A person is a product of genetic heritage and environment i.e. cultural heritage,
which means that the environment is important for the development
and formation of itself. The environment is thus a cultural heritage reflected in the language in the songs and dances, in the mythology in the natural work, in the economy.
We Sámi consider ourselves one people and cultural, linguistic,
economic and political unit. "our land is our life"
various indigenous people held this concept.
(The Sámi - national minority in Sweden)
The following research explores and brings to the surface the Sámi people's colonial past and its present consequences. What is the struggle for the land Sámi people are facing in their own territory and how mining company’s plan threatens the traditional lifestyle of locals and furthermore what damages it can bring to the environment and surrounding habitats.
Data on the above topic has been collected using qualitative methods such as observations, interviews (general guiding approach), online articles, document review, and books. It is important to notify that all the five interviews and additional informative documents were conducted and researched in English which decreases the voice of the local Sámi and national Swedish language informative contributors. Information and knowledge are the first product of the colonial past and it isn’t easy to avoid replication of the dominant ideology and narratives which feed the main colonial knowledge production.
‘The increasing mining activities in Northern Sweden, which negatively affect part of the population, was for a long time not considered newsworthy events. By being selective in regards to what kind of articles are being published, the affected part of the population is consequently subordinated in relation to other social actors' (Fraser, 2000). (1)
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Sámi are considered to be Europe's only indigenous people in their own land - Sápmi. Today, the Sámi population is estimated to be between 50,000 to 100,000 people. The Sápmi area, where Sàmi people live, spreads on four different countries: Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia's Kola Peninsula. The settlement of Sámi people in this region dates back to more than 2000 years ago.
Sámis are historically known as nomadic people following reindeer herds three or four times a year with changing seasons. They are also known to be occupied with fishing, hunting, small scale farming, gathering, and forestry. The Sámi identity is based on several criteria such as language (i.e people who speak Sámi themselves or had at least one grand/parent who spoke the language), ethnic and cultural bonds and employment in traditional Sámi occupations.
A core concept in Sámi culture used since the prehistoric times, Siida (also known as localized community), represents a group of people who lived together in villages, migrated together and shared hunting and fishing rights in specific territories.
In the past, depending on the availability of resources, Siida would regulate the access rights to land for members of these villages with varying sizes from 25 to 130 people. Nowadays Sámi villages are regulated by a Swedish law called the "Reindeer Husbandry Act." One of the interviewees, local Sámi activist and photographer Tor Tuorda remarks: "My Sámi identification is based on the land, I feel connected to the land I walk on. I hunt, fish and tell stories about the landscape."
Phases of colonization
Today's cultural, political and legal struggle of the Sámi in Sweden is rooted in the colonial past and its present consequences. In the general patterns of colonialism indigenous people have been exploited in accordance with the interests and needs of the governing people. The theory of the inevitable extinction of primitive people and the natural expansion of western civilization justified the inhumane consequences of colonization.
We face a similar case when the outsiders came to Sápmi & Laponia. They spoke in terms of owning the land, the hunting grounds and fishing waters. For Sámi people these attitudes weren't familiar. Instead of owning the land they felt more as though the land owned them and that they were a part of it. Strangers they met, told them that the land belonged to the king and to the Swedish state. Several of the interviewees expressed a common perspective about the land colonization. "Swedish state hasn't done it through physical violence, it has been doing it with the pen, the administration, laws and decisions to colonize Sápmi. 1905 it was a land-grabbing not even one bullet was shot. No one was killed, it was only on the papers. They make laws and then taking the land away. (...) The Sámi had paid taxes on this land for more than 500 years." But the colonization of Lapland and exploitation of its resources began in the middle ages and grew during the 13th - 14th centuries, when the trade with Sámi flourished and taxes were levied on them by the Swedish crown. As there were several states claiming ownership of Lapland, Sámi were forced to pay taxes to several kingdoms at the same time. The first missionaries worked quite brutally to gain psychological and thereby political control over the Sámi.
