Tuomas Aslak Juuso is frustrated.
As speaker of the 21-member Sami Parliament in Finland, the most important bill on his desk right now – the one that impacts all Sami, the only recognized indigenous people in the EU – seems likely to fail for the third time.
“It’s frustrating that Sami human rights don’t seem to make sense to the Finnish government,” he told Euronews.
Other Sami are unusually blunt in their criticism of Finland’s prime minister Sanna Marin in particular, on her perceived inability to act to protect their rights: accusing her of broken promises and caring more about the rights of people in other countries than at home.
The piece of legislation that causes so much consternation is the Sami Parliament Act, which defines how the Finnish government interacts with the Sami Parliament on matters affecting the Sami.
In recent years the The UN has repeatedly criticized Finland for his treatment of the Sami people and urged the government to put its house in order and enshrine in law the right to self-determination of the Sami.
As recently as June, a UN committee found that Finland violated an international human rights convention on racial discrimination with regard to the political rights of the Sami.
The Sami Parliament Act would, in theory, resolve all those outstanding issues that senior officials and ministers admit could seriously damage Finland’s international reputation.
The current five-party coalition government had promised to finally get the act through, but time is running out in this legislature, with a deadline set for 14 November to introduce new legislation in Helsinki – and there is still time before that for scrutiny and approval by the Inari Sami Parliament.
“In the government there are parties which are unable to accept the proposals to amend the Sami Parliament Act. Four parties support it but allow the fifth party, the Center Party, to play .” Juuso Explain.
In June, Sanna Marin traveled north to Inari, for a celebratory event at the parliament building. There she promised to make the Sami Parliament Act a priority, stating that “in my opinion it is very important that we prevent rights violations in the future and that we respect the right of the Sami people to self-determination”.
“I also consider it important to ensure that Finnish legislation respects the rights of indigenous peoples,” Marin said.
However, Juuso said that was the last time they heard from Finland’s Prime Minister and noted that although she had the power to present the law to parliament without the unanimous support of all parties in her government, she had so far chosen not to.
“It would be an unusual thing for her to get things done, but it’s quite confusing that she doesn’t seem willing to do that as she has repeatedly promised to bring the law to parliament,” Juuso added.
So what is the main sticking point?
The roadblocks erected by the Center Party – which has its roots in Finland’s agrarian past, but has seen its support plummet in recent years – touch on an extremely sensitive issue: Sami identity.
In the 2015 Sami parliamentary elections, the Supreme Administrative Court of Finland ruled that around 100 people who identified themselves as Sami should be registered to vote and therefore eligible to vote in elections that year.
There are approximately 10,700 Sami people in Finland, of which a third still live in the traditional Sami home areas, called Sápmi, in Finnish Lapland.
Many Sami believe that only they should be able to decide who belongs to the Sami people (and who does not), and that the Finnish state should have no say in the matter. This is a view supported by the United Nations.
Some of the people whose names were added to the voters list by the Finnish court had previously had no strong affiliation with Sami identity and culture.
They identify themselves as “Kemi Sámi”, and the Center Party claims – with some disbelief – that they are defending the human rights of the “Kemi Sámi” by blocking an act which they believe would unfairly restrict the rights of these people . .
Most other Sami see “Kemi Sami” simply as “Finns” because the Kemi Sami language became extinct over 200 years ago, and language use is one of the main determining factors. to find out who can officially be Sami, and therefore be included in the electoral register.
Currently, the notion of “Sáminess” is governed by a rule of three generations, since most people learn their language and culture from their parents or grandparents, and will have heard one of Finland’s three living Sámi languages - Inari Sámi, Skolt Sámi or Northern Sami – to grow.
A concession made by the Sámi Parliament for the new law would extend this notion to the fourth generation, but even then people who identify as “Kemi Sámi” would not be registered to vote, as the language is dead. for so long.
And there are real and well-founded concerns that if somebody is able to identify as “Sami” and run for a seat in the Sami Parliament, very soon the Sami may become outnumbered and overwhelmed in their own parliament when it comes to issues such as land use rights .
“It really affects us. There has been an estimate, even in the next parliamentary elections, that the Sami may already be a minority in our own parliament, the only organization that really represents us, the Sami, anywhere,” said Inca Mustaan environmental consultant Inari Sámi who divides her time between Helsinki in southern Finland and the north.
“The Sami Parliament is the only place where we can defend our language, our culture, our livelihood and if we lose that we have nothing,” she told Euronews.
Musta says she has so far been pleased with the Finnish government – led by five women with a feminist political agenda – who have said they respect human rights and equality.
Now his view of them has deteriorated.
“It’s hypocritical. Sanna Marin has talked a lot about human rights in Ukraine, Russia or China with the Uyghurs. She marched in pride parades, supporting gender and sexual minorities. But when he it’s about Sami, she doesn’t. I don’t care,” Musta said.
“She makes nice speeches in the Sami Parliament. She promises things, but it doesn’t happen. She has the power to act. But she doesn’t.”
Marin’s office declined to provide a substantive response, except to say discussions between government parties are ongoing.
At least one member of the Sami Parliament, Inka Kangasniemicalled for even more dialogue on the parts of the law that the Center Party finds controversial, but it is an issue that has been discussed on the ground for a decade, and the leadership of the Sami Parliament is keen to settle the problems solved, in particular because of the anxiety and uncertainty it generates within the Sami community.
Why does Sanna Marin not respect the rights of the Sami?
The reasons why the Center Party is blocking new legislation, and why Sanna Marin seems unwilling to act unilaterally to push the law through parliament, are all tied to politics.
Finland has a general election in April, an election where Marin’s Social Democrats stand to lose and she would no longer be prime minister.
Even if his party were part of a new blue-red coalition with the conservative National Coalition party (), commentators do not consider Marin to be a good choice as finance minister, the job that traditionally falls to the leader of the second largest party. to the government.
For starters, Marin is far too left-wing to be nice to the PCN; and second, it has not earned a reputation for being strong in economics.
So defending the Sami Parliament Act, against the will of her current Center Party partners, might just be bad politics, when she doesn’t want to rock the political boat right now – especially since the Center Party has a habit of threatening to collapse governments if they don’t get what they want.
And Marin clearly has his eye on what’s to come after serving as Finland’s youngest prime minister. A series of scandals about his personal life at the end of the summer might not have had any political consequences, but members of the government say it had an emotional impact on her.
Few insiders believe she will remain in domestic politics after April – unless her party wins a surprise election victory – with the smart money saying she has already launched feelers for a proper international role and to high level.
For the Center Party, being considered an anti-mainstream Sami also means winning votes in the Finnish countryside, where it must consolidate its base. They also believe they should have a say in what happens in traditional Sami lands, as well as how the Sami live their lives.
A spokesman for the leader of the Center Party Annika Saarikko did not respond to specific questions about the Sami Parliament Act, or why his party is blocking passage of the legislation, but did note that party officials had met with the Speaker of the Sami Parliament, Tuomas Aslak Juuso, earlier in October.
Emails and phone calls from Euronews to other prominent Center Party MPs went unanswered.
“If you are a politician, Sami votes will not get you into parliament,” Inka Musta noted wryly.
“But if you are against Sami rights, it could get you into parliament.”