Mining threatens unique culture of Sweden's Samis

Mining threatens unique culture of Sweden's Samis
Photo taken on November 6, 2013 shows Tor Lundberg Tourda as he stands in open test mining holes at the Kallak prospecting area near Randijaur village, 40 kilometers north-west of Jokkmokk, in Swedish Lapland. The mining industry is one of several modern threats to the unique way of life of the Samis of northern Sweden, the only indigenous people in the EU. Samis and environmental activists have protested against the plans for the mine the entire year.

JOKKMOKK, Sweden - As winter approaches, the Samis of northern Sweden move thousands of reindeer down from the snow-covered mountains for lowland grazing. They have done so for centuries, but they wonder how much longer they can continue.

The mining industry is one of several modern threats to the unique way of life of the Samis, the only indigenous people in the EU, and one small, tightly-knit community has decided to fight back.

The roughly 100 residents of the Jaahkaagasska area near the subarctic town of Jokkmokk are deeply worried what will happen if the proposed Kallak iron mine, an open pit project mostly located inside the district, is allowed to go ahead.

"There's no way our reindeer herding will be able to continue," said Niklas Spik, a spokesman for the Jaahkaagasska Sami community. "The natural straying won't be possible if the reindeer can't move freely."

Roughly 80,000 Samis inhabit a huge swathe of land stretching from Norway across Sweden and Finland to Russia.

Friction with the 21st century economy is not unusual, but rarely is it played out as dramatically as here.

Samis and environmental activists have protested against the plans for the mine the entire year.

Malin Norrby, 27, was fined 2,000 kronor (S$385) last week for an incident in July when she and other activists tied themselves to a self-built wooden tower that blocked access to the mine.

"I went to Jokkmokk to protest against the mining boom and the unsustainable use of finite resources," she told AFP after the fine was meted out.

Norrby and other activists argue that the mine makes no allowances for the shape of a Sami district such as Jaahkaagasska, which is long and narrow, stretching through different types of vegetation suitable for different seasons.

Spik said a mine located in the passage between the mountain pastures in the west and the eastern winter grazing areas would prevent the animals from moving between the seasonal pastures, leaving them to starve.

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