Struggle for control over Sápmi areas of northern Fennoscandia was decided by the outcome of the inter-nordic wars of the 17th - 18th centuries. In the 17th century the kings had the interest in finding silver and gold in the Sápmi area. The Sámi who owned semi-domesticated reindeer were forced to transport people and supplies to the mines, causing many Sámis to emigrate from the area to avoid forced labor. As a result, the population of Northern Sámis decreased greatly.
Besides the land colonization, the Swedish state allowed a series of churches to be built on the inland Sápmi area. By the beginning of the 18th century the monks controlled the land areas and the Sámi were forced to pay a rent to the monasteries for the rights to fish in the lakes.
The promise from the church was as follows: ''A share of all liberties, grace and goodwill which our beloved Christian brethren are privileged to enjoy.'' Åsa Lindstrand emphasizes on this issue: ''When the state came - church came. They were very close and it was double colonization: Christianity and the politics, that was the time the extinction of Sámi culture began.''
Under the rules of the forceful king Gustav Vasa, the Swedish state-imposed itself upon the north. "Such land as is unsettled belongs to God, ourselves and the Swedish crown, and none other." During the last 400 years Sámi culture has been greatly influenced by the external world. Forms of contact included trading, tax-collection, state borders, colonization, religious missions combined with cultural oppression and assimilation. Jonny Aira brings a personal example to demonstrate how his ethnicity was undermined (as a form of oppression): "There has always been oppression towards Sámi. When I got the highest grade at high school here, teachers told me: ‘you're not a real Sámi, you cannot be a real Sámi, you get such good grades,' it just came out from their mouths, without thinking."
© Artist: Anders Sunna: “I’d rather be rebel for life than a colonial wife”
Division of Sámi community
It is important to clarify one more historical fact which divided the Sámi community into two groups and created a strong archetype of Sámi reindeer herder's lifestyle. Tor Tuorda considers the issue as one of the significant phases which made a huge impact on the Sámi community and still obstructs the unity of the community: "Most Sámis are colonized in their heads - they are in the system, they work at the mining company in Gällivare, Kiruna, and also work with the reindeer. They don't see the dreadful things that happened in 1928, when 90% of the Sámis were forced by the government to move from this land to the cities - to become ‘Swedes.’
stop talking Sámi,
stop wearing Sámi clothes,
stop everything and become Swedes!
my grandmother didn't want to talk Sámi or about their history,
it was shh..
it was ugly,
it was shameful,
it was dangerous to be Sámi. It happened in the beginning of the last century and it is alive even now and Sámis forgot about everything."
In 1928 the Riksdag (Swedish government) approved legislation to facilitate the development. Such segregation led to discrimination between Sámi reindeer owners and other Sámi. A perception soon formed that Sámi without reindeer were insignificant and worthless with no respectable livelihood. This had a demeaning effect on the coastal and forest Sámi and on their way of life.
Sámi poet Eira Inga Ravna Eira reflects on this issue in her poem:
"I have no herd
I have no homestead
I do not hunt
Am I a Sámi?
I do have
a Sámi will
a Sámi thought
the Sámi tongue."
This division plays a significant role in the present situation, creating a conflict between Sámis, as Anders Sunna addresses the topic: "Government wanted to get rid of the other Sámis who were like hunters, fishers and forest people, and a good way to do that is to get more support from the 'Real Sámis,' by giving them the identity, by pressing that in schools and in the media; because then they start to think: ‘OK, we are the real ones and other Sámis aren't’ and that's how you start the conflict between the groups." The attitudes of Swedish supremacy can still be traced in the 1971 reindeer farming act. The act continues to allow state authorities as guardians, to administrate and grant hunting and fishing privileges within Sámi villages.
Parallel with the modernization, the local economies went into crisis because people became more dependent on cash income as a barter economy faded away. Population growth also made it difficult for many villages to maintain a profitable gain from the field activities that had been a source of income for all. Rapid technological and social changes, characteristic of the Sámi area in the north, came with such force that local cultural foundations were overshadowed. Tor Tuorda: "It's huge, it's on every level, it's like starving to death. The government and all the forestry, windmill and mining companies, do everything to extract all the resources from nature. Convert nature to money - that's a goal."
