The UN International Decade of Indigenous People

Common Objectives and Joint Measures of the Sami Parliaments

1. The Decade of the World’s Indigenous People –
Common Objectives and Joint Measures
of the Sami Parliaments

By declaring the years 1995–2004 as the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People, the General Assembly of the United Nations has expressed the will to place indigenous matters on the international agenda for a period of ten years.

When the UN member states now undertake to improve the living conditions of indigenous peoples, there is also a great challenge to the indigenous peoples themselves to give the Decade a concrete content that will produce results. The Sami Parliaments of Finland, Norway and Sweden are prepared to take on the inherent responsibilities by presenting own initiatives to the UN system, the nation states, and in the collaboration with other indigenous peoples.

Through various international conferences, such as the World Conference on Women, the World Conference on Environment and Development, the World Conference on Human Rights, and other important meetings, the UN has addressed the demands and rights of indigenous peoples. The increasing focus on the situation of indigenous peoples world-wide forms the basis of the United Nations International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People. The Sami Parliaments will also participate in, and assume responsibility for this development, on their own terms. The framework of the Sami Parliaments’ work will in part be the formalised programmes on which the Decade is based, but also to a large extent the Sami culture and way of thinking; in other words, the very foundation of the Sami’s existence as a people.

Indigenous peoples have gradually developed a close international co-operation. This co-operation has led to the formulation of a number of joint positions, for instance at the UN World Conference on Women in Beijing and the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio. In their work related to the Decade, the Sami Parliaments will emphasise the promotion of the indigenous peoples’ own resolutions and positions. A central aspect will be to enable indigenous people to meet and discuss matters of common interest.

1.1 The United Nations Programme for the Decade of Indigenous People

On 21 December 1995, the General Assembly of the United Nations approved Resolution No. 50/157 “Programme of activities for the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People”. The Sami Parliaments wish to point out that the UN through this programme has laid a solid foundation for a successful Decade. The challenge now is to implement the programme both internationally and nationally, in line with the demands and ambitions that the indigenous peoples themselves have for the Decade.

The programme contains a number of objectives and concrete actions involving both the UN system itself, the member states, and the indigenous organisations and institutions concerned.

1. The main objective of the Decade is to strengthen the international co-operation aimed at solving the problems of indigenous peoples in fields like human rights, the environment, development, health, culture and education (article 1 of part A “Objectives”).

2. The Decade shall serve to promote and protect the rights of indigenous peoples and their possibilities of preserving their cultural identity through participation in the political, economic and social life, with full respect for their cultural values, languages, traditions and forms of social organisation (article 4 of part A “Objectives”).

3. During the Decade, recommendations concerning indigenous peoples that have been made and are made within the UN system shall be implemented. This includes, among others, recommendations made at conferences like the World Conference on Environment and Development, the Conference on Human Rights, and other high-level UN meetings. Particular mention is made of the recommendation to establish a permanent forum for indigenous people in the United Nations system (article 5 of part A “Objectives”).

4. In the course of the Decade, the draft United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples shall be adopted. Another objective is to develop further international standards and national legislation to protect and promote the human rights of indigenous peoples, including effective methods for supervising and guaranteeing these rights (article 5 of part A “Objectives”).

The UN programme for the Decade contains a number of recommendations concerning concrete measures that should be implemented, both within the UN system, in the nation states, through indigenous organisations and through NGOs.

The General Assembly resolution 51/78 adopted in December 1996 states, among other things, that the member states are encouraged to:

a) contribute to the United Nations Trust Fund for the Decade

b) prepare relevant programmes, plans and reports in relation to the Decade, in consultation with indigenous people

c) seek means, in consultation with indigenous people, of giving indigenous people greater responsibility for their own affairs and an effective voice in decisions on matters which affect them

d) establish national committees or other mechanisms involving indigenous people to ensure that the objectives and activities of the Decade are planned and implemented on the basis of full partnership with indigenous people.

2. Common Objectives of the Sami Parliaments –
Indigenous Peoples’ Right to Self-determination

The Sami are a distinct people living in Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia. The right of peoples to self-determination is an internationally recognised principle that the UN member states are obliged to promote and protect. The Sami, in common with indigenous peoples all over the world, have claimed and will claim that the right to self-determination also applies to the world’s indigenous peoples, and must consequently be recognised by the world community.

Denmark, Finland and Canada are states that have given clear indications of a willingness to recognise the right of indigenous peoples to self-determination as a basic principle for the work on a UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples. Sweden, Norway and Russia have thus far failed to present any position on this issue.

The right of peoples to self-determination gives the Sami a collective right to decide their own future in all spheres of life. A consequence of this right is that it is the Sami themselves who decide which spheres of life the Sami people should manage, control and administer.

The Sami Parliaments want to point out that large parts of the states of Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia are established on Sami land. As a consequence, the Sami as a people and through immemorial usage are entitled to the recognition of their right to make decisions concerning their own culture, social life and own areas.

