Rights of the Sámi

The Sámi, as an indigenous people, have the right to maintain and develop their own language and culture, secured by the Constitution of Finland. Finland has also committed to securing the linguistic and cultural rights of the indigenous people in international conventions. Autonomy of the language and culture is an integral part of the position as an indigenous people. In Finland, the Sámi Parliament is the Sámi’s own representative self-government body. According to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, states shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them. The Non-Discrimination Ombudsman supports the realisation of the Sámi’s right to self-determination.

The Sámi Parliament – The representative self-government body of the Sámi

Problems with the realisation of services in the Sámi language

Every year, the Non-discrimination Ombudsman receives contacts from the Sámi concerning the lack of health and social services available in their own language. There are also clear language-specific differences in the availability of services. Problem with the equal implementation of not only the social welfare and health care services but also education are highlighted among the contacts received by the Non-discrimination Ombudsman. The right of Sámi children to education in their own language and teaching of their own language is central for equal treatment and the rights of the individual as well as the preservation of the Sámi languages. 

Three Sámi languages are spoken in Finland: Inari Sámi, Skolt Sámi and North Sámi. All of the Sámi languages are threatened, but Skolt Sámi and Inari Sámi in particular are at risk of disappearing. In addition to the Constitution of Finland, the linguistic rights of the Sámi are secured by the Sámi Language Act as well as several acts applying to different fields, such as the Act on Early Childhood Education and Care and the Act on the Status and Rights of Patients. The linguistic rights apply to all three Sámi languages spoken in Finland.

The legislation on the linguistic rights of the Sámi has developed over the years. There are still problems with the legislation, where the national regulations do not recognise the special needs of the Sámi. For example, the Act on Early Childhood Education and Care secures the right to early childhood education in the Sámi language, but the law does not provide for the responsibility of implementing the language nest activities that are essential to language revival. 

There are also considerable problems with the equal realisation of services in the Sámi language. The services required by law are not realised in all situations due to reasons such as a lack of professional personnel with the necessary language skills. The normal education channels have not been able to meet the need for professionals. Education has been brought to the Sámi homeland in the form of projects. Establishing and strengthening these forms of education could improve the equal realisation of services in the Sámi language.

Discrimination and hate speech

The Sámi still experience discrimination and hate speech in the Finnish society. According to studies, the Sámi who demand the services to which they are legally entitled experience discrimination the most often. Harassment of the Sámi takes place on social media in particular, and it is focused especially on people who defend the rights of the Sámi.