More tools to prevent suicides among the Sámi – political will, awareness and knowledge is needed

There are more means than before to prevent suicides among the Sámi living in Finland, Sweden and Norway.  Taking those means into use requires more funding, skilful helpers and knowledge about the factors behind the increased suicide risk among the Sámi. All these require greater political will.

Cooperation within the Sámi Council has produced a plan on the prevention of suicides among the Sámi living in the Nordic countries. The plan concentrates on the big challenges that the Sámi meet in the Nordic welfare states as they are affected by cultural and identity-related pressures.  The plan supports national suicide prevention work in all three Nordic countries.

– We have now a co-Nordic strategic plan on preventing suicides among the Sámi. At this point, we must quickly start the practical work and meet the persons who have suicidal thoughts. There are already good tools and practices for this work but they need to be spread more widely. For example in Northern Lapland, they have gained good experiences from the Canadian ASIST training that focuses on preventing suicides.  The ASIST method was used in suicide prevention training in Northern Lapland in 2017-2018. The training was part of a key project called ‘Good practices into permanent use’, says Pirkko Mattila, Minister of Social Affairs and Health.

More information needed of factors behind suicides

According to local estimates, the number of suicides among the Sámi is significant in relation to Sámi population in Finland, Sweden and Norway. It is difficult to find statistical information because it is illegal to keep statistics on ethnic background in the Nordic Countries. Sámi communities assess that young and middle-aged men are the biggest risk groups. Among these groups, very few people use healthcare and social welfare services to search for help in time. For this reason, one focal area of the suicide prevention plan is to support men’s wellbeing.

For suicide prevention, it is essential that the Sámi have equal access to healthcare and mental health services.

The objective of the suicide prevention plan is to support the right of the Sámi to self-determination and to ensure that the Sámi have real opportunities to influence decision-making concerning themselves. The plan also supports the cultural identity of the Sámi, their possibilities to pursue traditional Sámi livelihoods and the right to use their own language.

The stakeholders who participated in drawing up the plan consider it important that all different risk factors are taken into account in the suicide prevention work. More research results are also needed regarding the risk factors. One problem is that so far there has been little discussion on the trauma caused when trying to assimilate the Sámi into the majority population. Similarly, too little attention has been paid to experiences of sexual and other violence and to the reasons that led to violence.

The basic principles of the suicide prevention plan include reducing ethnic discrimination against the Sámi and promoting acceptance of diversity. This applies, for example, to sexual minorities among which the suicide risk is exceptionally high.

The plan also emphasises that the Sámi need more Sámi people to help in preventing suicides. The aim is to support the Sámi to work for suicide prevention both on the grass-root level and in official Sámi institutions and organisations.

As there are Sámi people living in four countries (in Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia), the work for suicide prevention needs to be carried out across national borders. Resources are limited and therefore it is necessary to ensure that also the best practices will cross the borders. The cooperation is necessary in all areas: education, services and keeping of statistics.

In a small community, suicide is always a major issue

– We need more courage to talk about suicidal thoughts. This requires training and expertise. It is important to be able to talk about suicidal thoughts and people should not be afraid of the issue. If there are suicidal thoughts, they can be discussed, says M.D. Heidi Eriksen from Utsjoki.

According to Eriksen, the suicide risks among the Sámi have unfortunately been addressed late in Finland although it has been known that suicides are more common even among the whole population than in other Nordic countries.

– There are significant differences between big cities and small communities. A suicide in a small community is a huge issue and affects the whole community. The suicide may also give a model for other persons having self-destructive thoughts. Suicides among members of the same family within a short period of time are regrettably common in small communities, tells Eriksen.

Lars Jacobsson, Professor at Umeå University, wants to get more qualitative information about the factors behind suicides. He emphasises that the reasons for suicides vary: it can be a personal escape from depression, political protest or meant to punish for something. Research should focus on studying what is the most important motive to a person’s suicide. This would help to address the reasons for the person’s feelings that make him or her think about a suicide, plan it and maybe even carry it out.

– We need to find out what kind of thoughts people have when they are thinking about suicide. Thoughts are common and not dangerous but planning suicide is dangerous. A suicide prevention plan is not enough if we do not make concrete agreements on who is responsible for each measure and action. There needs to be a responsible party who carries out the work in practice, reminds Jacobsson.

