ELFC leader: Sami-church relations positive

Kali Katerberg/Daily Mining Gazette Rev. Bror Traskbacka discusses Sami and church relations beside the Sami flag at a special presentation.

HANCOCK — In conjunction with international Sami Day, the Finnish American Heritage Center hosted a discussion Tuesday on Sami and church relations.

The Rev. Bror Traskbacka of the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church (FELC) spoke on the current state of relations with the Sami people, who are indigenous to Norway, Sweden, Finland and parts of Russia.

With a small population, around 40 percent of today’s Sami in Finland live in the traditional homeland in the northern part of Lapland. The remaining 60 percent live in large cities like the capital of Helsinki, Traskbacka explained.

The Sami minority includes around 9,300 people, a small part of the Finnish population of 5.5 million.

“The contact between the Sami and the church goes back at least 500 years,” Traskbacka explained, even before Finland was a country. Traveling pastors and teachers were a common method of reaching the people.

There were times where a focus was placed on all people speaking a common language leading to abuses.

“This, of course, led to some conflict of interest… the Sami languages were even forbidden in some schools,” Traskbacka said.

However, Traskbacka sees the current relationship between the Sami people and the church as a good one.

“There are of course questions to be solved, one being the question of (the) right to their land, a 50-year-old debate which is still ongoing but on the other hand the Sami has the right to all the North of Finland for their reindeering,” Traskbacka said. “In my experience the Sami are very well cared for and included in the work of the church on all levels.”

In the FELC, one of 109 church senate seats is reserved for a representative chosen by the Sami parliament, despite the small population.

“It’s important that the chair is there for the Sami so the Sami are represented on the highest decision-making level in the church,” Traskbacka said. “Marginalization is something you have to fight because marginalization doesn’t do any good for any group in any society.”

There is one full-time pastor for Sami affairs, as well as deacons and other church leaders in the Laplands. As language goes, the FELC headquarters includes signage in Sami and has translated church books into all three official Sami languages.

As Traskbacka sees it Sami and church relations are positive and looking up.

“The Sami people today both in society and (the) church…(have) a full right to their identity and self-understanding,” Traskbacka said.