“We have an important role to play internationally,” says Keskitalo to BarentsObserver. ”Especially in Russia where we have sisters and brothers,” she adds.
Thursday, His Majesty the King and His Royal Highness the Crown Prince of Norway officially opened the Seventh Sámediggi (Sami Parliament) in Karasjok.
The Sámediggi is an elected assembly that represents the Sámi people in Norway. Thirty-nine members of parliament are elected from seven constituencies every fourth year.
Keskitalo is representing the Norwegian Sámi Association and is a well-known figure within the Sámi political landscape. In 2005 she became the first female President of any Sámi Parliament. She was the third President of the Norwegian Sámediggi since it was first opened in 1989.
This time she`ll have to seek broad consensus in all political matters, as she will be governing a minority cabinet consisting solely of members of her own political party.
“I am ready to negotiate,” says Keskitalo. “I consider it both challenging and exciting.”
International cooperation The President underlines that there are many areas where Sámediggi members agree, and mentions the international indigenous cooperation as one example.
The Sámi people live in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. The total population in these four countries is estimated to be approx. 80,000. Around half of them live in Norway.
Keskitalo underlines that the Norwegian Sámediggi is concerned about the political situation in Russia.
“Human rights, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly is of vital importance to indigenous peoples,” she says. “We acknowledge that these freedoms are under threat in contemporary Russia”, Keskitalo goes on.
In September this year Keskitalo was detained by immigration authorities in Murmansk after participating at the annual meeting in the Standing Committee of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region. She was released after paying a fine for violating visa rules.
“The Sámediggi is worried that the new NGO law on foreign agents could affect indigenous projects,” The President explains.
Barents cooperation Keskitalo is representing the Working Group of Indigenous Peoples (WGIP) in the Barents Regional Council. The working group consists of political representatives from the Sámi in Norway, Russia, Finland and Sweden as well as the Nenets and Vepsian peoples in Russia.
According to Keskitalo it is a paradox that Russian authorities are suspicious towards foreign funding, but at the same time refuses to cover the travel expenses for the Russian WGIP-members.
The working group backed out of the Barents Cooperation after the Barents Summit in June 2013 because of lack of funding. By October 2013 Norway, Sweden and Finland are providing annual funding and the working group is active again.
“We hope Russia will change its mind and become an important partner both in the Barents and the Arctic Cooperation,” says Keskitalo.
The newly elected President is invited to be present when the Foreign Ministers in the Barents Euro-Arctic Region meet in Tromsø on October 29th.
“We consider the Barents Cooperation to be the most important people-to-people grass-root cooperation, something other international structures lack,” she says, stressing that she has great expectations to the final outcome of the meeting.
“We hope the ministers will provide indigenous peoples with permanent participation in the Barents Council,” she says.
The purpose of the Sámediggi is to strengthen the political position of the Sami people and promote Sami interests in Norway, contributing to equal and equitable treatment of the Sami people and paving the way for Sami efforts to safeguard and develop their language, culture and society. (Source Samediggi.no)