Finnish politician Pirkka-Pekka Petelius (Green), a former actor, has made a public apology to the Sámi people over a television series he made which portrayed Sámi people in a discriminatory and distorted way.
The comedy show, made with Aake Kalliala in the 1980s and 1990s, raised little or no criticism at the time for the depiction of two Sámi characters as drunks.
“I apologize for the detrimental effect that sketches have had. I understand my responsibility as a Member of the Finnish Parliament and as a cultural figure” says Petelius, who also says he wants to promote the rights of Sámi people and work closely together with the community.
The award-winning actor-turned-politician, age 66, says in a statement that at one point it was considered normal to make comedy out of prejudices against Sámi, but now he understands how discriminating it was, as many Sámi people have had to face negative attitudes towards indigenous people.
“I think criticism of the sketches is a positive sign. It means we understand minority structures in our society better than before. Also, the awareness of the situation of our indigenous people has increased” he says.
Petelius adds that the sketches are products of their time, and he doesn’t find them funny any more.
The sketches are still kept in the archives of Finland’s public broadcaster Yle, where they could still be seen with added warnings about racist content. However Petelius hopes the sketches will no longer be broadcast.
Sámi reaction to the apology
There has been a positive reaction from the Sámi community about Petelius’ decision to make a public apology for his past work.
“It’s good that Petelius felt his apology was necessary. It means a lot to many Sámis” says Tuomas Aslak Juuso, the Sámi Parliament’s Second Vice-Chair.
The controversial sketches have been a topic of discussion in the Sámi community for years and many find them problematic.
“People expect him to be more responsible now that he is a politician” says Pentti Pieski, another Member of the Sámi Parliament who says he used to laugh while watching Petelius’ comedy shows in the 1980s, but never let the dark humour get to him.
“I am and raised in Sámi family in Utsjoki, which has given me a strong indigenous identity and allowed me to laugh at stupid prejudices, but that’s not the case with everyone” he tells News Now Finland.
According to Pieski the stereotypes and prejudices portrayed in Petelius’ comedy sketches in the 1980s and 1990s can be harmful to people who are perhaps just exploring their own Sámi heritage.
Finland is home to an estimated 10,000 Sámi people. More than 60 percent of them live outside the traditional Sámi homeland areas of Lapland.
Sámi see themselves as a distinct population with their own culture, language and
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