The Saami people are struggling to obtain rights to self-determination and management of natural resources. The land which the Saami traditionally occupy lies within the borders of four countries: Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Russia. Reindeer herding and fishing, important sources of livelihood, are valuable factors in the perpetuation of the Saami culture and also lie within those borders.
The goal of self-rule has been furthered by the creation of Saami Parliaments in each of the Scandinavian countries. Some Saami, while acknowledging the positive role the parliament may play in reliably representing the concerns of the Saami people, are concerned with its limited power and its obligation to follow the orders of the government. On the day that the parliament was inaugurated, the Swedish government decided to allow hunting in its mountains. This action spurred the parliament to denounce the government, which later alienated the Saami even further by refusing to reimburse reindeer herders for losses incurred by hunters who were protected by the state.
In October 1996, the 16th Saami Conference was held together with the Indigenous Peoples of the Barents Region Conference in Murmansk, Russia. This was the first conference to take place in Russia and coincided with the induction of the Russian Association of Kola Saami into the Saami Council created by Norway, Sweden, and Finland in 1956.
One resolution agreed upon at the conference was to ensure access to salmon fishing. Another resolution called for the return to the prior, stricter definition of who qualifies as Saami in Finland in order to prevent the exploitation of the newly recognized, though limited, rights the Saami have attained in that country. The attendees of the conference affirmed that despite the establishment of parliamentary bodies, the need for a Saami Council still exists.
Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.