The Sámi people in Finland are getting prepared for the Sámi Parliament elections on Sunday.
The elections are overshadowed by a process that the representatives of the Sámi people consider unlawful.
The Sámi people live in Finland, Norway, Sweden and Russia and they constitute the only indigenous people in Europe. The constitution of Finland recognizes the position of the indigenous people Sámi.
The elections of the Sámi Parliament in Finland are conducted every four years to choose 21 representatives for the cultural self-government organ of the Sámi people, the Sámi Parliament, Sámediggi.
As part of the election process, persons can apply to be listed as voters in the electoral register of the Sámi Parliament.
Several organs of the Sámi Parliament give their opinions on the applications and approve part of the applicants as Sámi. However, the ultimate decision-maker in the issue is the Supreme Administrative Court of Finland.
This spring the Sámi Parliament accepted about 500 new people to the register. Most of them are children of the members of the register who had turned 18 since the last elections.
There are about 6 000 voters in the electoral roll while there are about 10 000 Sámi in Finland in total.
"Sáminess" is a subject of a heated political debate
In the last twenty years the application process as a Sámi person has become a subject of a heated political debate.
A person's "sáminess" is defined by three alternative objective criteria, for example a language criterium and a Lapp descendant criterium. In addition the person must consider him or her a Sámi person.
After the recognition of the Sámi people as an indigenous people, hundreds of new people have applied to be Sámi.
The Sámi Parliament has systematically rejected the applications of the new-comers while the Supreme Administrative Court has accepted some applicants as Sámi, for example four persons in 2011.
93 people accepted as Sámi against the will of Sámi Parliament
The latest twist to the Sámi definition saga came on Wednesday, as the Supreme Administrative Court of Finland gave their latest decision on the applications in 2015.
This time around 182 applications appealed to the Supreme Administrative Court. About a half of the applications, 93, were accepted by the Supreme Administrative Court as Sámi persons against the will of the Sámi Parliament.
The Sámi Parliament had rejected their applications as Sámi persons.
The reason was that the Sámi Parliament does not consider the rejected applicants as Sámi people and that the people had not the group acceptance of the Sámi people.
The Sámi Parliament organs emphasized that group acceptance is an essential part of for example the UN Declaration on the rights of the indigenous peoples (UNDRIP).
– Indigenous peoples have the right to determine their own identity or membership in accordance with their customs and traditions. This does not impair the right of indigenous individuals to obtain citizenship of the States in which they live, the article 33 of the UNDRIP states.
Sámi president: Forced assimilation
The president of Sámi Parliament, Tiina Sanila-Aikio is very disappointed.
– The Supreme Administrative Court shows that a forced assimilation of the Sámi people in Finnish people has happened. This is a question of collective Sámi rights and not about the rights of individual persons.
– Ninety-three is a surprising figure. The cultural self-government of the Sámi people in Finland is under threat. I encourage all Sámi people to vote in the coming elections. We should not give up!, Sanila-Aikio commented right after the decisions on Wednesday.
"Decision violates rights as indigenous people"
The Sámi Parliament later issued a statement saying the the decision by the Supreme Administrative Court violates the rights of the Sámi people as an indigenous people.
– The Sámi Parliament will act upon the decision and take the matter further, Sanila-Aikio said in the statement.
"Feels like Sámi people's opinion doesn't matter"
The chairman of the Election Committe Janne Näkkäläjärvi says that the decisions of the Supreme Administrative Court of Finland will have a big impact on the self-goverment of the Sámi people in Finland.
– It feels like there is no logic in the decision-making of the Supreme Administrative Court. It feels like there is no value on the opinion of the formal representative organ of the Sámi people, which has been elected by the Sámi people, Näkkäläjärvi says.
Yearbook explains decisions
The Court published four Yearbook decisions in which it explains the decisions. The court bases some decisions for example on holistic, overall interpretation of the applications.
Janne Näkkäläjärvi says that he is puzzled by this interpretation of the Act on Sámi Parliament, that includes a definition for a Sámi person.
– Such a holistic interpretation by the Court should not be possible according to the Finnish law. The court takes holistically into account various cultural aspects that are not even included in the law paragraphs. In reality, an applicant should fulfil one of the three points of the definition in full. In addition the applicant should give their acceptance to be included in the electoral roll, which can be considered an ethnic register. There is no mentioning of a holistical interpretation in the law, Näkkäläjärvi says.
Newly approved Sámi rejoices
Ritva Hirvelä from Ivalo is an applicant whose appeal to the Supreme Administrative Court was successful.
She is relieved and happy.
– I am relieved. The justice has happened. The decision shows that it is blood that matters. Anyone can learn the Sámi language but the genes can only be passed by your parents, Hirvelä says.
Advocate of the "Sámi without a status" was now accepted as a Sámi
Also a well-known researcher Erika Sarivaara was formally accepted as a Sámi person by the Supreme Administrative Court.
Her doctoral dissertation in 2012 introduced a new concept into the Sámi debate: the so-called Sámi without a status.
Ever since the debate has centred around whether the so-called Sámi without a status should be included in the Sámi electoral roll or not.
– According to the research, conscious Sámi without a status consider their situation problematic because they do not have the official Sámi status. It is essential to note that inclusion in the electoral register of the Sámi Parliament is important in terms of Sámi identity, Sarivaara said.
– Regardless of their Sámi roots and language the Sámi without a status are not official members of the Sámi community – they do not have the Sámi status. Only those who have been entered in the Sámi Parliament's electoral register have that status. Having the Sámi status is considered to be language-dependent; you can be Sámi if you regard yourself as one and if you or at least one of your parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents has learned the Sámi language as the first language, Sarivaara explained in her dissertations.
MP: Best news of the day
A member of the Finnish Parliament Mikko Kärnä (Centre) congratulates successful applications in social media.
He was elected to the Finnish parliament from Lapland and he has been a vocal supporter of the new-comers and the so-called Sámi without a status.
– This was the best news today. I hope that people will now stop moaning and there will be some sense in this matter going forward. Especially I want to congratulate Erika Sarivaara. You are a strong and courageous woman, Kärnä says.
Former president resigns from electoral roll as protest
The former president of the Sámi Parliament Klemetti Näkkäläjärvi had the strongest reaction of the day.
He resigns from the electoral roll the Sámi Parliament.
– The decision of the Supreme Administrative Court leads to a forced assimilation of the Sámi people into the Finnish people. The Sámi people can't trust the Finnish judicial system anymore, Näkkäläjärvi says.
He says that the Sámi people however should not give up and should now work together.