Council+ Meeting

Session 4: Education of indigenous people in Finland

Geographical Context:

  • The Sami region isn’t limited to Finland. It spans across the entire northern area of Scandinavia, including parts of Norway, Sweden, and the Kola Peninsula in Russia.
  • Historically, this entire region was inhabited by the Sami people, but now they are primarily found in smaller pockets or villages.

Demographics and Language:

  • Finland is home to approximately 10,000 Sami people. However, only around 2,000 of them still speak the Sami language.
  • Four municipalities in Finland are officially recognized as Sami areas. Despite this, a significant number of Sami people reside outside these regions.
  • The largest population of Sami speakers is found in Norway.

Education and Collaboration:

  • Utsjoki, a region in Finland, shares its border with Norway. This geographical advantage has been used to strengthen the Sami language and culture.
  • For 15 years, there was an educational collaboration with a Sami school in Norway. Students from both countries would exchange places for learning. However, this program ended due to the Norwegian school’s closure.
  • The goal is to immerse students in the Sami language, especially since they can’t use majority languages across the border.

Sami Languages:

  • There are nine distinct Sami languages. All of them are either endangered or severely endangered.
  • Northern Sami is the most widely spoken among these languages, especially in Finland.

Language Revitalization:

  • The presentation highlighted the challenges faced by small languages globally. The dominant languages often overshadow them.
  • Efforts are being made to revitalize the Sami languages and promote bilingualism among the youth.

Legal Rights and Education:

  • The Finnish constitution guarantees the rights of the Sami people, allowing them to preserve their language, culture, and traditional livelihoods.
  • The Saami Language Act in Finland ensures various rights, including the right to education in the Sami language.
  • Sami children have the right to most of their primary education in Sami, not just as a subject but across various disciplines like math, biology, and history.

Cultural Integration in Education:

  • The education system integrates Sami culture extensively. Activities like fishing, handicrafts, and reindeer herding are incorporated into the curriculum.
  • Collaborative events with Norwegian schools, like fishing trips, are organized.
  • Traditional practices, such as making reindeer boots, are taught alongside modern tools like the Sami version of Minecraft.
  • Cultural events and celebrations are integral to the school’s calendar, with students often donning traditional Sami attire.


  • The linguistic landscape poses challenges, with Finnish dominating many aspects of daily life.
  • Balancing the expectations of the wider Finnish society with those of the Sami community is a constant challenge.
  • There’s a need to prepare students for the broader world while also ensuring they remain connected to their Sami roots.