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Sámi parliament law delayed again as Centre takes more time

Attempts to pass the law have spanned three parliamentary terms — so far.

The Sámi parliament is at the centre of the political row. Image: Sámediggi | Saamelaiskäräjät

Finland's governing coalition is at odds over a proposed law guaranteeing the rights of the Sámi Parliament to decide who is — and who is not — Sámi. 

Sámi activists have long complained that people they do not consider Sámi have successfully registered themselves as belonging to the group, which provides them with voting rights in elections to the Sámi parliament. 

This contravenes the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples guidance on self-determination. The draft law is intended to restore this right to Sámi people themselves. 

Justice Minister Anna-Maja Henriksson (SPP) announced the delay on Thursday after Minister for Agriculture Antti Kurvinen (Centre) had called for the measure to be stopped in a meeting of the government. 

Centre Party ministers will now have an additional two days to study the contents of the law. 

Henriksson, who has drafted the law, had planned to send it to parliament for MPs to vote on even though the Centre Party remains implacably opposed.

"It would be good for Finland if we could move on from this," said Henriksson.

Earlier Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) had said she plans to take the law to parliament next week regardless of delaying tactics employed by the Centre Party, after it had emerged that Centre leader Annika Saarikko had planned to get the proposal thrown out at a government meeting on Thursday. 

Instead the measure was set aside, allowing two days for Centre MPs to study it. 

If the law is delayed any further, legislators could run out of time before the current parliamentary term ends next year. 

Even in a parliamentary vote the measure might not be passed, as Centre MPs would not be obligated to support it and therefore votes from opposition MPs would be needed to ensure it passes. 

Activists told Yle they regard the law as critical for the future of Sámi institutions in Finland.

"If parliament does not pass the law, the same situation still applies - the Sámi self-representation will crumble," said Petra Laiti, Chair of the Sámi Youth in Finland.

Centre party delays can only go so far. Ministers can shelve the proposal twice, after which further delays can only be called by ministers who were not present at previous government meetings. 

The Sámi are considered Europe's only indigenous group and number roughly 10,000 in Finland.

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