‘Common law’ nearer for Samis

Efforts to give North European Samis a common law cutting across national borders took a major step forward on Wednesday as experts submitted a draft convention for the indigenous Nordic population.

Of a total of 75,000 Samis – formerly known as Lapps or Laplanders – in the Nordic region, 50,000 live in Norway, 20,000 in Sweden and the rest in Finland.

Each of the three countries currently applies its own laws to Samis and the new text, after three years of negotiations, aims to harmonize their economic, cultural and linguistic rights regardless of national boundaries.

“The Nordic Sami convention will represent historic progress for the recognition of the rights of indigenous people,” Pekka Aikio, president of the Sami parliamentary council, told reporters in Helsinki.

“It has been clear for a long time that national borders obstruct cooperation between Samis. Cooperation has been made particularly difficult by the fact that all states treat Sami questions differently and have different laws and a different judiciary,” he said.

For the first time in a joint declaration, Samis are recognized as the region’s indigenous population and not just a minority, and as having a right to self-determination as well as having suffered “injustices”.

The convention’s authors said it was to establish a minimum level of rights, leaving each state free to go further towards granting Samis special rights.

This is a reflection of divergent views between the three countries, with Finland dragging its feet on some Sami rights, especially the exclusive right to hunt reindeer.

Finland was also still doubtful on the exact meaning of self-determination for Samis, as well as their water and land rights, Finland’s minister for justice, Leena Luhtanen, said.

The convention was drafted by an expert group presided over by Norwegian Carsten Smith, whose government has become a driving force behind Sami rights, and which includes representatives from the three governments and from Sami parliaments.

The text does not extend to the 2,000 Samis living in Russia.


Front page photo: Patrik Trägårdh/