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Home Culture Resource business and indigenous peoples: anotherround of confrontation

Resource business and indigenous peoples: anotherround of confrontation

For many years, indigenous peoples, their rights, culture and identity have been ignored by many States. These depressing facts apply to a large extent to the indigenous small-numbered people – the Sami, living on the territory of Northern Europe. However, the situation is gradually changing for the better, but, as it turns out, not always in a practical plane.

The Governments of the Scandinavian States and international human rights organizations are developing new mechanisms and standards in the field of ensuring the rights and freedoms of representatives of small nationalities, but they often do not work or do not fully meet modern realities. On paper, international instruments contain legal norms guaranteeing respect for the rights of the Sami to self-determination, the opportunity to participate in decision-making on issues that may affect the improvement of their social and economic situation, as well as to maintain and develop their traditional knowledge. But the “strictness” of the laws is mitigated by the non-necessity of their execution.

Asa Larsson

The negative experience of inappropriate attitude to the problems of the Sami can be considered on the example of the Swedish Kingdom, where this people is the only indigenous population of the country. Back in 2016, nomadic reindeer herders in Sweden won a 30-year struggle to lead a traditional way of life, when the decision of the District Court of Ellivare granted the small Sami community of Giryas exclusive rights to control hunting and fishing in the area, taken away by the Swedish Parliament in 1993. Then the vice-president of the Sami Council Asa Larsson Blind said: “This is a symbolic step towards the recognition of Sami rights. We hope that this verdict can form the right policy regarding the problems of the Sami in Sweden, which was the main goal.” However, the struggle of this indigenous people continues to this day, including with commercial structures, to whose actions the Swedish government continues to turn a blind eye.

At present, literally before the eyes of the world community, another precedent is unfolding of the grossest violation of the rights of the Sami people in favor of the interests of resource companies that, in pursuit of economic benefits, do not take into account the negative environmental and social consequences of their activities. The Swedish company Copperstone Resources AB, engaged in the exploration and production of non-ferrous and precious metals, is actively trying to implement the resource project of Viscaria. The Viscaria copper mine is located about 1200 km north of the Swedish capital Stockholm in the Kiruna region, which, according to business, is considered a world-class mining region. In addition to the presence of non-ferrous metal deposits, members of the Sami community “Leavas” traditionally live on the territory of Kiruna, whose interests are once again threatened by new industrial facilities.

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Reindeer husbandry is of great importance for the Sami, as it is their traditional means of livelihood and an integral part of culture. Thus, the activities of industrial companies with the tacit consent of the Swedish government not only violate the integrity of reindeer pastures, but also pose threats to Sami traditions. This is not to mention the significant harm to the environment and ecosystems of the Arctic, which is already experiencing the processes of global warming to a greater extent.

It is noteworthy that everything is happening against the background of the announced reconciliation policy and the official apologies of the Swedish authorities for the discriminatory policy towards the indigenous small population of their country. “The government has the responsibility to increase knowledge of the abuses, rights violations, and racism that Sami people have been subjected to. Increasing awareness of historical injustices was important to facilitate reconciliation. The Sami were victims of a brutal assimilation policy. Today, they have been recognized as an indigenous people and have their own parliament in Sweden, but rights groups continue to denounce the state’s handling of Sami issues”, – said the Minister of Culture and Democracy of Sweden Amanda Lind.
Archbishop Antje Jakelen of the Swedish Church publicly apologized for the forced assimilation of the indigenous Sami people in combination with racial segregation and infringement of rights. “As archbishop of the Church of Sweden, I stand before you, the Sami, and confess that we have not engaged with you at eye level. We have been curved inward on ourselves, we have not stood up to racism and abuse of power. Our backs are but by the guilt we carry. We have placed unjust burdens on you. We have burdened your ancestors with shame and pain that has been inherited by new generations”, – she spoke on November 24, 2021 in Uppsala Cathedral.
Unfortunately, the real state policy and the actual service of business interests go against the official statements of the Swedish political leadership. The public apologies of state officials fade against the background of loud headlines in the Swedish media about the need to increase copper production for the development of alternative energy, which are funded by large resource companies. There is no doubt that eventually Copperstone Resources AB will receive government permission to develop a new copper mine, which, if not destroyed, will cause significant damage to the Sami reindeer farms in Kiruna.

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It is possible that instead of making loud statements, Swedish officials should look at the experience of other countries, where, despite the existence of problems in relations with indigenous peoples, the Sami are given real opportunities to preserve their traditional way of life. For example, according to some estimates, only a few thousand representatives of this nationality live in Russia, but there is a practice of implementing programs to preserve the dialects of the Sami language, and business interests are limited in favor of ensuring the rights of the Sami to hunt and fish in the areas of their traditional residence.

Discriminatory policies against indigenous peoples are typical for many States of the modern world. But in the North, autochthons are most dependent on environmental conditions and the state of pastures used by reindeer herding farms. The negative impact of industry on Arctic ecosystems and, as a consequence, the lifestyle of the Sami and other small-numbered nationalities entails irreversible consequences that may soon lead to a complete loss of the cultural characteristics of the indigenous population of the Arctic. It remains to be hoped that the Swedish Sami and other small nations, with the help of human rights organizations and caring representatives of the world community, will still be able to win the fight for their rights and traditions.

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