Europe’s last indigenous people face further cultural disintegration as the mining industry continues to threaten their traditional way of life.
The Samis of Northern Sweden depend on thousands of reindeer which they herd from highlands toward lowland territory when winter becomes too fierce, a process they have undertaken for centuries.
A small community of Sami are dismayed by the prospect of an iron mine being opened near their district in the Jaahkaagasska area close to the subarctic town of Jokkmokk and believe it will spell disaster for their future.
This nomadic people have survived many pressures of the modern world yet the on-going process of mining continues to disturb their cultural practices and destroy their enduring lifestyle. “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.”
The Samis encompass approximately 80,000 people and are native to land covering vast distances across Scandinavia, prominently Sweden, Norway, Finland and into Russia.
There has remained an uneasy relationship between the Sami and modern commerce but this latest mining proposal has had the Sami and environmental activists protesting its development since the beginning of the year.
They argue that the mine will prevent animals from moving between the seasonal grasslands, leaving them to starve and that the thin, deep shape of the Jaahkaagasska district which covers various types of vegetation, is not conducive to mining.
Profit versus Culture
Mattias Aahren, head of the human rights unit of the Sami Council, an umbrella organisation of Sami groups said, “Sami villages already encounter so many forms of encroachment on their areas, from roads to windmills, that they just can’t take anymore,” “The mines are located at the worst site possible for reindeer herding,”
Critics have noted that other prospected mines in in Northern Sweden also cut the grazing land down significantly and disturb local areas with pollution and transport but Fred Boman, CEO of British Beowulf’s subsidiary Jokkmokk Iron Mines believes the government will approve its plans and the anti-mining rhetoric is exaggerated. “The economic value of this weighs more than the local reindeer herding business but it has important cultural value, and we are absolutely convinced that we can get on with this together.”
The pro-mining lobby argue that the industry will provide vital new job opportunities in places that have been hit hard by the downturn in the economy and in the town of Jokkmokk it would create 500 jobs that would remain for years to come.
However local activist Lundberg Tourda does not agree, “The Swedish state has colonised these areas for over 300 years, land that has been used by Samis for thousands of years”, he said.
Like other indigenous communities the Sami strive to live in harmony with nature and despite the continued encroachment and displacement of their culture they hope to remain tied to the land and the reindeer which they have tended to for countless seasons.