Giellagas Institute is continuing the work of President Ahtisaari

Coincidentally the State Funeral of the Former President of Finland Martti Ahtisaari happened just before our latest FRONT program training with Sámi indigenous people. The unceremonious military proceedings made me think often about our Eastern border and how it has impacted the lives of Finn’s as well as Ahtisaari’s. He had lost his home in Karelia during the war and became an IDP (internally displaced person) as a child. This experience became foundational later in his efforts as peace mediator.
People laying their hands on snow wearing colorful Sami culture patterned mittens

One of Martti Ahtisaari's principles was to ensure that the affected populations would feel that the settlement would be acceptable for them. While assessing that he related directly to his own experiences. Ahtisaari had also a connection to Oulu having spend his youth years there while his father was working in the military. Oulu had a special place in his memories.

While being the President of the Republic of Finland Ahtisaari was once asked if he could help our indigenous Sámi people. I have been told that he replied reluctantly that he is not knowledgeable enough of the Sámi and their situation. I was his Special Advisor from 2000-2004, but we never spoke about the Sámi, so I do not have genuine knowledge about his thoughts on the issue.

However, with the mediation trainings that I have been involved in developing with the University of Oulu’s Giellagas Institute with Anni-Siiri Länsman and many other Sámi scholars first in 2018 and then again in 2022 and now in 2023 as part of the FRONT (Frontiers of Arctic and Global Resilience) program certainly are continuing and advancing his legacy.

Ahtisaari became famous in the world through his peace mediation efforts. Those agreements that he helped to broker are among the few that seem to be largely holding (although Kosovo has recently become more unstable). Today peace mediation as large is in crisis. Written settlements rarely lead into transforming relationships and breaking the cycles of conflict.

In the mediation trainings with Giéllagas we have wanted to expand to involve also grassroots efforts and peer mediation into national processes, but even more deeply open space to start to address multigenerational and multidimensional trauma that affects both indigenous people as well as settler societies. In United States, where I hold a Professor of Practice position at Carter School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, it has been particularly insightful to be able to work with neuroscientist and trauma specialist. We need to understand better how human brain functions, projects treat and tend to direct to repeat cycles of conflict unless the affects of trauma are addressed. Trauma specialists, however, have concluded that individual therapy is not sufficient when harm has been done for a community or affects larger society. There needs to be spaces to heal also collectively.

The situations of indigenous people reveal that healing can neither happen in isolation. Healing must be connected to rights, land, and revitalization of indigenous languages. They too, however, need the connection to healing. Merging indigenous practices and ceremony with psychosocial support has become an area of interest for many indigenous people. Being connected with the ancestors, land, animals and what cannot be seen are essential in indigenous spirituality. Therefore, western models of mental health should always be considered and reconstructed by indigenous people based on their own worldview and knowledge. This is, however, a sacred space that outsiders need to respect.


Antti Pentikäinen,
Professor of Practice, Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution, at the George Mason University, Adjunct teacher of indigenous mediation at Giéllagas Institute

Read more about the author, Antti Pentikäinen.