New election for the Sami Parliament, a blow to the self-determination of this people in Finland | Polarjournal
Plenary session of the Sami Parliament in Finland. Photo: Sami Parliament of Finland

After giving in to the pressure of around a hundred appeals, the Finnish Supreme Administrative Court invalidated the 2023 elections organized by the Electoral Commission of the Sami Parliament. Seventy-two people will be forcibly added to the electorate for the upcoming elections in June. According to international organizations that fight for respect for the rights of indigenous populations, this is a means of influencing the vote in favor of non-Sami people.

The Sami people of Finland will be called to the polls on June 24th to vote and determine, once again, the 21 members of the Sami Parliament of Finland as well as its four substitute members. This re-election was launched in March following a decision by the Finnish Supreme Administrative Court invalidating the results of the 2023 elections. The reason: the rejection of around seventy people wishing to join the electoral roll by the Sami Parliament’s Electoral Commission, because it did not recognise them as Sami. “It’s an absurd situation where a Finnish administrative court thinks that these people are Sami, while the Sami think that they are not”, explains Aslak Holmberg, the president of the Saami Council, an NGO that represents the Sami people since 1956.

The Supreme Administrative Court has decided to respond favourably to some of the hundreds of appeals it has received concerning the electoral roll after the 2023 results. “The Supreme Administrative Court will have the final say on who can take part in these elections, yet it is a Finnish court and has no special competence over Sami culture or the Sami people”, explains the president of the Saami Council.

This situation has been referred to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. “They both conclude that Finland is violating the Sámi’s right to self-determination and freedom of political representation. They consider that the Supreme Administrative Court is influencing the outcome of the vote by adding people to the electoral roll”, explains Aslak Holmberg.

Speech by Pirita Näkkäläjärvi, President of the Sami Parliament, at the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples last April. Photo: Rosa-Máren Juuso / Sami Parliament in Finland

Fabian Salvioli, Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Human Rights Council, stated last March: “Finland must revise the Sami Parliament Act to bring it into line with international standards and international legal mechanisms for the protection of human rights. Progress in this area will be a measure of Finland’s real commitment to the rights of indigenous peoples.”

For the time being, this political body representing the Sami people has a consultative role in certain matters concerning its territory, such as the use of land and water, and respect for traditions. The Sami Parliament “plays an important role in protecting the Sami way of life, such as reindeer herding and fishing”, explains Aslak Holmberg, a native of Tenojoki – which straddles Norway and Finland.

Tenojoki River on the border between Norway and Finland. Image: Karl Brodowsky / Wikimedia Commons

Salmon fishing is the basis of their culture and livelihood. Hundreds of thousands of new species of salmon are arriving in this fishery. They are classified as a harmful species in Norway, where “the Sami have no say in their management either”, he points out.

Towards a consensus

Parliament’s consultative role is not often followed by other Finnish institutions, he says: “For example, we have been included in processes concerning state action in parks and forests, and even though we have said that we totally disagree, our opinion has not been taken into account”.

In a report published at the end of May on the international rights of indigenous peoples and progress in Finland, the Finnish Council for Truth and Reconciliation with the Sami People – set up by the government in 2018 – agrees. The report points out that the reconciliation process, after “progress in the situation of the Sami people in Finland, seems to have come to a halt or lost coherence.”

It recommends changing the law so that the Sami Parliament is included in a decision-making process, where its opinion really counts in reaching a consensus. This is the principle of “Free, prior and informed consent (FPIC)” described by the United Nations.

The Sami people in Finland have been deprived of their ancestral lands, which are currently in the public domain. “This is contested because there are no official documents showing how the State obtained these rights and the properties of these villages”, points out Aslak Holmberg. The Sámi are now in the minority in most municipalities where non-Sámi have a strong position. Nor do the Sami hold any decision-making positions at national level.

The Sámi, the only indigenous people recognized by the European Union, celebrate a national day on February 2 on their territory in Sweden, Finland, Norway and on the Kola Peninsula in Russia. X : NSEO

The hot governance issues behind these disputes on Sami territory overlap with economic development and the energy transition. Projects for mining and the extraction of rare minerals, as well as the development of wind energy, do not meet with consensus. On several occasions, Samis have spoken out against mining projects in Sandinavia, Ohcejohka since 2015 and Enontekiö in 2020.

The Finnish Council for Truth and Reconciliation with the Sámi People recommends that the State include the Sámi Parliament in these matters, in accordance with the principle of “Free, prior and informed consent (FPIC)”, and the new elections scheduled for June are not conducive to reconciliation.

Camille Lin, Polar Journal AG

Link to the report: Martin Scheinin, Kansainväliset alkuperäiskansaoikeudet ja niiden toteutuminen Suomessa: Selvitys saamelaisten totuus- ja sovintokomissiolle, 2024, Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

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