the Oration, educators, researchers, policymakers, students and the broader community will come together today and tomorrow to participate in the second biennial Indigenous Higher Education Conference (IHEC).

Hosted by Trinity College, the purpose of the Conference is to drive important discussions about how to support and improve educational outcomes for Indigenous students undertaking university studies.

A strong line-up of national and international speakers has been secured for the Conference including: Associate Professor Sheryl Lightfoot, an advisor to the University of British Columbia’s President about Aboriginal affairs; Professor Jacinta Elston, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous) at Monash University; and Dr Nikki Moodie, a senior lecturer in Indigenous studies at the University of Melbourne.