The head of the City-Sámit association says that Finland might make the right signals about being supportive of Sami rights, but in practice, it is "not completely true".
Hanna Helanderhttp://www.hs.fi/haku/?search-term=hanna+helander makes the comments on the new episode of Newsmakers, HSTV's English-language current affairs show.
"Finland would like to look like a friend of the Sami people, and many times Finland is proudly saying how good they are to Sami people" says Helander "but that is not completely true, and Finland has shown it lately".
In particular, Helander cites Finland's failure to ratify the International Labour Organisation's (ILO) convention 169, which is a legally binding piece of legislation concerning indigenious and tribal rights.
Finland's parliament had been due to ratify the convention last year after long negotiations with Sami leaders. However at the last moment, before the general election, the ratification did not take place. Previously, Finnish officials have said that Sami people are already protected and have rights under Finnish law and in the constitution.
Tiina Sanila-Aikiohttp://www.hs.fi/haku/?search-term=tiina+sanila-aikio, President of the Sami Parliament of Finland says that now, action is needed.
"We are quite sceptical at the moment" says Sanila-Aikio speaking by phone from Lapland. She explains that the government has embarked on a new process of research into the convention, to find out how other countries with indigenous populations compare to Finland's situation.
Norway and Denmark are among Finland's Nordic neighbours who have already ratified the ILO convention. Sweden and Russia have not.
Current problems between the Sami people and the Finnish government were exacerbated with new plans to open up vast tracts of forest - for generations, used by the Sami people to graze reindeer - to commercial use.
"We had agreed with the previous government that there would be certain Sami privisions" in the new Forestry Act, says Sanila-Aikio. "This new government took it away without consulting the Sami parliament".
"We need now some positive action" she says.
Hanna Helander explains that the situation for Sami people living outside of Lapland - the majority of Finland's 10,000 indigenous people live outside their traditional homeland - is quite different.
More than 20 years after the City-Sámit organisation was founded, the community has forged its own character, yet works hard to keep cultural, social and linguistic links to the north.
"We actively try to support connections to Lapland and maintain them, but also have our own identity" she explains. One particular success has been the 'language nest', a Northern Sami-language-medium kindergarden where children with Sami roots can learn the language. There are currently ten children enrolled at the Helsinki 'nest' with plans to expand to Tampere as well.
"All of these kids are Sami kids, but usually their parents don't speak Sami, they haven't learned it in their childhood because earlier, people didn't see it as important, or thought it might be better for the kids not to learn the Sami language. And it was the attitude of the government, saying the Sami language was not as important" says Helander.
But there are drawbacks for living in the south. Helander says she would like to see some rights that Sami people enjoy in their homelands, extended to the whole of Finland - perhaps starting with language learning rights for children.
Helander would like to eventually see those rights extended to land use and hunting.
"Maybe you could get some rights to use the land in your grandparents places" she says, adding that deciding who qualifies for their rights would be based on the eligibility to vote in the Sami Parliament elections - if one parent or grandparent speaks Sami as their mother tongue.
Looking forward, Hanna Helander says her association has plans to open up a new cultural centre in Helsinki, so that people can learn more about the Sami people.
"The main idea is to support Sami people and to find these 'hidden' Sami. There's a lot of these in Helsinki", she says. ”But also we want the people in Helsinki or southern Finland to know more about Sami people, because there's a lot of misunderstandings".
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