On October 28, 2021, the Finnish government established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to address the historical treatment of the indigenous Sami population and promote the attainment of the Sami people’s rights.
Finnish law recognizes the Sami people as indigenous to Finland, and the Finnish Constitution affords them protection as a native people. (17 § Finlands Grundlag (FFS 11.6.1999/731).) Thus, the Sami people have a right to exercise their culture and language. The Sami people’s right to use its language is further regulated in the Sami Language Act (Samisk språklag (FFS 15.12.2003/1086)), whereas the Sami Parliament Act (Sametingslag (FFS 17.7.1995/974)) provides for the establishment of a Sami Parliament and specifies that the Sami, because of their status as indigenous, “shall be guaranteed cultural autonomy within their home area in matters concerning their language and culture. For the management of matters belonging to the cultural autonomy, the ‘Sami’ shall, by elections conducted among them, elect a Sami parliament.” (1 § Sametingslagen.)
As stated in the government instruction, the purpose of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is to:
- Identify and evaluate discrimination against the Sami people and the historical and present violations of their rights, including assimilation policies.
- Research how these policies affect the Sami and their community today.
- Present proposals on how to promote contact between the Sami people and the Finnish state, as well as between Sami groups.
- Increase awareness in the country of the Sami people’s status as Finland’s indigenous population.
The commission operates independently of the Finnish government, the Sami Parliament, and the Skolt Sami Village. The members of the commission include the following appointed members:
- Doctoral student Heikki J. Hyvärinen, Master of Law (appointed by the Finnish Sami Parliament).
- Miina Seurujärvi, Master of Philosophy (appointed by the Finnish Sami Parliament).
- Irja Jefremoff, Master of Administration (appointed by the Skolt Sami Village Administration Assembly).
- Archbishop Emeritus Kari Mäkinen, Doctor of Theology (appointed by the Finnish government).
- Professor of Working Life Hannele Pokka, Doctor of Law (appointed by the Finnish government).
Both the Sami Parliament and the Skolt Village Assembly confirmed the two members appointed by the Finnish government.
The overall purpose of the commission’s work is for the Finnish state to “bear its responsibility and, together with the Sámi Parliament, the Skolt Village Assembly and other Sámi actors, promote the realization of Sámi rights in Finland.” In addition, the commission’s work is intended to “help resolve and handle the trauma that the Sami are carrying from generation to generation, both as a people and as individuals.”
Sami representatives and the Finnish government have worked to establish a truth commission since 2017, on the initiative of the Sami Parliament. When the framework for the commission’s mandate was established in 2019, it was decided that as part of its ongoing work, the commission will also consult with representatives of the already established Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Norway and the planned truth commission in Sweden.The deadline for the commission to deliver its final report to the Finnish government, the Sami Parliament, and the Skolt Village Assembly is November 30, 2023.