In wake of resignations, Sami Parliament to review functioning of Finland’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission

“The Sami Parliament takes the situation seriously,” Tuomas Aslak Juuso, president of the Sami Parliament in Finland, said on Monday. (Ville-Riiko Fofonoff / Sámediggi | Saamelaiskäräjät)

The Sami Parliament in Finland is currently reviewing the functioning of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission after two commissioners appointed by the body resigned this spring.

Nobody from the Parliament could be reached for comment on Monday, but in a news release, President Tuomas Aslak Juuso said the assembly was taking the situation seriously.

“We have to get an adequate picture of what’s happening and then assess what kind of solutions are required to continue the process,” Juuso said.

The Sami are an Arctic Indigenous people whose traditional homeland spans the Arctic regions of Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola Peninsula in Russia’s western Arctic, an area they refer to collectively as Sapmi. There are an estimated 10,000 Sami living in Finland, with more than 60 per cent of those living outside of the Sami homeland area.

Colonial policies in Sweden, Finland, Norway and Russia continue to effect Sami life, culture and land use. They also involved the education system and church discouraging or actively suppressing Sami languages and culture and forcibly assimilating Sami children into the dominant culture, something that continues to negatively impact Sami languages and education today.

The Finnish government agreed to the formation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2019 and after several delays during the pandemic, the process officially began at the end of October 2021.

The set up was partly modeled on the Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Canadian commissioners Marie Wilson and Wilton Littlechild were among the advisors. 

Resignation over resources, support 

Five commissioners were appointed: two by the Sami Parliament in Finland, one by the Skolt Sami Siida Council and two by the Finnish government, with a report to be issued in November 2023.

The two commissioners appointed by the Sami Parliament, Miina Seurujarvi and Heikki J. Hyvarinen, resigned this spring.

Sajos, the Sami cultural centre in Inari, Finland and home to the Sami Parliament in Finland.(Eilís Quinn/Eye on the Arctic)

Seurujarvi said the commission’s lack of resources and lack of support for those participating in the process had convinced her the commission as conceived would be unable to fulfill its mandate.

“Everything is scarce, financial resources, time,”  Seurujarvi told YLE News, Finland’s public broadcaster last month. “Commissioners also have little time and in-depth work. This entity has not worked, and it will not work.”

Seurujarvi told YLE News the commission’s work should be suspended until the entire process could be redesigned.

On May 22, the commission’s Secretary General Anni-Kristiina Juuso also resigned.

Parities working on way forward

Last week, the Finnish government said the commission’s work was “very important and historically significant” and that a way forward was being worked on. 

“The state wants to resolve the commission’s time and resource issues, along with other concerns that have emerged, together with all parties,” the government said in a news release. “It’s important to ensure that sufficient resources are allocated for the commission’s work.”

Anni Koivisto, vice president of the Sami Parliament in Finland, says talking to the original commissioners and the expert on psychosocial support, will help pave a way forward. (Sámediggi/Saamelaiskäräjät)

The Sami Parliament has invited all five original members of the commission to a meeting on June 23, along with Heidi Eriksen, project director of the Sami Psychosocial Support Service Unit.

“In order to clarify the situation and the overall picture, we consider it important that the members of the Sámi Parliament have the opportunity to hear from the persons who have been involved in the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission so far, as well as from the expert on psychosocial support for the Sami,” Anni Koivisto, vice president of the Sami Parliament in Finland, said.

“This will hopefully allow the members of the Sami Parliament to better assess the appointment of the new commissioners and the necessary measures to be taken.”

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)cbc.ca

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: “We still have a lot of healing to do with our fellow Canadians” – National Day for Truth and Reconciliation observed September 30, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Psychosocial support for Sami proposed ahead of Finland’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Yle News

Greenland: Greenland, Denmark initiate investigation into past relations, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Can cross-border cooperation help decolonize Sami-language education, Eye on the Arctic

Sweden: Sami in Sweden start work on structure of Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Eye on the Arctic

United States: Alaska reckons with missing data on murdered Indigenous women, Alaska Public Media

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