One of the governing parties, the Centre, joined the opposition in torpedoing the bill, which would have given indigenous people more control over land use in northern Finland, among other issues.
Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) has expressed disappointment with the failure of the Sámi Parliament Act to pass during this legislative term.
The discussion of the reform collapsed on Friday in the constitutional law committee, when the Centre Party, which is part of the governing coalition, voted with the main opposition parties, the National Coalition Party (NCP) and the Finns Party, to block the bill from progressing to a vote in a full session of the legislature.
As a result, the long-delayed reform to the Sámi Parliament Act will not move ahead during this government’s term, which ends this spring.
Interviewed on the Yle current affairs programme Ykkösaamu on Saturday, Marin that the failure of the reform is a loss above all for the Sámi people. They say that the current law allows non-Sámi residents of Lapland to decide on land use issues in Sámi areas, for instance.
The Centre Party, which represents some non-Sámi landowners in northern Finland, has fiercely opposed the reform. It would restrict voting rights in the Sámi Parliament to people who can prove a direct recent membership in the indigenous group, based on family language.
SDP deputy blames crucial missing vote on false information
In another development on Saturday, an MP from Marin’s Social Democratic Party suggested that she had been misled about the timing of yesterday’s committee vote.
The committee voted to cancel the report by a vote of 9–7. One more vote in favour would have made it tied at 8-8, in which case it would have been resolved by a coin toss.
One of the reasons why the reform failed was that SDP committee member Tuula Väätäinen was absent, and neither of her deputies could attend. Merja Mäkisalo-Ropponen, one of her deputies on the committee, suggested that she was given incorrect information about the timing of the vote.
“I had said that I would get to the meeting at 9 am, but the committee chair said that I wasn’t needed until 10 am,” Mäkisalo-Ropponen told Yle. The committee chair is Johanna Ojala-Niemelä, a fellow Social Democrat. In comments to the daily Helsingin Sanomat on Saturday, she denied intentionally keeping her party colleagues away from the crucial vote.
“I was prepared to go there at 10 am, but I got a message that the meeting was already over so there was no need to come,” Mäkisalo-Ropponen said.
According to Mäkisalo-Ropponen, the deputies had other meetings at the same time, and therefore knowing the exact schedule was important.
“I would have attended, but I can’t say why I got the ‘wrong’ instructions,” she said.
The SDP has four seats on the committee, while the Centre, NCP and Finns Party have three each. The other four seats held by MPs from smaller parties, including the Left Alliance. Its chair, Education Minister Li Andersson, called the committee’s vote “shameful,” accusing the opposition and Centre MPs on the committee of blocking the democratic process.
In a tweet on Friday, she added that “it is unreasonable and unfair that the Sámi people must again wait longer for their human rights to be secured”.
Related stories from around the North:
Canada: Mark Indigenous languages decade by making Inuktitut official in Canada: Inuit UN rep, The Canadian Press
Finland: Controversial Sámi bill runs aground in parliamentary committee, Yle News
Norway: Sami NGO demands removal of “Far Northern Attire” from Square Enix’s Final Fantasy, Eye on the Arctic
Sweden: Swedish Truth Commission begins collecting testimonies from Sami people, Radio Sweden
United States: Inuit leaders applaud UN move to designate International Decade of Indigenous Languages, Eye on the Arctic