It therefore follows that the basic principle in the relationship between the Sami and the Finns, Swedes and Norwegians must be one of negotiations to reach understandings and mutual agreements between the representative organs of our peoples. It must be accepted that in the same way it is impossible that Sami should have total domination in the areas inhabited by them, it is equally impossible that the non-Sami should be allowed such domination. One should evaluate the possibility of delimiting fields of responsibility and influence between Sami and other state authorities through genuine negotiations and agreements.

The Sami Parliaments will below express their main objectives for the Decade and relate them to the programme adopted by the United Nations. The Sami Parliaments have chosen to divide their objectives for the Decade into two main categories: objectives within the nation states, and international objectives.

2.1 International objectives for the Decade of Indigenous People

The Sami Parliaments see the Decade of Indigenous People as an opportunity to establish international framework conditions for the world’s indigenous peoples. The work related to the Decade should concentrate on recognising the fundamental right of indigenous peoples to develop their cultures and communities on their own terms.

During the Decade, the Sami Parliaments will work to make the international community:

recognise and safeguard the right of indigenous peoples to self-determination.

2.1.1 International measures that must be implemented:

At the international level, the Sami Parliaments will pursue the following objectives:

1. The adoption, before the end of the Decade, of the proposed United Nations draft declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, without any weakening of the material content of the draft declaration; and the work on a UN convention on the rights of indigenous peoples being based on the draft declaration.

2. The appointment of an indigenous Goodwill Ambassador for the Decade. The person chosen should be appointed for a period of the Decade.

3. The establishment of a permanent forum for indigenous people at the highest possible level within the United Nations system, reporting directly to the General Assembly (GA) or the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), with a mandate to further develop international standards.

4. The implementation of a genuine indigenous profile within the development aid policies of Finland, Norway and Sweden, with particular focus on indigenous peoples’ possibilities of organising their own interests before the authorities of their respective nation states and before the international community

5. The establishment of a training programme for Sami youth in international work, with particular focus on indigenous collaboration and the UN.

6. The establishment of networks to activate, increase and safeguard indigenous women’s possibilities of participation in political decision processes.

7. Informing the European Union and its organs about the Sami as an indigenous people with a view to the EU’s ongoing work concerning these issues.

8. The granting of full Nordic Council membership to the Sami.

9. Safeguarding and developing indigenous peoples’ economic activities, cultures and communities by respecting their use of, and relationship with, the natural resources.

10. The preparation of a plan for drawing attention to the situation of the world’s indigenous peoples in connection with the turn of the millennium.

2.2 National objectives for the Decade of Indigenous People

Through the establishment of elected bodies representing the Sami, Finland, Norway and Sweden have provided a positive example for the international community. In spite of the fact that the Sami Parliaments of these countries are the most democratic indigenous organs in the world today, many countries have come much further in terms of giving indigenous peoples the responsibility for controlling their own development and the means to do so. As a consequence of the Sami Parliaments’ international objective for the Decade, the following national objective emerges:

During the Decade, the Sami Parliaments will work to make Finland, Sweden and Norway:

recognise and safeguard the right of the Sami to self-determination.

2.2.1 National measures for the Decade:

At the national level, the Sami Parliaments will pursue the following objectives:

1. The recognition of real self-determination for the Sami, through the Sami Parliaments, concerning their future. In this way, the Sami model will become an example also for other indigenous peoples and states.

2. The Sami parliamentary co-operation shall be strengthened politically and economically to safeguard its role as the supreme common body of the Sami.

3. The principle of negotiations on equal terms must be incorporated into the Sami acts of the countries concerned and must apply to all matters concerning the Sami population.

4. Safeguarding and developing Sami economic activities, culture and communities by creating respect for the Sami’s use of, and relationship with, the natural resources.

5. The establishment, through the Sami Parliaments, of framework conditions enabling the Sami to safeguard and develop Sami economic activities, culture, language and way of life on their own terms.

6. Research must be done to document, develop and strengthen Sami traditional knowledge, in accordance with the Sami’s own interests and priorities.

7. The ratification by Sweden and Finland of the ILO Convention No. 169, and the inclusion in the Swedish constitution of the fact that the Sami as a distinct people and an indigenous people in Sweden have a special position. The Sami’s possibilities of preserving and developing their cultural and community life shall thus be strengthened.

8. Giving priority to the Sami language through Sami control over the education of Sami children, and combating the oral and written illiteracy in own language among adults in the course of the Decade.

9. The creation of a joint project among the Sami Parliaments to document and write the Sami history from a Sami perspective.

10. Giving priority to information to increase the understanding for indigenous peoples’ struggle for self-determination, among other things.

11. The establishment of a data bank about the Sami, with the information being made available in different formats, electronically and through other media.

12. Giving the Sami Parliaments, individually or jointly, the financial means to support and develop actions for the Decade, according to their own priorities.

As regards the financing of national measures, the Sami Parliaments make reference to the programme adopted for the Decade by the United Nations, stating in article 50 under the part concerning the obligations of the member states that the states shall:

“50. Provide appropriate resources for indigenous institutions, organisations and communities to develop their own plans and actions according to their own priorities.”

Sami Parliaments of Finland, Norway and Sweden

August 1997