Case of "Gállok"(Kallak)
By briefly explaining the political history and the cultural and religious assimilation of Sámi, I wanted to draw your attention to the modern colonization and its present consequences, by following the Gállok (Kallak) mining case.
In 2009 the Beowulf Mining, a British company, and their Swedish affiliate Jokkmokk Iron Mines were allowed by Swedish government agency Bergsstaten to explore possibilities for mining iron ore in Gállok (50 km west of Jokkmokk). Iron mineralization was first discovered in Gállok area by the Geological Survey of Sweden in 1947/48. According to the Environmental Justice Atlas (2), potential environmental impacts of the mine are air pollution, biodiversity loss, loss of landscape, noise pollution, oil contamination, soil erosion, deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, surface water pollution, decreasing water physico-chemical biological quality, groundwater pollution or depletion, large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems.
In addition, building and operating the mine ignores the Sámi Peoples' rights. The area had been used by Sámi people as winter pasture land for reindeer. Besides, the mine could severely impact the cycle of traditional grazing practices, which are an integral part of Sámi's cultural and spiritual identity. The mine will be at least three square kilometers large and approx. 400 meters deep. Approximately 1 500 hectares will be claimed by wastes rock, sludge ponds, and infrastructure. Scientists have expressed concerns about the dam that is needed as part of the mining project since potential problems or leakages with it might endanger water and power supplies in the area.
There are some additional issues that the activist group Gruvfritt Jokkmokk (Mine-free Jokkmokk) points out:
- The village of Björkholmen will cease to exist;
- Local people's opportunities for the supply of meat, fish, herbs, berries, and mushrooms endangered for all future;
- Jokkmokk’s credibility as a natural and cultural municipality will be eroded;
- Lule river will be poisoned - (water supply for the city of Luleå is 75,000 inhabitants.)
- A 90-ton truck every 90 seconds can drive on the highway with increased noise and the risk of fatal accidents for residents, cabin owners, holidaymakers, tourists, reindeer and other wildlife.
- The only remaining old forest in the area, on the mountainous land of Roavvoajvve will be felled and covered by a wastes rock deposit.
Group states that a mine in Jokkmokk is not a sustainable investment for jobs, economy, people, animals or nature. Iron ore is a finite resource and the life expectancy of the mine is calculated only to be 15-25 years only.
Tor Tuorda was involved in these processes of resistance from the very beginning: "It was 2006 when I heard about this mine inside Laponia, I was really afraid and angry about this madness. I called the Radio, Television, different Sámi villages and several departments of the Swedish government, looking for the answers to the questions no one cared about. It was too heavy to fight alone. In 2010 the same company left the place for Gállok down here, closer to Jokkmokk closer to people and the opposition started to grow."
Sámi resistance started and grew since 2010, when the first drilling program was carried out. With the company breaching its own ethical guidelines, the National Saami Association stated: “In contrast to what Beowulf has reported to its shareholders, the company has not shown any willingness to cooperate with Sámi communities, as required by international conventions. This is demonstrated by the company’s refusal to assist the communities’ participation in impact assessments, which are necessary to obtain knowledge of how the proposed mining would impact the Saami communities and their land uses.” Sámi people's statement clearly showed what was at stake: "We would rather do everything possible to protect our lands and livelihoods for future generations. The profits Beowulf is planning to make will only be short-term, but the devastation for the Sámi people and their environment will be permanent."
‘Sweden has an expansive mining industry and is considered to be one of the most attractive countries to invest in (Wilson and Cervantes, 2014). The Swedish mining industry association estimates that the mining production in Sweden is going to threefold until 2025, directly or indirectly creating more than 50.000 new jobs (SveMin, 2012). According to estimates, Sweden holds 60% of Europe’s identified iron ore deposit and is currently responsible for 90% of Europe’s iron ore extraction (Björling, 2012).
