FDCIP 2013 Welcoming Remarks

Welcoming Remarks Sámi Parliament

Aili Keskitalo
President of the Sámi Parliament of Norway

Dear conference participants,

I would like to begin by thanking the conference-holders for inviting me here to UiT, The Arctic University of Norway. It is always a pleasure to be here.

On behalf of the Sámi Parliament of Norway, I would like to welcome the conference participants and guests to Sápmi and to the Indigenous peoples’ city of Tromsø.

The Sámi are one people in four countries who live and interact across national borders. The Sámi community and the Sámi people’s participation in the international Indigenous peoples movement has long traditions.

Interdependence and solidarity with other Indigenous peoples has contributed to the Sámi being a driving force in international organs, especially in the UN system, to develop and follow-up on conventions, declarations, and other instruments that strengthen Indigenous peoples’ human rights. The Sámi Parliament cooperates with other Indigenous peoples to promote and protect Indigenous peoples rights and interests internationally. The Sámi Parliament is active in the preparation for the UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in 2014. This will be an important follow-up in relation to the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The yearly Forum Conference in Tromsø is an important arena to address timely issues concerning Indigenous peoples’ rights to language, culture, and society. It is still the case that Indigenous people in substantial parts of the world belong to the most marginalized groups, both economically and politically. The world’s Indigenous people is estimated to total 370 million, and comprise thus 5% of the world’s total population, but nevertheless comprise 15% of the world’s population living in poverty. This situation requires particular state policies and regulations which recognize and strengthen the Indigenous peoples’ rights and which sustain their rights to control their own development. The UN has recognized that the world’s indigenous peoples are peoples in societies with a particular need for protection to ensure their human rights, as well as their existence and survival.

This year’s conference theme on protection of Indigenous peoples’ land and sea rights is timely all over the world. Indigenous peoples’ rights to land and resources are often a sensitive topic, which can, among other things, entail large-scale economic interests and can seem like a threat to national states’ territorial integrity. It is, nonetheless, an essential part of Indigenous peoples’ human rights. Indigenous peoples’ culture is inextricably tied to the use of natural resources and territories. Indigenous people are socially, culturally, economically, spiritually, and politically connected to land, territory and resources. The relationship to land-based resources also has a collective dimension and is closely connected to child-rearing, Indigenous identity, survival and viability.

In Norway, the Finnmark Act of 2005 established concretely that the Sámi, collectively and individually, through prolonged use of land and waters have acquired land-based rights in Finnmark. The act established the Finnmark Commission in 2008, which reports on the rights of use and ownership of land that the Finnmark Estate took over when the Finnmark Act came into effect. I see that the report from the Finnmark commission will be discussed here in tomorrow’s program.

When it comes to the Sámi territorial use and areas of settlement outside of Finnmark, from Troms Province down to and including Hedemark Province, consultations commenced between the Sámi Parliament and the Norwegian government about the Sámi Rights Commission’s recommendations from 2007. Hopefully we will have a solution within four years, within this Norwegian Parliament and Sámi Parliament period.

In 2012, changes in fishing rights legislation for Sámi and others’ rights to fish in the waters outside of Finnmark were adopted. The changes in legislation included decisions on the right to fish in smaller vessels in traditional Sámi areas, emphasizing Sámi fishing and its significance for local communities, identification of fishing grounds by the Finnmark Commission when required, and Fjord-fishing Committee with 50% representation be appointed by the Sámi Parliament with the function to work towards strengthening coastal and fjord fishing. In addition, there were fixed regulations on the prohibition of vessels over 15 meters in the fjords so that smaller vessels are not pressured out of their own traditional fishing grounds.

The Sámi parliament gave its approval for the changes, but at the same time, expressed clearly that the Sámi have established rights to fisheries and other renewable marine resources in coastal Sámi areas. This right builds on both the Sámi people’s presence and historical use of their traditional areas and on international law on Indigenous and minority peoples. The Sámi Parliament’s consent to changes in fisheries legislation does not address the government’s interpretation of the legal foundations of Sámi and others to fish in coastal Sámi areas.

In terms of resource rights, I will mention that the Minerals Act was passed  in 2009 without the Sámi Parliament’s free and informed consent in advance. The Minerals Act did not create  predictability for securing Sámi rights by including ILO Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples that Norway has ratified. This has created a lot of commotion about several mining projects in the Sámi community and between the Sámi community and state government .

As you all understand, we have our challenges related to land, sea and resource rights on the Norwegian side of Sápmi. The same is true on the other side of the borders. There are ongoing general negotiations on a Nordic Sámi Convention, which together will strengthen the Sámi people’s rights; the objective is that the negotiations will be completed in 2016.

Finally, I would say that the Sámi Parliament in Norway will prioritize resources and efforts in the international work coordinated by Sámi Parliamentary Council. It is important to continue to focus on strengthening the human rights of Indigenous peoples through active participation in connection with the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in 2014 .

That was all I had planned to say today. I wish you all good luck in the commencement of the Forum conference.

Thank you for your attention.