The Saami Council was founded in 1956, making it one of the oldest indigenous peoples’ organizations. The Saami Council is a volunteer-based and independent cultural and political cooperation organization for Saami organizations in Finland, Norway, Russia and Sweden. The Saami Council is a non-governmental organization. 

The Saami Council's general objectives are to protect Saami interests, strengthen the Sami solidarity across national boundaries as one people, and work to ensure that the Saami will be recognized also in the future as one people, whose cultural, political, economic, civil, social and spiritual rights will be ensured by each country's laws, agreements between the States concerned and the Saami representative body, and international laws in general. The Saami Council also works internationally to promote and ensure Saami and other indigenous peoples' interests and rights.

Quick facts:

PP Organization name: The Saami Council

Date founded: 1956

Geographic area covered: Northern Finland, Russia, Norway and Sweden

Number of people: There are 50 000 - 100 000 Saami people residing in the four countries

Leadership: President Olav Mathis Eira

Key issues: The primary aim of the Saami Council is to promote Saami rights and interests in the four countries where the Saami are living, to consolidate the feeling of affinity among the Saami people, to attain recognition for the Saami as a nation and to maintain the economic, social and cultural rights of the Saami in the legislation of the four states.

Website: http://www.saamicouncil.net/

 

Interview with Gunn-Britt Retter, Head of Arctic and Environmental Unit at the Saami Council

How long have you been involved in the work of the Arctic Council and what is your position?

Since 2001, first as Technical Advisor at Arctic Council Indigenous Peoples' Secretariat (IPS) in Copenhagen, (2001-2005). Since 2005 as Head of Arctic- and Environmental Unit at the Saami Council.

How were you selected for your position? How long is the period of engagement?

I applied to IPS, and was hired first for two years, thereafter the contract was prolonged for two more years. Saami Council head-hunted me to the position, the contract is actually for a year at the time, since it is an non-profit organization and our activity depends on available funding.

What are some of the issues that are most important to you personally?

What drives me personally is the fact that the Saami culture depends on healthy environment and ecosystems. I believe the Saami Council can contribute to this objective, together with the other PPs, member states and Observers to reach the same objective to keep Arctic nature clean into the future.

Have indigenous peoples' involvement in the Arctic Council changed since you joined? How?

I think the role that the Arctic Council has developed for the Permanent Participants (PPs) since its foundation in 1996, was confirmed by the Ministerial Meeting in Nuuk 2011, when the documents related to strengthening of the Arctic Council and the observer criteria were adopted. I also think that the PPs have succeeded over the years in keeping focus on human perspectives in the Arctic.

What is the most memorable experience you have had during Arctic Council work?

The long debate Saami Council had at the closed SAO meeting right before the Ministerial meeting in Salekhard in 2006, on the question about including text in the Salekhard declaration about adaptation to climate change. We ended up with the Vulnerability and Adaptation to Climate Change in the Arctic (VACCA) project, and the Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG) got it on their table.


This article is the first in a series highlighting the Arctic Council Permanent Participants. The following articles in the series will be posted on the Arctic Council website over the course of the next few months. For more background information on the Permanent Participants please read the History of the Arctic Council Permanent Participants.

Photo 1: The Saami Council Secretariat in Utsjoki, Finland, by Gunn-Britt Retter
Photo 2:  Gunn-Britt Retter, by Bjørn Joachimsen / Foto Nord