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Budget cuts threaten international Sámi language cooperation

The main organisation coordinating Sámi language issues in the Nordic countries may need to shut down mid-year in 2019 due to lack of funding.

Saamelaiskäräjien täysistunto 19.6.2018
A Finnish Sámi Parliament session in June. Image: Linda Tammela / Yle

The central organisation for coordinating all issues related to the indigenous Sámi languages in the Nordic countries may not be able to operate for all of 2019 due to planned budget cuts.

Finland's Ministry of Finance announced in its budget that the Sámi Giellagáldu organisation will be funded with less than 200,000 euros next year – about half of what the centre's administrators say it needs to stay open and maintain its standing in the Sámi community.

The Giellagáldu central organisation was founded in 2013 by the Nordic Sámi Parliamentary Council to oversee and coordinate language policy and services for five different Sámi languages across Finland, Norway and Sweden.

Giellagáldu also works together with Finland's Sámi Parliament to develop and preserve Sámi culture through consultation in national and international cooperation projects. That includes overseeing and deciding on proper Sámi terminology in a number of industries.

The language centre was funded by the EU's Regional Development Fund (Interreg) until its discontinuation in late May.

Scramble for funding

The Finance Ministry's budget includes a proposition for a fixed annual 100,000-euro grant for Giellagáldu, to be taken from Ministry of Justice funds. Finland's internal Sámi Parliament also grants the project 84,000 euros each year.

Vice chair of the Sámi Parliament, Tuomas Aslak Juuso joins other organisation leaders in saying he is glad the Finnish government wants to instate the fixed grant but that additional funding has to be found somewhere.

The minimum budget needed to keep the Finnish branches of the organisation running all next year is at some 370,000 euros – a figure dwarfed by the many other targets of the Ministry's budget proposition.

"We have to see how the cooperation goes and how we could guarantee the operation of the Giellagáldu institution," Juuso says.

Juuso's direct superior, chair Tiina Sanila-Aikio says she hopes the Ministry for Education and Culture will also come on board at some point.

"The organisation's operations are similar to those of the Institute for the Languages of Finland, which is funded by the Ministry of Culture," Sanila-Aikio says.

The Norwegian and Swedish Sámi Parliaments are also currently underfunded.

Multiple talks planned

The Sámi Parliaments of Finland, Sweden and Norway all announced that they will be addressing the funding issue in many political and social arenas.

Leaders of Nordic Sámi language affairs will meet in Karasjok in Norway later in August, with Giellagáldu one of the top concerns.

Finland's own Sámi Language Council will also raise the subject during an autumn meeting between parliamentary groups from each political party and the Finnish Sámi Parliament's working group.

An educational trip to the Giellagas Institute in Oulu is also being planned for representatives of the Ministry of Education and Culture.

"The idea is to highlight the different roles of the Giellagas Institute and the Giellagáldu centre," says Marko Marjomaa, language coordinator for the Sámi Parliament in Finland. "Ministries and their employees need to understand how these organisations work."

Funding ups and downs correlate with employee satisfaction, Marjomaa notes. Long-term contracts are very difficult to secure without equally long-term funding agreements.

"There's always the risk that specialists will find work elsewhere whenever a funding term ends," he says. "That has an effect on services as well as the development of the relevant know-how."

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