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Sami people want to be present in European Union

The Sami people need to be more visible in Brussels, says Christina Henriksen, member of the of the Sami Parliament of Norway.

The Sami Council, which is an umbrella organization for Sami organizations in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, has agreed that there is a need for Sami to be present in the EU capital of Brussels and plans to establish an office there.

“We need to be more visible for the European politicians,” Christina Henriksen says to BarentsObserver. Henriksen is Vice-member of the Sami Council, representative of the Sami Parliament of Norway, and also Chair of the Working Group for Indigenous Peoples in the Barents Euro-Arctic Region.

“We need to bring the EU politicians information about relations in the regions where Sami people live, because the EU has not enough focus on the human dimension in the Arctic,” Henriksen says. The focus is directed towards scientific research, animal life and petroleum extraction on so on, but not on the humans living in the region, she explains.

It is important for us to show them that even though there are not houses built on every hilltop, this doesn’t mean that the areas are uninhabited or unused.” The Sami people use large areas in the north for reindeer husbandry, hunting, fishing and other traditional livelihoods.

“The EU’s decision to ban on import of seal products is a perhaps the best sign that they don’t understand what is going on in the north,” the Sami politicians says. The European Parliament in May 2009 voted to ban the import of sea products within EU member states, with a vaguely-defined exemption for seal products harvested by indigenous hunters.

Henriksen believes the EU has realized that indigenous peoples are the key to entering the Arctic Council. “EU has strategically been approaching indigenous peoples during the last few years by inviting them to different dialogue meetings.”  The Sami Council has always taken part in some of these dialogue meetings and knows where the problems lie, she adds.

In October 2014 Canada and EU entered a deal that will ensure that seal products harvested by all indigenous people in Canada may be sold within EU member states.

Many northern regions in Norway, Finland and Sweden have representative offices in Brussels, but to place a Sami representative in one of those will not be the best solution, the Sami council believes. “The regional offices have no responsibility for communicating the indigenous voice.” Henriksen says. She has been working as an adviser at the the North Norway European Office in Brussels.

There are so far no concrete plans for how the representative office in Brussels will be organized and when it could be opened. “But I hope the Sami Council’s decision could act as a catalyst and speed up the work towards Europe,” Henriksen says.