"Finland's Sami Fear Assimilation"
dzo at BISHARAT.NET
Thu Apr 10 11:26:21 UTC 2008
The Traditional Knowledge Bulletin blog has a link to this IPS article at
-fear-assimilation/ . The full article and link to it are below:
Inter Press Service News Agency
RIGHTS: Finland's Sami Fear Assimilation
By Linus Atarah
HELSINKI, Apr 7 (IPS) - There are growing concerns among the Sami people in
Finland that their traditional way of life as an indigenous people is under
"The difficulty facing us is that we are facing comprehensive and complete
assimilation all the time," Pekka Aikio, former president of the Sami
Parliament told IPS.
The Sami are recognised in the Finnish Constitution as an indigenous people.
They have an elected parliament that handles their affairs, and have the
right to receive services in their own language. But parts of the state
administration do not pay attention to the constitutional recognition, says
Martin Scheinin, professor of international law at the Åbo Academy in Turku
city, 170km from capital Helsinki.
"They keep treating the Samis as a linguistic minority," Scheinin told IPS
following a meeting on the rights of the Sami organised by the Finnish
League for Human Rights last week.
The Sami are an indigenous people of Northern Europe inhabiting mostly
Sweden, Norway and Finland, with an estimated population of about 100,000.
About 8,000 of them live in Finland.
Hundreds of Sami families are involved in reindeer herding, their
traditional source of livelihood. But the process of assimilation means many
of the Sami have taken on the lifestyle of other Finns.
Scheinin says the Sami way of life is threatened significantly by competing
usage of land -- often by the government itself -- through cutting down
forests. This destroys pastoral lands of the reindeer, and besides the harm
done to reindeer herding, brings social and emotional stress.
A central issue, according to Scheinin, is that the Sami have no secure land
rights in Finland. Large areas of land in the north where many Sami live is
state-owned. "Nobody knows how the government got this land, from whom they
bought it. They simply took it," said Prof. Scheinin.
The Reindeer Act protects the rights of the Sami people. "Nevertheless, it
is the government that decides, and over and time again the state forestry
agency decides that they can continue cutting the forest while claiming that
it is a small project that would not negatively affect Sami reindeer
herding. But when you look at the totality, it has huge impact," Scheinin
Aikio says reindeer herding is a general right. "It means others can own
that land and we can be there with our reindeer but we have no right to
complain if others are harvesting their timber or if they are starting a
mining project or they are constructing a lake. In such circumstance we lose
the pastoral lands almost without any compensation. Samis can use the land
insofar as it is not being used."
In Norway, Aikio says, where a majority of the Sami people live, the
situation is better because the government has given joint land ownership to
the Sami and other local people. Norway has also allocated more money for
the Sami than other countries have, he said.
The land usage rights of the Sami people is complicated by the fact that
Finland has not ratified International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention
169 on land rights for indigenous and tribal peoples. The Convention was
adopted in 1989 and came into effect in 1991.
Article 14 of the Convention says: "Governments shall take steps as
necessary to identify the lands which the peoples concerned traditionally
occupy, and to guarantee effective protection of their rights of ownership
ILO Convention 169 would require Finland to start demarcation of land that
belongs to the Sami either through ownership or through protected usage
According to Prof. Scheinin, the resource rights related to land are crucial
to the maintenance not only of the nature-based way of life of the Sami
people, but also their language and culture.
"The Sami language lives and dies with the Sami way of life because the
social activities around reindeer herding and in the nature-based forms of
livelihood really keep up the living language. If it is isolated to a museum
piece I think there will be no future for the Sami language," Scheinin said.
Finland's Minority Ombudsman Johanna Suurpää says the government is not
pursuing a deliberate assimilation policy. "The situation in the northern
part of the country is not very simple because there are also non-Sami
people who are engaged in reindeer herding, and so there are no simple
solutions that would be fair for all parties," Suurpää told IPS.
Suurpää acknowledged difficulties over language. "The law provides that Sami
people have the right to receive services in their own language but what is
received is inadequate," she said. This is because there are no civil
servants in the north who know the Sami language well enough. The usual
focus is on land rights, but the language issue is becoming a "crisis", she
"It is only the artificial support that they are receiving across the
borders from their brother and sisters that in way has enabled the
continuation of their way of life," said Scheinin. "If it were the question
of Finland alone, it would have resulted in destruction of the Sami way of
life if not earlier, then during the last two decades." (END/2008)
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