Pirita Näkkäläjärvi column: We need a Sámi go-to person in the Finnish Parliament

Should there be a dedicated Sámi member of parliament, or member of the European Parliament? It could help give Sámi voters a new voice and better representation in Finnish politics.

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Composite image of Sámi flag over ballot box / Credit: News Now Finland

There are two versions of autonomy within Finland: the region of the Åland Islands between Finland and Sweden is autonomous; and the indigenous people Sámi have more limited linguistic and cultural self-government in the Sámi native region in Northern Finland.

Both Åland and the Sámi have their own parliaments. However, only the former is guaranteed to have one representative in the Finnish parliament.

The Sámi should also have a dedicated, designated MP in the Finnish parliament.

A Sámi MP would be a much-needed go-to person in terms of Sámi expertise.

This is important because it is common for the “Southern” members of parliament to consult the MPs from the Lapland electoral district as experts in all matters related to the Lapland region.

Lapland MPs are regarded also as experts in Sámi matters, although none of the current Lapland MPs are Sámi, and all seven are originally from outside the Sámi native region.

The Lapland MPs are a well organised group, who tend to agree on many Sámi issues. In the recent years, they have for example been uniformly against Finland ratifying the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 169 on indigenous rights.

A Sámi MP would also be a go-to person to factual and reliable information about the Sámi.

According to research for my 2017 London School of Economics dissertation on Sámi freedom of speech, many MPs have chosen to believe disinformation that is being spread about the Sámi.

“Of course it’s been depressing. That suddenly everything, the whole discourse went through also to the MPs without questions being asked. That has been a big disappointment”, one interviewee said.

Having quotas for the Sámi in the Finnish and European parliaments is not a new idea.

The former prime minister Paavo Lipponen (SDP) said in 2016 that the 200-strong Finnish parliament should have one more member and that the seat should be reserved namely for the Sámi.

MEP Liisa Jaakonsaari (SDP) tweeted last year that the Sámi should get the extra MEP that Finland gains after Britain leaves the European Union.

Over the years several Sámi have run for the Finnish parliament but only a few have been elected.

Janne Seurujärvi (Centre) from Ivalo was the first Sámi MP in Finland in 2007–2011, and after him Heikki Autto (NCP) from Rovaniemi sat in the parliament in 2011–2015. Neither got re-elected, but Autto is running again this spring.

The next Sámi MP might actually come from outside the Lapland electoral district.

According to the betting firm Betsson an Utsjoki-born candidate Juha Tapiola (Green) from Asikkala could well be up for a surprise in the Häme electoral district.

Researcher Petri Koikkalainen from the University of Lapland has calculated that if the Sámi founded their own party, they’d need 10,000 votes to have an MP elected.

There are however only 10,463 Sámi in Finland, including both children and adults. Without a quota, having a Sámi go-to person in the Finnish Parliament is not self-evident.