Finnish Sami Parliament - 1997 [photo: Pii Aalto Ohlejohka]

Land Rights, Linguistic Rights, and Cultural Autonomy
for the Finnish Sami People

by

The Finnish Sami Parliament

[Reprinted with permission from Indigenous Affairs, No.33/4, July-December, 1997]

In many ways over the past few years the position of the Finnish Sami people has improved considerably. However, since early 1995, the Finnish Sami Parliament has observed with a growing concern that, at the same: time that Finland secures or intends to secure a special position and rights for the Sami population in its legislation, in administration and in the implementation of treaties, the acts and organised activities against the Sami are increasing in the Sami homelands. Some members of the majority population - and some municipalities (local governments) - do not accept the fact that the Sami people are guaranteed the use of their own language and the exercise of their own culture with arrangements that do not apply to the rest of the population. In addition, some news media and journalists transmit, without the slightest criticism, propaganda against the Sami and express their own anti-Sami attitudes.

Either because of the Penal Code or entrenched practices, public prosecutors do not sua salute prosecute anti-Sami acts which have already become rooted in everyday life in our society. The organised anti-Sami activities by the majority population are a source of anxiety for the Sami, frightening some of them to the extent that they no longer dare behave as Semi. The situation essentially weakens their de facto possibilities to use their mother tongue, practice their own culture and assume their own identity and own way of life. The anti-Sami actitivities also have a negative effect on political decision-making, creating difficulties for legislative solutions affecting the Sami population.

The Eleventh and Twelfth Periodic Reports of Finland

At its forty-eighth session, from 26 February to 15 March 1996, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in item 12 expressed its concern over the Sami people's participation in the 'Sami Parliament' in their own mother tongue; and in item 24 recommendcd that the State Party do all in its power to enable Sami children to persue their studies at primary and seccondary levels in their mother tongue.

On item 12, the Sami Parliament would like to specify that three Sami language are used in Finland: Northern Sami, Inari Sami, and Skolt Sami. The legislature permits the use of all three languages in the Sami Parliament both for meetings and for records. The Northern Sami is used for both purposes systematically. The other two can be used f'or meetings with simultaneous interpretation. Their use is, however, undermined by a lack of resources; both financial factors and a scarcity of qualified interpreters.

As regards item 24, the Sami Parliment states that primary schools in the municipality of Utsjoki have classes where pupils are taught in the Sami language and in the municipality of Inari teaching of Sami-speaking children is proximately half and half in Sami and Finnish. Schools at secondary level particularly are afflicted by a shortage of materials in the Sami language and of Sami-speaking teachers of special subjects.

It is estimated that there are only a few children under and of school-age whose mother tongue is Inari Sami or Skolt Sami. The teaching of these languages in the schools is decreasing, because they are optional subjects. Whether or not children take optional language classes is decided by parents, who were forbidden even to speak the Sami language at school till the 1960s. These parents do not dare put their children in classes which are given in Sami for fear that the children will not learn enough Finnish. The speakers of Inari Sami and Skolt Sami both number 400 to 500 persons. These languages are dying out in Finland and in the world. The government and the Finnish scientific community show interest in the matter in too few practical measures or allocate too scarce resources for such measures. In fact, not much would be needed to turn the development round.

The problems of education in the Sami language are related isolation, school administration, and resources.

Our legislation does not require with sufficient unambiguity that Sami children be taught the Sami language and be given school education in that language. Schools are administered by municipalities. The Sami population does not enjoy a specific legal position in the decision-making process on the provision of education for Sami children and in the related use of government grants. These funds are not earmarked for the Sami population. In recent years the reverse trend in government funding has led to a halt in the previous, positive development, and the municipalities have not been able to bring the education of Sami children to the level of goals specified in the law. The teaching of the Sami minority languages: Inari Sami and Skolt Sami, is at risk for yet another reason: they are optional subjects in schools.

The Sami language is the foundation of the Sami education and culture. Education in the Sami language and the teaching of that language are part of the linguistic rights of Sami people and of the basic services for citizens. The administration of basic services lor the Sami should, in accordance with the Act on Sami Cultural Autonomy, be administered by the Sami themselves, instead of being dependent on the various bodies in municipal school administration. on their composition. and on the political climate at a given moment.

In spite of the legislation, the provision of daycare in the Sami language does not function at nearly a satisfactory level; in some places it is not provided at all. The Sami language and culture are not adequately transmitted by the generations of grandparents and parents to those children under school-age who do not receive daycare in that language. In the next phase. the school cuts the children off from their cultural background and its values.

If the Sami language and culture are not transmitted in daycare and school education from one generation to the next, they will die; as will happen with the minority languages of Inari Sami and Skolt during the present generation unless action is quickly taken to revive them.

