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Norway, Sami, wind power

The Costs of Choosing Wind Power

A message from a Sámi youth.

Words: Sunna Svendsen
Pictures: Nikola Johnny Mirkovic

As a Sámi youth, I have one important message: We must stop the continuous encroachment on nature in the Arctic.

Our nature is robust but at the same time, fragile. We, the Sámi, know that we are only a guest in nature and that you must not take more than you need. Our traditional way of living — working with reindeer and nature — taught us that we can live comfortably if we manage nature carefully.

However, as a species, we are now on the wrong course. Our climate and nature are letting us know they can’t take it anymore. We consume more than nature can provide. Previous generations have taken liberties and luxuries, which mine and future generations will have to pay for, and climate change is proof of this new reality. Yet, even as science continues to point it out, no one seems to be listening, and people and communities, such as the Sámi in Norway, are struggling.

Impact On The Sámi Society 

In Sámi society, the reindeer-herders in particular are vulnerable. Not only do reindeer herders have to deal with climate change, they must protest against the authorities, mineral prospectors, and wind power developers as well. As a result, they are losing the land they need to continue with their traditional lifestyle. This year was another crisis year for the reindeer herders, and with the climate progressively worsening, this is unlikely to change soon.

We have to start thinking of alternatives, but it makes no sense to sacrifice the most vulnerable areas in Norway, which also happen to have special protection as Indigenous areas.

The ongoing energy crisis in Europe and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine can make the living conditions of Indigenous people more difficult in the future. Europe needs more energy and is looking for new opportunities for energy production. Since relations with Russia are militarily and politically inflamed, Europe needs new land for wind power production, and they’re looking increasingly at Indigenous lands. But Indigenous people’s influence is very limited in the power game between the great powers. And this dangerous power imbalance is a major threat to Indigenous people’s right to live in a traditional and environmentally-friendly way. Reindeer-herding is a good example of the Indigenous struggle.

Reindeer farm owners do not have control over their land, and can only express their opinion to the state and consult with the authorities. They do have the right to protection of their lands based on Article 108 of the Norwegian constitution, which recognizes that the Sámi have the right to live in their traditional way. Norway even has a Sámi Peoples Day, celebrated on Feb. 6. However, the Norwegian government consistently ignores their demands.

Reindeer farming is dependent on large grazing and moving areas. For millennia, the reindeer have moved to the coast in the summer and moved inland in the winter. In the spring there is calving, and in the autumn there is slaughter and marking. Reindeer herders are nomads and have lived on and with the reindeer. As the national borders have been drawn, the reindeer and reindeer herders have had to adapt to the authorities, splitting families and friends in the process. The Sámi have a brutal history of Norwegianization and colonization, which the Sámi community still suffers from. To this day, the Sámi have to bend to the authorities’ needs and wishes.

In Norway, the Fosen case represents a crossroads in the state’s treatment of the Indigenous Sámi people. Last autumn, the Supreme Court of Norway ruled that the wind power development at Fosen was invalid. They determined that the facility violates Sámi human rights. The judgment states that the wind turbines destroy the reindeer’s winter pastures. Now the government says that they have a goal of keeping both wind power and the reindeer herding at Fosen. In other words, the state is trying to override the court.

According to reindeer herding and the National Confederation of Norwegian Sámis, combining windmills and reindeer herding is impossible. Wind turbines are foreign objects for the reindeer and make a lot of noise in nature. The reindeer retreat several kilometers away from the pastures, which negatively affects reindeer herding. The Nature Conservancy in Norway also supports it.

The Sámi Parliament has protested on behalf of the Sámi people against the abuse of reindeer herding. They have asked the government several times to stop operations immediately. However, at the time of writing, it has been ten months since the verdict was handed down, and any action from the government is yet to be seen.

The Indigenous Need To Be At The Table

Our energy consumption and climate emissions know no bounds. We have to start thinking of alternatives, but it makes no sense to sacrifice the most vulnerable areas in Norway, which also happen to have special protection as Indigenous areas.

For energy production in Norway and the rest of Europe, we would put up windmill parks on feeding grounds, power lines, and towers on our untouched landscapes. We would disturb the fauna and flora and even tear open the earth to mine for precious minerals needed to make electronics for our overzealous consumption. But if we do this, then we destroy Sápmi, the land of the Sámi people, for profit and financial surplus.

Norway develops wind power to sell abroad. We are also reducing our oil production and so need the energy elsewhere. But choosing wind power becomes paradoxical, because of the destruction it causes. More importantly, we will never get enough energy the way we are currently going.

I do not have ready-made answers to climate change and energy needs, but I do believe that when people sit down together and use their creativity, we can find solutions — but this means Indigenous leaders need to be involved in the discussions. Every vote must weigh equally, not just the votes of those with the greatest financial ambitions and thickest wallets.

We have to put our foot down. Otherwise, we will dig ourselves a hole too deep to get out of, and it won’t take us much longer to get there.

Listen to our Things That Go Boom series Cold Front for more.

Sunna Svendsen

Sunna Svendsen is a Sámi youth from Karasjok, Norway. She is involved in youth politics, and especially in Sámi affairs.

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