One critique raised is that minerals in Sweden are almost given away to foreign corporations for free, as expropriation fees are set to 0.02% of the market value of the minerals (Petersen, 2013; Sveriges Geologiska Undersökning, 2006).’ (3)
If we follow the annual reports of the Beowulf, Kallak magnetite iron ore is the company’s most advanced project with SEK 77 million investment so far. "The Company continues to advance its Kallak project whilst waiting for an Exploitation Concession to be awarded, in addition to progressing with its portfolio of exploration assets in Sweden and Finland." According to the statements of the mining company and Jokkmokk municipality, the main arguments for opening mines are bringing economic growth, creating jobs and slowing down the population decline. With good marketing, companies present the coming mines as "environmentally friendly," that "they will destroy almost no nature," and that it will be possible for all other industries to co-exist with them. (4)
Jonny Aira expresses his opinion: "They want to have what they see, the richness of this land! they don't see clear water as richness they don't see the fish as richness. What they see is the mines; the things in mines they can dig up and sell. Or the wood/forest industry or the latest windmills. Nothing goes back to the Sámi people who have been robbed of the land. This is a land-grabbing!"
In the summer of 2013, activists created a protest camp in Gállok to prevent workers of Beowulf from drilling and exploring the area with blockades. Police dismantled these blockades several times but protesters set it up again and continued their resistance by occupying the place creating protest art installations etc.
In 2014, Norrbotten County said “no” to further mining in Kallak, the case would have been closed if the Swedish governmental geology decision-making body Bergsstaten had agreed with Norrbotten County. However, Bergsstaten overruled the county and it is now up to the government of Sweden to give a final answer to the question. As Åsa Lindstrand explains the process: "The Gállok case is pending because the Bergstaten said Yes, and regional authorities said No. So it went to the government and it’s been on government’s table for several years now. We are waiting, and waiting... I don’t exactly know what is happening but I suppose they don’t agree on the case and that is why we don’t have the answer."
The Swedish Minerals Law raises serious questions about the state’s ability to respect, protect and fulfill the human rights of the Sámi with regards to the extractive industrial activities. Marketing the North as a "treasure chest" of the country, containing minerals worth millions of dollars, and sponsoring the mapping and exploration of the rich mineral deposits increased the tension between Sámis as well. Mainly due to unemployment and immigration, not all the Sámis are against the mine.
Old and new exploration permits. marked location: Gállok (5)
Despite its name, the Sami Parliament is only an authority under the Swedish government, it is more of an advisory board and expert on Sami issues. The demands of the Sámi Parliament for Sweden’s ratification of the ILO 169 (6) and its compliance with international human rights standards have not led to any significant change in Sweden’s position on these issues so far.
A prominent expert of Sami history, Lennart Lundmark, argues that the reason why Sweden does not sign conventions such as the ILO 169, which deals specifically with the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples, is that it would require the state to give Sámi population stronger rights over the land (Lundmark, 2008:p. 243). (7)
The case is on-going and the final decision on the Gállok-case is still pending. Sámi activists, politicians, artists, lawyers, and others have been protesting against Beowulf for several years now. In the meantime, the mining company remains confident about the positive outcome of the project despite the environmental, cultural and risks to the traditional way of Sami life: "So far, Kallak’s potential impact on Sami culture and reindeer herding rather than jobs and finances has dominated the debate. Our view, which has been shared by past Ministers in the Government, is reindeer herding and mining can prosper side-by-side, which has proven to be the case across Sweden."
In August 2019, a European rainbow gathering took place in Gállok area, where more than two thousand people gathered in the area to support the Sámi people through peaceful protest. From the perspective of local people, the gathering brought more visibility to the on-going case and raised international awareness by spreading the word about the issues Europe's only remaining indigenous people are facing.
