Dear chairman, dear ladies and gentlemen,
I learned for the first time in primary school that there are other languages in addition to Finnish that are called Finno-Ugric languages, one of which is the Komi language. I would never have believed then that one day I would actually visit the Republic of Komi and meet people who speak Komi language. I am therefore, very happy and thankful about being here today.
Since I was at school the world has truly shrank and become much smaller. We used to think in those days in a more nationalistic manner, which is not enough in today’s world. We face common challenges and problems that know no national borders. We face the challenge of not having enough food for a growing population, limited natural resources, the problem of global warming, the weak economic situation in Europe and globally, social instability that shows its ugliest side in the form of youth unemployment. We have to find common solutions for common problems, which is why we are here today. The world is one and it is very small. I think we, the people of the northern areas, have a big responsibility of preserving natural resources and using them in a socially, ecologically and economically sustainable ways.
I have divided my speech in to two parts. First, I want to describe the work of the Citizens’ and Consumer’s Rights Committee of which I am the chairperson and secondly, I want to touch on the issue of indigenous people, especially from the point of view of Sami people.
The Citizens’ and Consumer Rights Committee works in three main areas. Firstly, we look at things from the citizens’ perspective. Our work is concerned with the issues of civic rights, democracy, work against racism and discrimination. We also look at the issues with equality from multiple perspectives.
Our committee is interested in promoting consumer rights. We have for example sent a letter to Nordic banks that encourages them to reduce payments when transferring money from one bank to another. We have had a thorough look at the question of “one health”, which means preventing and fighting against the most common illnesses people and animals face. In this question we have also tried to influence the European Union to take action. We are going to arrange a second conference on issues consumers are faced with in the near future.
Thirdly, as part of citizens’ affairs, the Committee has indigenous peoples as one of its fields of responsibilities, and in this context we have had contact with the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC) and Sami Parliamentary Council. We have had visitors from these institutions and when need be we can invite representatives of indigenous peoples to the meetings of the Committee.
The Nordic countries work together to improve the living conditions of people in the northern areas and to support the Arctic populations’ social and cultural development. We also work to preserve the delicate and distinctive arctic nature. We will ensure that the region’s resources are used in a sustainable manner and preserve biological diversity.
In 2012 the Committee made a proposal on indigenous people in the Arctic. We recommended to the governments of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden to ensure that the rights of the indigenous peoples are not violated during the extraction of the regions’ natural resources.
Women leaving is a pressing problem in many northern areas. The Citizens’ and Consumer Rights Committee wants to find the means to make the northern areas more attractive places for women to live i.e. how to improve women’s situations and create opportunities to get jobs and places to study.
In 2012 the Committee issued a recommendation that the Sami Convention is to be fully negotiated. We try to influence the governments of Sweden, Norway and Finland to speed up the preparation of the Nordic Sami Convention.
The committee is delighted to see RAIPON (Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East) continuing its work as a partner in the Arctic Council.
Lastly, I would like to say a few words about the Sami. I as a politician have noticed in my work how easy it is for a representative of a majority to forget to look at the things from the perspective of minorities. We often forget to listen to indigenous people in matters that touch and concern them.
For thousands of years the indigenous Sami have lived in the area that is now known as Norway, Sweden, Finland and Kola. However, 300 years ago the King of Sweden let people from outside settle in the traditional Sami lands. This was the beginning of colonisation and assimilation that has lasted until the end of the 20th century.
There are of course many international agreements that are aimed at guaranteeing the rights of indigenous people. One of the most significant ones is the International Labour Organisations Convention, ILO 169 that has been ratified by 22 countries. Of the Nordic or Scandinavian Countries, Norway and Denmark have ratified it. In Finland and Sweden the ratification is under discussion. It is included in the Finnish government’s programme for this electoral term, that the ILO convention should be ratified. However, it is not easy to achieve compromise mainly due to questions of land ownership.
As the interest for the Arctic is constantly growing it is very important to look at the issue from a social point of view. Many indigenous people around the world and their livelihoods are threatened and still under heavy pressure, which is caused by economic interests: mining, agriculture and the use of natural resources.
I often ask myself, why is it so important to take care of the rights of indigenous people? I think the most important reason is the lessons they can teach us in today’s world. Indigenous people possess the knowledge that is needed today: how to live sustainably and in harmony with nature. For and foremost, every individual is entitled to universal human rights. It is also a power question. No one should exercise one’s power, at the cost of others. Every person has the right to preserve one’s identity and to live accordingly.
Thank you for your attention.