Photo credit: Ole Berg-Rusten / NTB
Youth from the indigenous Sàmi organisation NSR, as well as youth environmental activists from Natur og Ungdom have been occupying the offices of the Ministry of Energy and Oil since Thursday (23rd of February 2023). They are doing so as an act of civil disobedience to hold the Norwegian state accountable for its violation of indigenous peoples’ rights. We now know that Greta Thunberg herself is on her way to Oslo to support the action.
In October 2021, Norway was found guilty of violating Sami peoples’ civil and political rights. In the Fosen area in Trøndelag, Sami communities have reindeer husbandry activities, with reindeers grazing on different areas depending on the season. The Norwegian state granted two concessions to build windmill parks on the winter grazing areas of reindeers, and the wind turbines make it impossible for this area to be used for reindeers to eat during the winter, and therefore is violating indigenous Sami rights to practice their culture. The Supreme Court found that reindeer husbandry is a form of protected cultural practice.
This decision was made 500 days ago by the Supreme Court, yet the Norwegian state has not taken down the windmill turbines and this is why environmental and indigenous youth are occupying the Ministry to attract attention and hold the state accountable. Now the companies who invested in the windmill parks are complaining they will lose money if the Supreme Court decision is upheld.
As a human rights jurist who worked on indigenous peoples’ rights for many years mainly in Asia, I personally wonder why and how these concessions were granted in the first place by the Norwegian state. Any project potentially affecting indigenous communities should always be preceded by a Free, Prior and Informed Consent process prior to any concession granted on territories where there are indigenous activities. People would not be forced to give their permission, and it is not a right to be informed but to actually give consent (or not) given all information about how the project will affect their activities. This is a international practice recognised by the UN and used in numerous countries as best practice to prevent such conflict as it has now appeared in Norway in the Fosen area between the State, the companies and Sami communities.
Apparently Sami communities raised their voice early in the process against the project, but were not heard by the State. This shows that Sami communities were not given the opportunity to give their free prior and informed consent to this project, which shows that Norway does not respect international standards on how to respect indigenous peoples’ rights. Norway and Scandinavia in general are seen as best in class worldwide as to how they treat indigenous rights, since Sami have for example their own Parliament. But this case (and many others) put a light on how little the indigenous voice actually counts when weighed against other interests in Norway.
Environmental and indigenous activists have been allying since the famous Alta action 40 years ago, when a big movement in Norway tried to stop the dam project in Altain the North of Norway, which affected both the environment and Sami lifestyles and rights. Only a couple of months ago in Norway there was a huge debate on the topic of civil disobedience, and environmental youth activists had to defend themselves as to whether they would take violent actions to protect the environment.
One of the youth leaders occupying the Ministry right now is famous singer Ella Marie Hætta Isaksen, who won Norwegian Idol and fights for Sami rights. (It is her on the picture illustrating this article). She also used to be a leader of a local group of Natur og Ungdom. With Greta Thunberg joining the forces of the action I am predicting unbelievable international attention on how Norway treats not only its indigenous communities but also the environment.