In order to enhance the implementation of the Article 8j of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), to better safeguard the rights of the indigenous Saami people and to secure participation and involvement of the Saami people in protected area management planning process, the application of the voluntary Akwé: Kon Guidelines of the CBD were piloted in the development of the Management Plan of Hammastunturi Wilderness Area in Finnish Lapland. In Finland, the Akwé: Kon Guidelines are meant to be applied in the assessment of cultural, environmental and social impacts of projects and plans which are implemented in the Saami Homeland and may influence the Saami culture, livelihoods and cultural heritage. As a result of the pilot work, a permanent Akwé: Kon model was developed by Metsähallitus, as the administrative authority of state-owned lands, and the Saami Parliament, as the representative of the Saami people, to be used in protected area management and natural resource planning processes in the Homeland of the Saami. The model strengthens the involvement of the Saami people in the management of protected areas and helps the protected area administrative authority to safeguard better the Saami culture and traditional knowledge and livelihoods.
Metsähallitus Natural Heritage Services is a state agency that manages all protected areas on state-owned land in Finland. Metsähallitus is in charge of preserving cultural heritage and the preconditions of sustainable traditional local culture in protected areas, particularly in the Homeland of the Saami in the northern part of Finland. Large protected areas on state-owned land often coincide with the Saami Homeland. These include Wilderness Areas that are established to preserve the wilderness character of the areas and to safeguard the Saami culture and nature-based forms of livelihood.
According to legislation, the Saami have the right to maintain and develop their own language and culture and the management, use and protection of natural resources governed by Metsähallitus in the Saami Homeland have to be adjusted in such a way that the conditions of the Saami people to practice their culture are ensured.
The Saami culture is linked to nature. The profitability of Saami traditional livelihoods, such as reindeer herding, and vitality of the Saami Homeland has to be guaranteed for the preservation of Saami culture, language and traditional knowledge. These are threatened by competing land use forms, such as tourism, off-road traffic, mining activities and other development initiatives.
Protected areas help to safeguard the culture of the Saami people and management planning needs to take this into account.
In a protected area management planning process, a broad-based collaborative panel is always appointed for drawing up a management plan. The panel has representation of various stakeholders, including the Saami in the areas that coincide with their Homeland. In the Akwé: Kon model, the Saami Parliament appoints a separate Akwé: Kon working group in addition to the collaborative panel. In the Skolt Saami area, it is the Skolt village assembly that is involved in the work. The members of the working group are also able to participate in the meetings of the collaborative panel. The Akwé: Kon working group reports to the collaborative panel concerning their work and proposals.
The Akwé: Kon working group consists of four to seven people with a balanced gender and age representation. The working group includes custodians of traditional knowledge and those that will be affected by the plan in order to guarantee that the traditional knowledge linked to biodiversity is taken into account. Metsähallitus appoints a secretary for the group that will rely on the views expressed by the working group and participates in the group meetings and in the meetings of the collaborative panel. The working group chooses the language it uses. The working group members have the right to use interpretation. The documents are in Finnish but translations into Saami languages can be made as needed.
Metsähallitus finances the participation of the representatives in the working group as well as interpretation and translation costs. Metsähallitus also finances the costs of communication and organization of meetings.
The Akwé: Kon working group participates actively in the impact assessment of the plan throughout the process and presents views on how negative impacts on the Saami culture can be mitigated and how positive impacts support practicing of the Saami culture. The working group presents valuable information to the planning process as it includes people that actually use the area and have intimate knowledge of it.
Metsähallitus uses the Akwé: Kon model in protected area management and natural resource planning processes in the Homeland of the Saami people.
Through the application of the Akwé: Kon Guidelines, biodiversity and its relation to the Saami culture are discussed more comprehensively in the management plans. The process enables a more defined recognition of the interaction between human beings and nature as well as the impacts of human activities on nature. The application of the Akwé: Kon Guidelines changes the impact assessment process into a continuous one. This enables changes to be made at different phases of the process with full participation of the indigenous Saami through the Akwé: Kon working group. The interactions between Metsähallitus and those who use the area for which management plans are developed have been enhanced through the Akwé: Kon working group activities. For Metsähallitus, the application of the Akwé: Kon Guidelines and the implementation of the Akwé: Kon model are valuable tools in determining how Metsähallitus as a public administrative authority can better safeguard the rights of the indigenous Saami people. The permanent Akwé: Kon model applied in Finland has received a lot of interest throughout the world. It would be desirable that more parties to the CBD apply the Akwé: Kon Guidelines in order to safeguard indigenous cultures and their traditional knowledge.