In addition, it is necessary to have political will and to encourage the political decision-makers. Researcher Ann Silviken from Norway summarises very well the panel discussion at the seminar:

– Suicide prevention is the responsibility of each one of us.

An international seminar was held on 30 January – 1 February 2019 in Inari/Aanaar about the implementation of suicide prevention activities in the circumpolar area. The seminar focused on supporting mental health of indigenous people and preventing their suicides. At the seminar, experts and researchers from various countries as well as representatives of indigenous communities exchanged their experiences of suicide prevention work and its results. The seminar was one of the events of Finland’s Chairmanship of the Arctic Council 2017-2019.

The article is originally published by Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health 31.1.2019:

Further information about the suicide prevention work of the Arctic Council:

UN Human Rights Committee: The decisions of the Supreme Administrative Court of Finland on the electoral roll of the Sámi Parliament’s election in 2015 were a violation of human rights

The UN Human Rights Committee, which monitors the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ratified by Finland, published on 1 February 2019 two views on the communications submitted to it concerning decisions made by the Supreme Administrative Court of Finland on the Sámi Parliament’s election in 2015. One of the claims was submitted by President of the Sámi Parliament Tiina Sanila-Aikio, as authorized by its Executive Board.

The case dealt with the matter of admitting persons into the electoral roll of the Sámi Parliament pursuant to decisions made by the Supreme Administrative Court of Finland (KHO) on 30 September 2015.

Sanila-Aikio considers the Committee’s view a good one. “Of course, it means that the UN Human Rights Committee confirms, through its authority, what we have been saying all the time. The Supreme Administrative Court should not have departed from the formulation of the Sámi Parliament Act and replaced the Sámi people’s right to self-determination by its own ‘overall consideration’, ignoring the thorough work done by the Sámi Parliament’s Election Committee on the individual assessment of each application. We now need to discuss whether to submit an annulment application to the Supreme Administrative Court in order to restore a lawful state as regards the issue.”

In its view, the Human Rights Committee finds that the decisions made by the Supreme Administrative Court through which 93 persons were entered in the Sámi Parliament’s electoral roll against the stand of the Sámi Parliament’s Election Committee and Executive Board violated article 25 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights both alone and in conjunction with article 27 as interpreted in light of article 1. Of these articles, article 25 deals with the right of individuals to political participation, article 27 with the rights of minorities, and article 1 with the right of peoples to self-determination.

The Human Rights Committee finds that, ever since 2011, the Finnish Supreme Administrative Court has departed from both the formulation of the Sámi Parliament Act’s section 3 and the consensual interpretation of the section by applying its own “overall consideration” instead of the objective criteria required by the Act. The individual assessment of whom to enter in the electoral roll undertaken by the Sámi Parliament’s Election Committee had specifically been based on the criteria provided by law, leading to the decision of not including 93 persons in the roll.

Through its view, the Human Rights Committee has supported the view of the Sámi Parliament’s Election Committee and Executive Board, finding that the interpretation of the Supreme Administrative Court departed from the Act and was not based on reasonable and objective criteria.

In accordance with article 2(3) of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a State party is under an obligation to provide effective remedy for human rights violations when they have been found to have occurred. In its decision, the Committee finds that this entails “ensuring full reparation”. This may require that the Supreme Administrative Court annul its own decisions. The Human Rights Committee separately states that Finland is obliged to review section 3 of the Sámi Parliament Act with a view to ensuring that the criteria for eligibility to vote in the Sámi Parliament’s elections are defined and applied in practice in a manner that respects the right of the Sámi people to exercise their internal self-determination. Finland is also under an obligation to take all steps necessary to prevent similar violations in the future.

The decision of the Human Rights Committee also includes a complementary opinion by one of the members, which comes to the same conclusion as the entire Committee but contains additional grounds.

Finland must, within six months, report to the Committee on the measures taken to give effect to the Committee’s views.

The decision is available on the website of the Human Rights Committee at:

The news release of 1 Feb. 2019 of the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs (in Finnish):


Further information

Tiina Sanila-Aikio, President of Sámi Parliament in Finland, tel. +358 50 300 1780, tiina.sanila-aikio(at)