Controversial Sámi bill runs aground in parliamentary committee

Sámi activists outside Parliament House in Helsinki calling for legislative change. (Tiina Jutila / Yle News)

A controversial bill related to Sámi rights will not be voted on by MPs during this parliamentary term, after Parliament’s Constitutional Law Committee failed to reach agreement on its terms.

Committee chair Johanna Ojala-Niemelä (SDP) said there was not enough time to reach agreement on the points that have sharply divided parties within the coalition government ahead of parliament’s pre-election recess, which begins next Friday.

“The committee considered the issue very important, but saw that it was not ready to issue a report within this timeframe,” Ojala-Niemelä said after the committee met on Friday morning and voted by 9-7 to delay the report.

Among the government parties, the Social Democrats, Left Alliance, Greens and the Swedish People’s Party were all in favour of publishing the report and allowing MPs vote on the amended legislation. However, the Centre Party members of the committee sided with the opposition National Coalition and Finns parties and voted against drafting a report.

The committee had already been given a one-week extension to its deadline, with Friday 24 February being the absolute deadline for a decision.

Disappointment and delay

In a tweet, Minister of Justice Anna-Maja Henriksson said she was very disappointed about the proposal not progressing. She asked why the NCP, Centre Party and Finns Party prevented the legislation from moving forward.

Committee member Bella Forsgrén (Green) told Yle she is very disappointed by the outcome, as she believes that it would have been possible for the committee to finalise the report if there had been enough political will.

“Of course it would have been tough and I would have wished that the whole proposal had been brought to Parliament earlier, but the content of the expert opinions would have made it possible,” Forsgrén said.

The proposed changes to the act has caused major friction between Finland’s coalition parties as well as between the government and the opposition.

New proposal needed

The law change would help dictate who has the right to be included on the voters’ roll for elections to the assembly which represents Finland’s indigenous Sámi people. If approved, the law would change how that register of voters is compiled, potentially removing some who are currently on the electoral roll — a proposal that has drawn criticism.

The bill has also run into difficulties over its potential impact on land use rights, as there have been fears the changes would give the Sámi Parliament too much power over land use within Sámi territory, which could affect mining and wind power projects.

Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) decided last year that the bill should go to Parliament, despite opposition from coalition partner, the Centre Party.

As the Centre was opposed to the bill, it could only have progressed through Parliament and into law with the support of one of the opposition parties, for example the NCP.

In recent years the UN has repeatedly reprimanded Finland for failing to take sufficient account of the rights of the Sámi minority in its decision-making.

Finland’s previous two governments have also failed to get reform of the Sámi Act over the line, and the responsibility will now pass to the next government.

According to the Constitutional Law Committee, the next administration must submit a new proposal on the law change at the beginning of the next parliamentary term.

Related stories from around the North:

Finland: How not to promote Arctic tourism – Why Finland’s Indigenous Sami say marketing their region needs to change, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Certification marks help both Sami artisans and consumers, says council, Eye on the Arctic

Sweden: Swedish Truth Commission begins collecting testimonies from Sami people, Radio Sweden

Yle News

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