Background of the trial on February 14th
They broke the law, but didn´t committed a crime
Four Sámi are going to confess in the Court of Law that they broke the law, but didn´t commit a crime. They have fished in the so called state waters in the river Veahčak in summer 2017 without the permit from Metsähallitus, the State Forest Enterprise. It is not crime because they were practicing their indigenous Sámi culture in the watershed that Sámi have used since time immemorial. According to the Finnish Constitution, the Sámi have the right to practice their own culture and this right also includes fishing.
On the 29th of July 2017 four Sámi anglers - Ánne Nuorgam, Heidi Eriksen, Kati Eriksen, and Erke Eriksen – who are part of the local Sámi community of the Deatnu River, went fishing on their village Deatnu tributary river, the Veahčak in the Utsjoki area. They are now being prosecuted by the Finnish Government for illegal fishing under Chapter 28, Section 10 of the penal code and must appear before the District Court on 14 February 2019.
It is claimed that these four Sámi anglers lacked the proper permits to fish in so-called state waters, a system which the Finnish Government has recently imposed upon the Deatnu river system. Up until the summer of 2016 the Sámi of the Veahčak village were free to practice their time honored and culturally vital traditions of using and managing the resources of the rivers that have been in continuous use by the Sámi people, and specifically had the right to fish freely upon the Veahčak. However, after the summer of 2016 the imposition of a new fishing legislation brought with it an oppressive and culturally erosive system in which the local Sámi population was now forced to pay for the privilege of practicing their culture in waters that the Finnish State claim.
All four of the accused anglers are local Sámi, whose families have been pursuing castlining and other fishing activities in the waters of the Deatnu river system for centuries. Salmon fishing in this river system is a vital element of Sámi culture which has been, and is still, done for subsistence living, economic development, and spiritual and identity purposes. Though the equipment and methods in certain situations may have advanced, traditional methods are still employed and the right to fish freely is an important means of keeping traditional knowledge and methods alive and thriving. Additionally, both the UN Human Rights Committee and the Constitutional Committee have stated that the Sámi culture also includes modern forms of traditional livelihoods.
It is undisputed that the four Sámi anglers have all fished with lures and rods in river Veahčak in the state waters under the control of Metsähallitus, the State Forest Enterprise, on the west side of the river between the Bajitrohči and Luovosvárjohsuolu without the permission of Metsähallitus. However, though the facts of this case are not questioned, the accused vehemently deny that they have committed a crime in practicing their culture in waters that have been used by the Sámi since time immemorial.
Article 12 of the previous Fisheries Act (1212/1997) provided that residents of the municipalities of Enontekiö, Inari or Utsjoki, engaged in professional fishing or fishing for their own needs, were entitled to free access to fishing activities in the waters belonging to the State in the said municipalities.
Yet, the current Fisheries Act (379/2015) unjustifiably restricted the rights of the Sámi by excluding from this permission fishing in the Deatnu watershed area where salmon and trout are present, which would require separate permits for state waters granted by Metsähallitus. In practice, because salmon migrate throughout the watershed and to the entire length of the Veahčak the new law allows the Sámi to practice their culture freely only in the mountain lakes where there are no trout and no salmon. In this manner the new fishing legislations has, since 2016, attempts to extinguish the Sámi peoples’ right to freely practice a vital part of their cultural heritage and even in the waters of their own homes. While fishing may be undertaking by purchasing a license from Metsähallitus, these licenses are limited, temporally restricted, and an unreasonable and oppressive restriction of cultural practices that have been continuing unimpeded for generations.
It can only be determined that Article 10 (2) of the Fisheries Act, and the prohibition on fishing for salmon and trout, which it has created, infringe the cultural protection clearly granted to the Sámi People within the Finnish Constitution.
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