Sámi reconciliation commission inches closer

The prospect of a truth and reconciliation commission is met with feelings of mistrust and apprehension among many Sámi people in Finland, new report finds.

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

A new government report about the sensitive issue of addressing historical wrongs by the Finnish state against indigenous Sámi people, moves the likelihood of an official truth and reconciliation commission one step closer.

The report, published in three Sámi languages, Finnish and Swedish, comes after weeks of consultations earlier this year with Sámi people around the country.

These discussions looked at whether any sort of truth and reconciliation process would be welcomed in the first place; what issues should be addressed; who should be appointed to any commission; and whether Sámi people would trust the state of Finland to confront any injustices in the first place.

Well-known actress Anni-Kristiina Juuso has been advising the government on Sámi issues / Credit: IMDB

“Unlike Norway, Finland doesn’t have a truth and reconciliation process. In Norway it started in June” explains Anni-Kristiina Juuso, a special adviser in the Prime Minister’s office who was part of the consultation process.

“They have commissioners, a mandate and everything. But here in Finland we are only preparing. We are doing research for a possible idea to establish such a truth and reconciliation commission for the Sámi people in Finland” she says.

The ‘listening tour’ took place in May and June, and involved hundreds of people giving their views. Juuso says it’s important that Sámi people not only participate in the process, but have a strong ownership of it as well.

 

“In general the Sámi people in Finland think the idea of a truth and reconciliation commission is a good idea. It could be important for the Sámi as well to be able to tell about the past, what has happened, what has gone wrong, how do they feel, and the impact of the state’s wrongdoings on the Sámi people” Juuso tells News Now Finland.

The consultations also brought up some suspicions of why the Finnish state chose this time to propose a form of reconciliation: whether it was connected with the proposed Arctic railway which cuts through Sámi historic lands, or the stalled legislation about the relationship between the Sámi Parliament and the Finnish state.

In October 2017 the Finnish government announced that it was setting aside €200,000 towards establishing a truth and reconciliation commission. The move was cautiously welcomed, albeit with caveats, at the time.

In this 1995 photograph, 49 Sami skulls that were taken from graves in 1934 by researchers are given a new burial on Hautuumaasaari Island, Inari / Credit: Harri Nurminen

The next stage of the process – if indeed there is even to be another another stage – lies with a joint decision from the Ministry of Justice, Sámi Parliament and the Prime Minister’s office. There is no deadline for the process although it seems like there is a will from all sides to move forward.

“It takes as much time as needed. The truth and reconciliation process is only a once in a lifetime thing. If you start it, if you establish a commission, you have to get it right. Because you can’t do it again” says Anni-Kristiina Juuso.