Sámi Parliament approves Truth and Reconciliation Commission proposal

The parliament says that establishing such a commission "is neither a joy nor a victory."

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Members of the Sámi Parliament meeting in Inari, 17th December 2019 / Credit: Samediggi

The Sámi Parliament in Inari has voted to approve a move to establish a ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ to look at the current and historical relationship between the Finnish State and the Sámi people of northern Finland.

In a statement on Tuesday, the parliament said that assimilation policies “have hampered the self-development of the Sámi people and the realisation of real equality between the Sámi and their societies locally, regionally, nationally, across borders and internationally.”

How have we reached this point? 

Back in October 2017 the Finnish government budgeted €200,000 to look at the issues involved in setting up some sort of truth commission.

The idea of an official reconciliation process raises painful issues for many Sámi, because injusticies were not only historical, but also took place in more recent living memory. Other issues around traditional land use and rights continue to cause friction between Sámi communities and the Finnish state.

A year later in autumn 2018 a government report about the sensitivities of addressing historical wrongs by the Finnish state was published in three Sámi languages, Finnish and Swedish, and came after weeks of consultations with Sámi people around the country.

By November this year the government decided to appoint a five-person commission tasked with investigating and learning lessons from history. The committee will operate impartially and independently, and its mandate was prepared in cooperation with the Sámi Parliament and the Skolt Village Assembly.

File picture of Sámi flag against blue sky / Credit: Getty

What happens next? 

Now that the Sámi Parliament has given the green light to establishing a commission, the appointment process to choose the five commission members can begin.

The parliament says that establishing such a body “is neither a joy nor a victory.”

“This extreme measure is taken because the earlier means of defending the Sámi regions and cultures have not been sufficient to change the efforts to assimilate the Sámi into the mainstream culture”.

“The launch of the Commission is a moment of shared sorrow, aware of how many in their lifetime did not have access to justice” the parliament statement adds.

As for outcomes, the Sámi Parliament says it expects the Finnish state to “reshape the structures that discriminate against the Sámi people, and to end its policy of assimilation which is still taking place today.”

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