Neoliberal market economy has brought us to the edge of an environmental crisis. The power and support that big companies are receiving by the governmental policies, create an extremely unequal market economy, accessible to very few while bringing enormous dangers for our environment. The way that the government’s taxation regime encourages mining activities and investment in Sweden illustrates the ‘actually existing neoliberal state approach’ (Heynen et al., 2007). Harvey argues that neoliberalism is an intensely political project, one in which economic elites more or less intentionally seek to increase their wealth and income, but also their political and economic freedom and flexibility (...) with evident consequences in spiraling social inequality. (8)
The conditions for reindeer herding in Sweden will be significantly affected by climate change. Vegetation period will be prolonged and plant production during summer grazing will increase. Areas of bare mountain are expected to decrease in extent, and pressure on coastal winter grazing may increase as snow conditions become more difficult inland and in the mountains, which may lead to more conflicts of interest with other sectors of industry. The most serious consequence will be a threat to Sámi culture if conditions for reindeer herding worsen.
Temperatures in the Arctic are rising twice as fast as temperatures elsewhere. High temperatures have produced more rain, which freezes to form a thick barrier of ice on top of the snow. Unable to dig through it to reach the lichen below, the reindeer starve. The decline of reindeer has contributed to a mental health crisis among indigenous herders. The changes are sometimes really dramatic, and they are caused by both changes in the environment and weather conditions and the economic and political measures climate change gives rise to. Suddenly, we see great variation in temperatures: in winter, we may go from –30°C into 0°C – and rain – in one day. ”The ones who are least responsible for global warming and who live in harmony with nature may be the ones who suffer from the impact of climate change most,” Jaakkola explains. (9)
Jonny Aira shares a fair perspective of a given situation: "It's important to see the reality as it is, even though everyone can experience their own reality - which changes all the time even while we are speaking. In one way or another it will have an impact, if not on the other people then at least on nature and us. If someone actually reads or hears about this, maybe they would get affected too. We all have an important role to act and be aware.
In this world, we should be conscious that the sun might not shine in 5 billion years. We should be able to learn how to cooperate, all races and the whole of humanity, to create a good ecological foundation. I am not thinking about my shortness, maybe I'm only alive now but the world will continue to exist long way, until.. I don’t know. We need to have that long perspective in mind, and that's our responsibility. We are who we are because of our ancestors, and our children and children's children will be because of us, therefore we have to be careful with our thoughts and the things we put in action."
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(1; 3) Source: Sofia Perssona, David Harneska,b, Mine Islar:
- What local people? Examining the Gállok mining conflict and the rights of
the Sámi population in terms of justice and power; Nov 2017;
(2) Source: It is a teaching, networking and advocacy resource. Strategists, activist organizers, scholars, and teachers will find many uses for the database.
(3) See also: Simon Haikola and Jonas Anshelm “Swedish mineral policy at a crossroads? Critical reflections on the challenges with expanding Sweden’s mining sector”; 2016;
(4) Mining – too difficult for journalists – or too dangerous?
(5) See also: Tor l. Tourda The planned mine in Kallak threatens Laponia directly
(6) ILO 169 – Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention - is an international treaty that deals exclusively with the rights of indigenous peoples.
See also: Jonathan Eng: A Discourse Analysis on the Swedish Non-Ratification of the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention A Critical Postcolonial Perspective;
(7) See also: Heidi Pikkarainen och Björn Brodin; Discrimination of the Sami – the rights of the Sami from a discrimination perspective; 2008;
(8) See also: Book: Nik Heynen, James McCarthy, Scott Prudham, Paul Robbins: Neoliberal Environments; 2007; Ilari Nikula Neoliberal Environmentalism
(9) Professor Jouni Jaakola from the university of Oulu. See also: Study: Sámi more vulnerable to the impact of climate change than before; 2018 Nov; Inger-Elle Suoninen.
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Anders Sunna - Sámi artist & activist;
Åsa Lindstrand - Local Swedish journalist, chief editor of magazine: Sámefolket;
Jonny Aira - former chief in the Saami village: Jåhkågasska (were the Gállok is situated); MDc; PhDc
Moreno Gaelok - Local Sámi activist;
Tor Tuorda - Local Sámi activist/photographer;
Interview location: Jokkmokk, September 2019.
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This research has been realized by activist/researcher Nino Khuroshvili as a personal project part of the ESC (European Solidarity Corps) participation within RELEARN Suderbyn. September - November 2019.
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