Date and place of birth: 8 November 1977, Oulu, but grew up in Keväjärvi.

Places of residence: Käpylä, Helsinki and Keväjärvi.

Education: Master’s degree from the Theatre Academy Helsinki.

As a child I wanted to be... tall.

I hate it when... I have to be faster than I am.

In ten years’ time... I don’t want to see myself repeating the same sentences about the problems of Sami society.

Further Information


SixDegrees speaks to award-winning film director and spokesperson for the Sami minority Pauliina Feodoroff about immigration, Sami culture and independent filmmaking.

OVER THE last three years, Pauliina Feodoroff’s name has become a familiar one in Finnish society. In 2007, the Finnish Critics’ Association gave her the annually distributed Kritiikin Kannukset award for her film Non Profit. The same year she began a two-year stint as President of the Sami Council, and then became one of Teatteri Takomo’s two managing directors in 2009. On top of all this, she heads the eastern Sami organisation Saa’mi Nue’tt and chairs a Ministry of Education working group on the accessibility of culture and art. So, to say that she is a multi-talented, multifaceted person is to understate a tad.

With the relentless din of construction work being done throughout her apartment block for accompaniment, Pauliina speaks to SixDegrees about immigration, the Sami culture and independent filmmaking.

You suggested we discuss in today’s interview the immigration debate in Finland. What aspect of immigration interests you the most?

Having, as I do, a background as a Sami activist and politician, immigration is an issue I’d never really considered properly prior to being selected as the Chairperson of that working group. A year and a half ago I woke up to the reality that the ethnographic make-up of Finland, especially in big cities, is rapidly changing, but our mentality is not changing at a similar pace. Secondly, as a Sami, it’s interesting to look at the arguments being used by Finns, who from our perspective are the settlers in many, but not all, parts of the land we now call Finland. We are sorely lacking a vocabulary or any kind of sensible way of accepting the fact that this very safe and rich part of the world isn’t only for us.

Do you think it’s possible to define an immigrant, then, if Finns themselves can be viewed as settlers in Finland?

That’s a very interesting question. People have always been moving. At the same time, the reason for such movement has changed from doing so with their cattle, sparing the land or finding food to going for a job, for love, or in search of a better standard of living.

I don’t consider first nations and indigenous nations to be named so based on the idea that “we were here first” – even if, in some cases, it could be based on that. Rather, it means that a certain group or people/s have a special, very specific knowledge of one particular piece of the land, a knowledge that has been gained through living on that land for a long time and the dialogue that’s been had with that land. Thus, it’s not so much about people and their rights; it’s about the duties these people have to that particular land and it’s about the knowledge of the duties demanded of them regardless of whether they’re Finnish, Sami or something else. Finns are, or at least have been, the knowledge holders in huge parts of this land, not just the Sami.

But in Finland and other industrial countries this knowledge has, especially within the last hundred years, been greatly eroded. People living in an urban, industrialised culture know next to nothing about their ancestors from as little as two generations back, where they came from and how they lived. As such, I don’t see any basis for people saying “we are Finns and we should have greater access to this or that” if the only difference between natives and immigrants is that the latter don’t speak Finnish...

...or that some of us have a different colour of skin.

“Not being forced through
necessity to leave
one’s own home or country
is the real human right.”

Indeed. The difference is basically only one of race and language if the way of living is exactly the same. I would separate the issue of land use – be that Sami or traditional Finnish land use – from that of ethnicity.

Are you saying, then, that immigrants who are willing to live more closely to the land and in a way more in tune with nature are more deserving of residing in Finland than a Finn who has lived here all their life but who doesn’t live this way?

Yes. The people emigrating to Finland at the moment often have a much lower standard of living than us, so they are essentially living more ecologically sustainable lives. Therefore, it would be much easier for them to adapt if Finland could provide some models for more ecologically sustainable ways of living. For the average Finn, it would be a lot harder if legislation aimed at cutting our consumption would be suddenly passed.

In your opinion, what are the most important features of the recent immigration debate?

Maybe we should first define what we mean by “the recent immigration debate.”

I suppose I’m referring to the debate generated by Social Democrat leader Jutta Urpilainen’s “when in Rome...” speech and her fellow Social Democrat Eero Heinäluoma’s interview in the Swedish language daily Hufvudstadsbladet.

It’s interesting that these comments came from members of a social democratic party. The Social Democrats are basically a redneck party. They’re still using the same rhetoric about workers’ rights in Finland today – where a “blue-collar” worker at a paper factory earns 5-6,000 euros a month – that was used 100 years ago when people were actually starving to death and child labour was used in factories.

I presume these people hold different opinions behind closed doors. They certainly wouldn’t go saying things like that at a meeting of the EU or UN because it would be shameful. If people who should know better and who, indeed, do know better are giving these kinds of statements, it paints a rough picture of what is bubbling underneath the surface in Finnish society.

Even though a few politicians, such as Alexander Stubb, have stated that some of the things said in relation to immigration are disgusting, it’s very hard to find anything good in this recent debate.

Is it a human right to be able to move anywhere in the world without restriction?

Not being forced through necessity to leave one’s own home or country is the real human right. Most people coming here are doing so because they can’t make a living in their own country. It should be possible for every human being to live in their own part of the world, surrounded by their own culture, if they wish to do so.

You said in an opinion piece in Helsingin Sanomat a few years back that reindeer husbandry and Sami culture aren’t the same thing. What are the most important elements of Sami culture other than reindeer husbandry?

When I was a young girl I asked my great-uncle what, for the Sami, was the main purpose in life. His answer was “survival”, and when I asked, “how do we do that?” he said, “with different livelihoods.”

Those livelihoods have been fishing, gathering, hunting and reindeer herding, and that’s the basis of our culture. I don’t know if this makes us different from others – other cultures may have the very same way of living – but our language, the very ways we fish/ed, herd/ed reindeer and so on, our whole worldview comes from it.

As you’re half-Skolt Sami, half-Finnish, do you see the Skolts as a part of the Sami whole or something distinct?

When we’re speaking to people from elsewhere it’s easier to use the term “Sami” and then if they ask we can tell them in more precise detail. So the word “Sami” is something for outsiders. The name Skolt is, in fact, something other Sami have named us; we call ourselves Sä’mmlaz.

The whole concept of Samiland is a political reaction to the nation state. I think that we Sami place more emphasis on our villages, as people see huge differences between them. Villages, along with what family you’re from, are our way of navigating.

As it seems you can win the Kritiikin Kannukset for almost anything to do with the arts, the film you made in 2007 must have been pretty impressive. Why do you think you were chosen for that award?

I think all awards are a kind of commentary. It would be nice to believe that the actual piece has something to do with the award...

Yes, that would be nice.

...but, although I don’t remember what kind of movie year 2007 was, winning that award was a statement about how a Finnish movie was trying to be more independent [the movie was made with very little money and was non-profit making] and was dealing with issues that weren’t so safe. So I think that was the reason – essentially out of pity – that I won the award.

Are you planning on making any more films in the future?

I’ve learned my lesson! That movie was about me and my desire to make a movie. I don’t have the urge any longer just to make a movie. We made some films during my time at the Sami Council and that was nicer than just boosting my own ego.

Allan Bain