On Friday, Indigenous Sámi youth were joined by nearly 2,000 demonstrators at Norway’s royal palace, bringing an end to a peaceful standoff over an illegal wind energy complex built in traditional Sámi lands, known as Sápmi, which stretch from Norway through northern Sweden into Finland and Russia. The nine-day protest in Norway’s capital city of Oslo saw the occupation of the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy, and the shut down of 10 ministries by human rights campaigners.
“It’s madness that our youth have to take these steps because the government is not doing its job,” said Beaska Niillas, a Sámi politician and member of the Sámi Parliament of Norway. “This is not just an issue for the Sámi. Human rights are important for all.”
In October of 2021, Sámi reindeer herders secured a legal victory when Norway’s Supreme Court voted unanimously that the $1.3 billion Fosen wind farm violated the protected cultural rights of the Sámi people by infringing on their reindeer grazing lands.
On February 23, exactly 500 days after the Supreme Court’s verdict, the Norwegian Sámi Association’s Youth Committee (NSR) began occupying the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy in protest of the Norwegian government’s inaction on the ruling. Demonstrators were eventually removed from the building by police, but were joined by Young Friends of the Earth Norway, a Norwegian youth environmental organization, Greenpeace, Greta Thunberg and other human rights defenders to shut down the nation’s ministries. During the week of actions, approximately 30 protestors were arrested and 90 people removed from ministry entrances. Police have yet to issue fines.
“It was painful to see our sisters and brothers being carried away by the police, it was painful to see how little the government would listen and how long the protests had to go on before there was a hint of a response,” said Anja Thonhuagen, a Sámi fashion designer who was removed by police after chaining herself to the Ministry of Climate and Environment. “It felt so unfair. We are being forced to move by the police, the long arm of the law, while the state of Norway is allowed to continue its crime and are not moving the windmills.”
“The unity and communication skills our youth demonstrated this week has impressed all of Sápmi,” said Sara Marielle Guap Beaska, an activist and Sámi culture bearer who attended the actions. “The people in Oslo responded to that, and their support impressed me a lot.”
On Thursday, the Minister of Petroleum and Energy delivered an official apology to Sámi reindeer herders from Fosen.
“The licensing decisions entail a violation of human rights, because they will have a significant negative effect on the opportunity for the Sámi people from Fosen to cultivate their culture,” said Minister Terje Aasland in an email. “The reindeer-herding Sámi at Fosen have been in a demanding and unclear situation for a long time. I’m sorry for that.”
However, Beaska Niillas says the situation is far from over. “A call from Petroleum and Energy Minister Terje Aasland offering a satisfactory solution that ends the ongoing human rights violation to the reindeer owners from Fosen would be a good place to start.”
Seventy-nine year-old Eirik Myrhaug also attended the demonstrations last week and said he found himself in a familiar situation. Myrhaug participated in demonstrations during the Álta Conflict – a four year action in opposition of a proposed hydroelectric dam on the Álttáeatnu River in Sámi homelands in northern Norway.
“Back then I could not have imagined that 43 years later, Sámi youth would still have to chain themselves to the Norwegian government in the name of preserving our right to land and water,” said Myrhaug. “They are questioning an economic system that does not include nature in the calculations.”
Last week, Statkraft, a co-owner of the Fosen project, reported record profits. “High energy prices and solid value creation from Statkraft’s market operations contributed to a very good 2022 result,” said CEO Christian Rynning-Tønnesen in E24, a Norwegian business outlet. When asked about the demonstrations in Oslo, Rynning-Tønnesen said he hoped the Fosen wind project could continue without interruption.
Minister Aasland says the Ministry’s next steps will be to open dialogue with Sámi representatives and reindeer herders, gather experts, and conduct land study plans this month in order to take action. “The goal of the ministry’s process is to secure a solution where the operation of the wind turbines can be maintained while the reindeer herders’ rights are safeguarded,” said Aasland’s office in an email. “Whether this is possible will be clarified through the ongoing process.”
“It’s shameful for Norway,” said Beaska Niillas. “Governments still have a colonial mindset. They want more and more and literally walk over dead bodies to get what they want. This simply cannot go on.”