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:

Ijahis Idja Festival Celebrates 15 Years – Program Now Published

The Indigenous People’s Music Festival, Ijahis Idja, has published its program.  The festival will be held in Inari/Anár for the 15th time. As in previous years, the program is again vast and versatile. Besides music there will be also conversation arena, Sámi sport competition and program for the youngsters.

The event begins on Friday 17th of August with kids and youth program. During the day, the participants who have registered beforehand will take part in workshops and watch Sámi films. They also get to show their own talent in Ijahis íja násttážat youth concert. Also, Solju band will perform in Ijahis íja násttážat concert.

Festival opening ceremony starts at 18.00 on Friday. Nils-Heikki Paltto and Indigenous Bastards will perform in the opening program. After that a super-fast lasso sprint will be held outdoors in the festival area. Furthermore, Anára Sámisearvi, the main organizer of Ijahis idja, will celebrate its 35 anniversary on the main stage.

The outdoor concerts on the main stage in Friday evening will surely offer something for everyone when Solju band, the Norwegian popstar Kevin Boine and the Canadian DJ-collective A Tribe Called Red perform for the audience. It will be a night to remember.

Saturday begins with a music seminar which will be in Sámi museum Siida. The topic of the anniversary seminar is Ijahis idja itself.  How the festival came to be as we know it today and what it means to the Sámi music scene and artists? The panel discussion is led by Aslak Paltto.

The day continues with Yle Sápmi Arena, which is produced by Yle Sápmi. It’s a discussion arena with hot topics of the day and it will be held in all Sámi languages spoken in Finland. The arena will be held on the festival area, outside of Sajos.

Evening continues with a concert called “Luohti ja Suõmmkar” in the auditorium of Sajos. Traditional yoik artists Berit Alette Mienna, Ingá Elisá Påve Idivuoma, Hildá Länsman and Iŋgá-Máret Gaup-Juuso will perform. In addition to that, Skolt Sámi group Suõmmkar will release their debut album. Auditorium concerts have grown very popular year after year and they attract people to enjoy Sámi music in intimate surroundings.

Evening outdoor concerts begin with a concert by Vildá. A duo that consists of Hildá Länsman ja Viivi Saarenkylä. After them on stage will be Felgen Orkester, Amoc & Ailu Valle and Trio Boogiemen, Tundra Electro and some yoik artists. Along with concerts there will be sports. A thrilling lasso throwing competition which will settle once and for all who’s the best lasso thrower in Sápmi.

Ijahis Idja 17th to 19th of August 2018, in Inari/Anár.

Ijahis idja is produced by Anára Sámisearvi ry, Sámi Parliament, Saamelaisalueen koulutuskeskus, Sámi museum Siida, Inari municipality, Taiteen edistämiskeskuksen Lapin toimipiste, Yle Sápmi ja Hotelli Kultahovi.

More information:

Sámi Music Center, planer/ producer Oula Guttorm,, +358 50 574 2765

Ijahis Idja is Looking for Volunteers!

Ijahis Idja needs volunteers to help the festival between August 17th and 19th with traffic control, ticket sales, cleaning the festival area and as festival helpers.

Come and join the Ijahis Idja crew and you will get the festival pass for Friday and Saturday concerts! Also you’ll get warm meal on the day you’re working.

When signing up, tell your name, e-mail, phone number and which days you would prefer to work.

More info and signing up for the work:

Associate producer Aleksi Ahlakorpi / / +358 40 687 8844

Photo: Ijahis Idja/ Paadar Images


Ijahis Idja is a festival celebrating the music of indigenous peoples and has been held in Inari since 2004. The event is the only music festival held in Finland that concentrates on Sámi music. The Ijahis idja (‘Nightless Night’) Indigenous Music Festival is yearly held in the village of Inari, Finland. Festival venue is the Sámi Cultural Centre Sajos. You can listen and experience Sámi and other indigenous peoples music in festival events such as concerts, music seminars, workshops and sports competitions.

See you at Ijahis idja!

Sámi Cultural Intangible Heritage Conference May 23rd – 24th, Sajos #urbánbeaivvit

The conference theme is intangible cultural Sámi heritage such as duodji (Sámi handicrafts), archive objects, cultural memories, yoik, storytelling, and traditional land use and rights. The goal is to discuss, define and build a common ground in order to protect collective Sámi intangible heritage on a national and transnational levels.  Information and program are found here.

Conference is open to all interested in the topic and can be followed also through live-stream broadcast.

Participation fee includes conference and cultural program (concerts, exhibitions, plays and films), coffee and lunch.

Events during the conference

23.5.2018 at 12:10

  • Opening of the Duodji Exhibition – Ellos Duodji!
  • Fia Kaddik: Short Course on Tin Thread Weaving

23.5.2018 at 17:45 – 19:30 Cultural Program

  • Publication of the 6th Poetry Collection of Niillas Holmberg
  • Niillas Holmberg reading his poems and yoiking
  • Inga Victoria Påve: Presentation of the photos in the Poetry Collection

24.5.2018 at 20:00 – 21:00 Evening program in Sajos, Film night with Skábmagovat

Other seminars

May 21st – 22nd, 2018

Sami Traditional Music  (invited guests)

Seminar topics: rights, relations and obligations regarding Sami traditional music.
Organized by the University of Lapland and the Sámi Parliament

Contact person: Piia Nuorgam, LLM and PhD student, piia.nuorgam(at) /+358 44 3131 320

May 22nd, 2018 at 12:00 – 17:30, Sajos

How to Protect Duodji?

Open discussion about the protection of Duodji (open for everyone)
Organized by Saami Council

Registration and information:

Ellen Berit Dalbakk, Project Manager of the Duodji Label, +47 99796 947

Contact information

Milja Guttorm, Conference Coordinator/ Regional Artist, Taike – Arts Promotion Centre Finland; milja.guttorm(at) 295 330 865

Riitta Orti-Berg; Sámi Parliament, Finland; riitta.orti-berg(at) +358 40 840 0383

Susanne Idivuoma; Sámi parliament, Sweden; susanne.idivuoma(at) +46 980 780 48

Silja Somby; Sámi Parliament, Norway; silja.somby(at) +47 78 48 42 30

The conference is organized by Sami Parliaments in Finland, Sweden and Norway, Sami Artist Council, Sami Council, Sámi Duodji-Sameslöjdstiftelsen, and Taike – Arts Promotion Centre Finland

Photo: Kirsi Suomi