“The Swedish government is abandoning us”
Sami activists protesting the British company Beowulf Mines attempts to start blasting for Iron in Kallak were cleaned away by Swedish police.
“You can`t image how it feels standing there behind police road blocks with you hat in your hand, when all you want is to make sure your reindeers are safe. It is humiliating and surreal. The Swedish government has abandoned us,” says Henrik Blind to Barentsobserver. He is a Sami spokesman and local politician.
Wednesday the first explosives were detonated in Kallok where Sweden`s indigenous Sami population herd their reindeers.
Artworks made by Sami artists were bulldozed and about 50 peaceful activists were forced to disperse. 10 people were carried away by police officers.
“It made a huge impression when one of the protesters doused himself with gasoline and threatened to set himself ablaze. Our local Sami politican, Hanna Sofie Utsi, was singing (joiking) while carried away”, says Blind.
The reindeer herders were not given an opportunity to gather the animals still grazing in the area.
“It was brutal. It is impossible for me to describe how it feels in words. We have used this territory for thousands of years. The Swedish government is giving away the very basis of our existence to a foreign company”.
Blind believes the situation is quite symbolical.
“The police are representing the Swedish government. I am a Swedish inhabitant and tax payer. One should assume that the police would protect my interests. Instead they choose to protect a foreign company that only pays 0,02% of its incomes in taxes to the Swedish state.”, says Blind.
Neglecting the rights of the Sami people
Mining activities in Arctic Sápmi cause controversy when they are taking place in traditional grazing and calving areas. The Kallak mine is situated between two Sami settlements.
“For us mining is an existential question. Reindeers don`t eat stone. Neither can they migrate from winter to summer grazing land when there is an opencast mine blocking the way”, says Blind.
Chair of the Working Group of Indigenous Peoples in the Barents Euro-Arctic Region, Lars Anders Baer, says the planned mining activity and the test-blast yesterday shows that the Government and the mining company are neglecting the rights of the Sami people and international law, ratified by the Swedish government.
“Beowulf Mining has broken all ethical rules. They have refused to talk to the Sami people, the local community and the reindeer herders as such. They have chosen to use power in order to get their way through. They have called for the Swedish police to use violence against peaceful protesters”, says Baer.
But there are people supporting the planned mining activity as well. The proposed mine will be situated 50 km from the town Jokkmokk. Many are convinced that the mine will bring jobs and secure settlement in the remote Arctic area.
“During the last 10 years about 1000 people have left the town. If this development continues, Jokkmokk will soon turn into a ghost town like those in the old western movies”, says Kjell Ek to Barentsobserver.
He is not optimistic about a future without mining.
“Now people walk around with heads hanging down searching for a tree to hang themselves from. The trend is negative. People need new perspectives”, he says.
Ek has created a Facebook site saying yes to mining in Kallok.
“It is obvious that a mine will prevent people from moving away from Jokkmokk. The local investments will grow, they will have to build new houses and infrastructure – yes, even the tourist industry will start blooming”, Ek says.
The iron mine in Kallak is planned to exist only for 15 years. Henrik Blind is therefore questioning the purpose of the ambitious infrastructure plan.
“Infrastructure is extremely expensive. If they choose to build new railways, roads and housing, they will probably open other mines to cover the expenses. If we offer them a finger, they will take the whole hand”, he says.
Blind describes the planned mining activity as a threat not only to the livelihoods of the indigenous people, but also to the environment and to sustainable development.
“We have compromised, we have tried dialogue, but nobody is listening to us. Civil violence is our last chance of being heard”, says Blind.
• The Sami are spread across four countries: Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia.
• In these countries they are small minorities facing a struggle of similar character: The defense of their basic rights as indigenous peoples.
• There are about 80,000 Sami people living in Northern Scandinavia, about 20,000 of them in Sweden.
• Sweden has not acknowledge Sami land rights and has refused to ratify both the Nordic Sami Convention and ILO169, two contemporary international agreements that would enshrine Sami land rights in the Swedish constitution and safe-guard the right to free and prior consultation before intrusions on Sami lands were allowed to happe
• Mining is seen as an industry of national importance by the Swedish state, and what makes Kallak unique in relation to the Swedish Environmental Code is that the area has been deemed of national interest both for reindeer husbandry and for mining by the Mining Inspectorate of Sweden.