Sámi lands – known collectively as Sápmi ‒ today comprise the northern-most parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola Peninsula in Russia.
Historically the Sámi maintained nature-based life ways further south in Fennoscandia, too, but they have been pushed north by expansionist and settlement policies of Fennoscandian states and their predecessors.
The days of direct displacement and assimilation may be over, but unjust policies continue to adversely impact the Sámi and their territories in the context of contemporary nation-states. These unjust policies are often connected to the extractive industries, including mining.
Sámi traditional territories have borne the brunt of mining in the European north since the beginning of the modern colonial expansion, the origins of which can be traced to the opening of the Swedish Crown’s mines in Nasafjäll/ Nássavárri in the first half of the 16th century. Subsequently, some of the largest mines in the region and in Europe have been opened and operated in Sápmi: Swedish state-owned Luossavaara-Kiirunavaara Aktiebolag (LKAB) mines in Malmberget and Kirunavaara; Boliden’s mines in Skelleftefältet and Aitik; Elkem’s Tana, Sydvaranger and Kaunisvaara mines, and many others.
A 1646 map of the Nasafjäll/ Nássavárri silver mines. Image: Wikimedia
These projects have been implemented without Free, Prior and Informed Consent of Sámi villages (siida) and communities. In Sweden, the great majority of mining waste is situated in Sápmi, in Boliden and LKAB’s mining districts. Many operations are ongoing and expanding. At the same time, Sápmi is exposed to a large number of new developments and exploration projects.
In addition to mining, Sámi People and their livelihoods are impacted by other extractive industries, such as industrial forestry, hydropower, wind power and infrastructure development (roads, railways). The combination of these have severely fragmented and limited vital livelihood activities, hunting, fishing, reindeer herding and others. Further to the fragmented landscape, enormous pressure is posed on Sámi villages through fragmented planning processes: different legislations, involved entities, and brings taxing consultation and litigation processes upon the communities.
This intersection of different industrial impacts can be observed most keenly in the cases of Beowulf Mining’s planned Gallok/Kállak mine and the Finnish government’s planned Arctic Railway. Both projects are firmly opposed by Sámi affected communities.