Those of the Sami population who are ill or old end up in institutions where they, as Sami speakers, have little contact with the staff. This is due to the lack of social wellfare and health care services in the Sami language and of the near total lack of Sami speaking staff in the municipalities of the Sami homelands.The shortcomings evident in municipal social welfare and health care services could be remedied by adopting Sami cultural autonomy as the basis for the legislation, administration, provision, and monitoring of social welfare and health care services for the Sami.

Land Rights

In item 11 the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed its concern over the shortcomings in the guarantees for the land rights of the Sami people and over the national and international economic activities (mining, logging, etc.) which threaten the Sami way of life and in item 23 proposed that the Finnish Government draft a clear policy on Sami land rights and on the ratification of ILO Convention No. 169.

In its present legislation Finland does not guarantee the Sami rights on land, water and natural resources; nor does it guarantee the Sami people the right to the livelihoods that are part of their culture. This applies both to the rights relating to the property of the Sami population and to their rights under international treaties.

As early as 1978 the Constitutional Law Committee of Parliament gave an opinion (PeVL 7/1978 vp) that it would promote the aims of the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and increase the protection of law afforded to the Sami people if the law on the division of water areas, as far as the legal rights of Sami communities are concerned, were the same as those of other title holders. To date, this has not been implemented as far as the Sami water areas or fishing rights are concerned; however, the fishing rights are protected under the Constitution Act of Finland, as was noted by the Constitutional Law Committee of Parliament as early as 1978 (see PeVL 30/1993 vp, e.g.).

The situation is similar as regards the ancient Sami right of ownership to land - and the related rights to practice reindeer herding, fishing and hunting - which remains unsettled in law, even though the Constitutional Law Committee of Parliament has repeatedly urged the Government to present proposal to solve the question without delay (see PeVL 3/ 1990 and 6/1990) vp; HE 248/1994 vp p. 3). Yet another area where these rights remain to be settled is administration where the Sami do not yet have a special position.

In 1993 the earlier Sami Parliament was assigned the task of drafting a proposal on land rights, and the Parliament set up a working group for that purpose. The current Sami Parliament pursues the task, with a view to producing a proposal in the form of a Government Bill, which would in its part remove obstacles to the ratification of ILO Convention No. 169. In accordance with the views adopted by the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Labour' the Government is obliged to provide the Sami Parliament material support for its task. The Sami Parliament considers the concern expressed by the Committee over the Sami land rights justified. The question is before the Sami Parliament for settlement, but to date the Government has not allocated funds for the work. While the Government is yet to adopt a policy on Sami land rights, it has in any case entrusted the Sami Parliament with the task of drafting a proposal to solve the matter.

Linguistic and Cultural Rights and Resources

Since 1992, under the Sami Language Act (516/91), Sami people have had the right to use the Sami language before authorities, orally and in writing, and to receive a reply in the same language. In practice, however, the exercise of these linguistic rights by the Sami is based on translation and interpretation, creating crucial obstacles to dealing with authorities. The level of linguistic rights afforded to the Sami population in the Sami Language Act should be re-examined to assess whether it reaches the level guaranteed to the Sami in the Constitution Act as regards the right to maintain and develop their own language and culture (see Chapter 3). The status of the Sami language in school laws should be examined in the same light.

In Inari the education and training centre for the Sami region already offers classes in the Finnish and Sami languages; the knowledge of both languages is included in the qualifications of newly recruited teachers. The purpose of the school is to preserve and develop the Sami culture and natural livelihoods. The Sami people are in a determining position in the administration of the training centre.

In 1996 the Sami Parliament adopted three Sami languages spoken in Finland as the languages which have an equal status in the Parliament: Inari Sami, Skolt Sami and Northern Sami. The implementation of the decision is being postponed until government funds are made available for it. In many places Semi people have already changed. languages. This particularly applies to Inari Sami and Skolt Sami. and in certain areas also lo Northern Sami. The revival, maintenance and development of the Sami languages require speedy measures and targeted resources.

Today. the practice of Sami culture is subsidized from the state budget. Decisions on the allocation of the funds are made by the Sami Parliament. The Sami Radio has a channel for daily broadcasts in the Sami language. Construction for a Sami Museum started in the autumn of 1996. Special measures are still needed to create such cultural services as TV broadcasts in the Sami language, especially programming for children, to support Sami arts, and to protect Sami handicrafts and the Sami cultural heritage.

