HELSINKI, Sept. 2 (Xinhua) -- Voting began on Monday for the election of the parliament of the Sami minority in Finland for the term 2020-2024.
There are around 10,000 Finnish Samis, and over half of them live these days outside Lapland, the original Sami area.
The Samis are the only European indigenous people recognized by the European Union. Their cultural and linguistic autonomy in their northern homeland was confirmed by Finnish parliament in 1995.
The indigenous parliament has in recent years suffered from high profile disagreements among Samis, and towards the Finnish court system, over who is eligible to vote.
There are criteria in the law related to Sami family history, but many think a very distant family connection should not qualify for the voting right. The supreme administrative court in Finland has backed the eligibility of many who have been rejected by the Sami election committee.
Local Lapland newspaper Lapin Kansa headlined on Monday that the election started in a "tense atmosphere". Tiina Sanila-Aikio, the outgoing chairperson of the Sami parliament, was quoted as saying that the disagreements undermine the influence of the institution.
Sanila-Aikio said that the Finnish Sami policy is under transformation. "Many actions are needed to stop the melting of Samis into the main population," she said, underlining the teaching in Sami outside the homelands as a primary need.
The 21-member Sami parliament has a "must-be-consulted" role in Sami matters, but has the actual decision rights only over its own 1.6 million-euro budget. Samis are Finnish citizens with full rights and duties.
Newspaper Lapin Kansa listed climate change and the would-be railroad connection from Norwegian Arctic coast through Lapland as topical themes in the campaigns.
National broadcaster Yle has opened a "match-me with a candidate" service in Sami, as it does in national elections. The postal voting continues until the end of September.