Europe’s last remaining indigenous peoples

The Sámi are the only remaining indigenous peoples in the European Union region. People residing in an independent nation are considered to be indigenous if they have descended from the people that resided in the land prior to invasion and settlement, or during the time current national borders were made lived in the country or a geographical area to which the land belongs. The indigenous people, who need to regard themselves as such, regardless of their legal status have managed to either fully or partly retain their own social, economic, cultural and political institutions.

The status of the indigenous Sámi was entered into the Constitution of Finland in 1995. The Sámi, as an indigenous people have the right to maintain and develop their own language, culture and traditional livelihoods. A separate provision has been made for the right for Sámi to use the Sámi language before the authorities.

Since 1996 the Sámi have a constitutional right to linguistic and cultural self-government. The duties belonging to the Sámi self-government are handled by election to the Sámi Parliament. In addition, the Skolt Sámi village meeting, according to the Skolt Act represents the Skolts in the Skolt region, which is part of the Sámi home district. The municipalities of Enontekiö, Inari and Utsjoki, and the Lapland Reindeer Herding Cooperative area in the Sodankylä municipality belong to the Sámi home district.

Finland is home to around 9,000 Sámi. Of these, over 60% live outside their home district; this sets new demands for providing teaching, services and communication of information in the Sámi language. It has been estimated that the total number of Sámi living in different countries is in excess of 75,000. Norway has more Sámi than any other nation.

In Finland, the definition of a Sámi is stipulated in the Act on the Sámi Parliament, having criteria which are mainly based on the Sámi language. According to the Act, a Sámi means a person who considers himself a Sámi, provided that he himself or at least one of his parents or grandparents or even great grandparents has learnt Sámi as his first language.

Source: Sámi Parliament


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