The Fundamental Rights and Cultural Autonomy of the Sami people

The legislation relating to the Sami population has recently undergone a profound reform. On 17 July 1995, in the context of the Fundamental Rights Reform (9fi9 95), a new Section 14 was incorporated in the Constitution Act of Finland which iii subsection 3 guarantees the Sami people as an indigenous people, the right to maintain and develop their own language and culture. The reform came into force on I August, 1995. At the same time, a new section 51 u (t)73/95) was added to the Constitution Act which gives the Sami people, as an indigenous people, cultural autonomy in respect of their language and culture within the Sami homelands More specific provisions on the mattes were incorporated in the Act on the Sami Parliament (974/95), which applies to a body of representatives elected by the Sami people from among themselves and the powers of that body. The laws on cultural autonomy came into force at the beginning of 1996. They do not apply to land rights or to the right to a livelihood (See PeVM 17/1994 vp).

Together with the Sami Parliament Act, the amendments to the Constitution Act considerably improve the possibilities of Sami people to develop their own language and their own culture on the basis of cultural autonomy. In practice, however, the implementation of the reform is being slowed down by a lack of resources and vocal anti-Sami activities.

The purpose of the Act on the Sami Parliament was to slightly widen the definition of Sami which is based on the Sami language. Because of a technical error which through oversight was left in the bill, the definition of Sami became so ambiguous (see PeVM 17/1994 vp) that most non-Sami people in the Sami homelands have reason to believe that if they so wish they can seek to be defined as Sami. They believe that this gives them a right to decide on cultural autonomy for the Sami and to enjoy any other rights and benefits afforded to the Sami people.

The Sami Parliament, adopted on 1 March, 1996, a statement to draw attention to the shortcomings in the Act on the Sami Parliament. The Parliament rejects the new, wider definition of a Sami and demands that the definition based on language be restored to what was the definition in the Decree on the Sami Parliament (988/90) and still is in the Sami Language Act (516/91). If that definition is not restored, there is a risk that the wider definition in practice leads to the forced assimilation of the Sami with the majority population, against the purposes of the legislation on cultural autonomy. In its statement the Parliament also requires that the laws relating to the electoral register for the Semi Parliament be harmonised with the safeguards under European Community law for the private life of an ethnic group.

Relations Between Population Groups

The unresolved nature of the Sami land rights and of rights to livelihood together with the problems relating to the Sami right to cultural autonomy and an ambiguous definition of Sami is about to turn the concept of cultural autonomy for the Sami people against the Sami.

Some members of the majority population in the Sami homelands have organised into a registered group called 'Lappalaiskulttuuri - ja perinncdyhdistys r.y.' (Association for Lapp Culture and Traditions). The association works systematically against the Sami population and against cultural autonomy for the Sami people, attempting to prove its own members as the real Sami and the Sami people as self-seekers and fakes. The purpose of this activity is to undermine the identity of the Sami minority and to obscure and deny the existence of the Sami culture. The anti-Sami group is not interested in the language and culture of the Sami people. Instead, they try, against the wishes of the Sami population, to be elected to the Sami Parliament as Sami, in order to enjoy the economic benefits they expect to gain and to nullify the Sami cultural autonomy.

The means used by the group include threats made in public on civil war and violence. The group has publicly spread lies and defamatory comments about Sami people, their representatives, and officials in Sami administration, in addition to spreading anti-Sami propaganda. The group has obstructed the work of the Sami Parliament by making requests to the police and the highest authorities exercising legality for investigations. and by submitting demands to the supreme courts for the cancellation of the results of the elections for the Sami Parliament and for the publication of electoral registers on the Sami, which records on ethnic origin.

The municipalities in the Sami homelands - Enontekio and Inari - where the Sami are a minority, have acted in support of the anti-Sami activities of the majority population.

A number of news media and journalists, such as the largest provincial daily in Lapland, the major national daily newspaper and a national news agency, have since the spring of 1995 systematically transmitted anti-Sami propaganda in the name of the 'Lappalaiskulttuuri-ja perinneyhdistys r.y'. This type of activity seems to be increasing and taking harsher forms.

The Penal Law

To date, public prosecutors have not sua sponte held it necessary to, under the Finnish Penal Code, prosecute activities directed against the Sami. In addition, the Finnish Penal Code (Chapter 11 Section X) does not in every respect fulfill the obligations under Article 4 of the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The Article requires that the State Party declare illegal, among other things, the following acts:

- all dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority or hatred;

- incitement to racial discrimination against ethnic groups or individuals;

- all acts of violence and incitement to such acts against ethnic groups or individuals;

- assistance to racist activities, including financing;

- organizations which promote racial discrimination:

- organized and all other propaganda activities which promote racial discrimination; and

- participation in such organizations or activities.

All the obligations under Article 4 of the Convention should be incorporated in the Finnish Penal Law in the manner required by the Convention.

[This article it based on a position paper from the Finnish Sami Parliament to the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs concerning the Report of Finland to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.]


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