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New research could blast mine dispute

“Mining could create jobs and better the economic conditions for indigenous peoples too. But indigenous peoples must be included in the whole process,” says Sven-Roald Nystø.

Can ethical guidelines reduce conflicts between indigenous peoples and extractive industries?

Location

“Yes”, says Sven-Roald Nystø, Project leader at Árran Lule Sámi Center in Northern Norway and former President of the Sámi Parliament.

Extractive industries, in particular mining companies, are currently looking towards the Arctic. Conflicts often occur when multinational companies are established on traditional indigenous grounds.

The Sámi people are the indigenous people inhabiting the Arctic area of Sápmi, which today includes northern parts of Scandinavia and Russia. Reindeer husbandry is the best-known means of livelihood of the Sámi people. The Nenets people on the Russian side, is also living mainly from reindeer husbandry. Extractive industries cause controversy when they are taking place in traditional grazing and calving areas. 

Inconsistent guidelines
Countries have different guidelines on how to take into account indigenous interests when industrial projects are developed. 

“Many guidelines doesn`t function in a satisfactory way and conflicts occur. They must be evaluated, renewed and developed,” says Nystø.

The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has granted 7, 3 million NOK (nearly €1 million ) over three years for a cross border project. It will evaluate Ethical Guidelines when it comes to Indigenous Peoples and Resource Extraction in the Arctic. 

The project is a result of several years of work from different sami organizations and the Sámi Parliament in Norway. 

Árran Lule Sámi Center is managing the cross-border project that will be carried out in Norway, Northwest Russia and partly northern Sweden.     

The aim is to develop a better understanding of the interests of authorities, indigenous peoples and industry when it comes to industrial development.

Indigenous protests
This summer`s mine dispute in northern Sweden shows how relevant this issue is at the moment. The British company Beowulf Mines detonated its first explosives in Kallak, near Jokkmokk in Arctic Sweden, in order to test the iron ore deposit. Sámi activist protested, claiming the mine to be a serious threat to the livelihoods of indigenous peoples, but also to the environment and to sustainable development.

 “By including Indigenous Peoples actively from the beginning, situations like in Kallak could perhaps be avoided,” says Nystø.

“Unfortunately the industry has failed to include indigenous peoples in the decision making process in many cases,” he adds.

According to him this has led to mistrust and conflicts. 

“We hope that we, through this project, can discover mechanisms that could build trust in the future,” says Nystø.

International experience
Now researchers from institutions in Finland, Norway, Russia and the UK will carry out the practical work.

“We are looking for measures that could reduce the conflict,” Nystø says, underlining that it is important to also look at the positive aspects of industrial development in the Arctic.