Climate change, mines and reindeer

A day of celebration for me – I have been to the cinema for the first time in over two years, to Zita in Stockholm, to see Thomas Jackson’s film  on the Same artist Britta Marakatt-Labba, “Historjá stygn för Sápmi” (Historical Stitches for Sapmi, the latter word referring to the Sami land and people). It’s a very long embroidery, like the Bayeux tapestry but on the history of the Sami people. The focus is on the artist but the film is not just about her but on the difficult conditions faced by reindeer herders because of climate change and the consequent warming and seasonal unpredictability, which is threatening the Sami’s traditional way of life and culture (and ultimately, language).

It´s an aesthetically pleasing and gripping film even for those like me, with an aversion to snow and not inclined to talking to watercourses.

The director has done a fine job of integrating the work of art with general reflections on the future of the Sami people. I thought it well worth seeing.

It’s very topical just now as it’s not just the climate which is threatening the Sami, The Social Democratic Government has just controversially granted Beowulf Mining plc an exploitation concession. It’s been a longstanding wish of the company to exploit the iron ore deposits at Kallak near Jokkmokk in Norrbotten Sweden’s most northerly county (which, by the way, is the size of Belgium, the Netherlands and half of Switzerland combined).

According to Beowulf, the iron ore is of high quality with a low rate of impurities, which in itself confers some environmental advantages,. There are friendly green words in the announcement, spirit of collaboration, maximising benefits, partnerships.

 The Sami parliament, the representative body for people of indigenous heritage in Sweden, has warned that the mine will destroy grazing areas, cut off the only viable migratory route for reindeer followed by the Jåhkågasska Sami community who move westerly with their animals to the higher land on the Norwegian border for animals to calve during the spring.

Other Sami communities will also be affected by a reduction in their grazing area.

The departure of the Green Party from the Government made it easier for the Social Democrats to grant the Exploitation Concession (which was opposed by the Left Party as well as the Green Party).

The local community is split between those who see an opportunity to reverse falling population numbers and tax take up and increase employment, hoping that new money will stimulate the local economy despite Beowulf being a foreign company.

And, on the other side, those who believe that the rights and wishes of the Sami community on the use of  their historic land must be respected.

The last word has not yet been said as there has to be an environmental assessment and a balance struck between what the government refers to as conflicting national interests, minerals and reindeer husbandry.

The granting of the concession has attracted widespread opposition even outside Sweden (Unesco)

And inside Sweden, the archbishop of Uppsala has said that the proposed mine is not existentially and spiritually sustainable  (a new concept for me). So the last word has not yet been said but money does speak loudly.

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English language sources;

Announcement, Beowulf Mining plc 29 March 2022

Article in the Guardian, 30 March 2022

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