Major changes at Sami Parliament

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While Norway’s new national parliament has been reorganizing and getting back to work after the September 11 election, the Sami Parliament in Finnmark (Sametinget) has been doing the same. Aili Keskitalo of the Norske Samers Riksforbund (NSR) party was elected as Sametinget’s new president on Thursday after the election ushered in major political change.

Member of the Sami Parliament applauded on Thursday after Aili Keskitalo (standing at center) was elected as their president once again. PHOTO: Sametinget/Åse MP Pulk

Keskitalo and the NSR emerged as the big winners in the separate election for Sametinget, which represents Norway’s indigenous Sami people. Her victory followed a period of political turmoil last year that led to a Labour Party politician, Vibeke Larsen, taking over as president just before Christmas, only to wind up in a major power struggle within Labour. Larsen, who doesn’t speak any of the Sami languages, hung on to her president’s post by leaving Labour and ruling as an independent.

Neither Larsen nor Labour did well in the last election, clearing the way for Keskitalo to take over the post once again. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) noted that while she’s starting her third period as president, she’s never sat through an entire four-year term. She opted to resign during her first term and then lost her post when Larsen and Labour, against the wishes of Labour Party veteran Helga Pedersen, called for a vote of confidence late last year over Keskitalo’s budget.

Aili Keskitalo, wearing formal Sami dress, has made a comeback as president of the Sami Parliament (Sametinget). PHOTO: Sametinget/Åse MP Pulk

Now Keskitalo, who’s from Kautokeino, has a much firmer political base following her NSR party’s election victory. NSR was able to form a majority in Sametinget with three other parties and, after King Harald V formally opened Sametinget on Wednesday, she was elected as its president on Thursday.

She already faces criticism, because one of her coalition partners includes the Center Party, which also did well in the Norwegian parliamentary election. Bjarne Store-Jakobsen told NRK that NSR is violating its own principles by choosing to cooperate with a Norwegian party. NSR’s other two partners are the Sami parties Åarjel-Saemiej Giel and Flyttsamelista.

“NSR has earlier been firm that Norwegian parties don’t have anything to do with Sametinget,” Store-Jakobsen said. “Therefore I think it’s strange that they drop SfP (another Sami party) to work with the Center Party instead.” Keskitalo responded that SfP made so many demands for positions that NSR couldn’t come to terms with them.

She said that one of her priorities as president of the Sami Parliament, located in Karasjok, will be to develop the Sami languages. King Harald himself spoke of the importance of the Sami languages when he addressed the opening of the parliament on Wednesday. “Keeping the Sami languages and culture alive is a collective responsibility,” King Harald said. “Both Sametinget and the state have important work to do.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund