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Sami celebrate amid climate concerns

Sami flags flew all over Norway on Thursday as the country’s indigenous people celebrated their own national day. The president of the Sami Parliament complained, though, that many of Norway’s new climate programs ignore Sami interests.

Aili Keskitalo stressed in her New Year’s address last month that “powerful forces” have been “working against the Sami.” She went further in an interview published Thursday in newspaper Klassekampen, as she spoke out against windmills and mining that disrupt Sami reindeer herding and litter their landscapes.

“When a mining company and wind energy developers point to the green shift and the important roles they play in it, I think that’s hypocritical,” Keskitalo said.

Supporters of a highly contested but approved mining operation at Kvalsund in Northern Norway claim the copper they’ll extract from the ground is needed for the electrification that’s supposed to replace use of fossil fuel. Wind energy and the contested windmills used to generate it are also promoted as a renewable energy source to replace oil and gas.

Keskitalo calls them both “serious attacks on Sami culture and livelihoods.” Reindeer herding, fishing, agriculture and use of wilderness areas are all “tied to our lifestyle. Entire families are affected by the threats on them.”

With mining operations in areas where reindeer graze and mine tailings set to be dumped into the fjord, Keskitalo contends that Sami interests have been ignored. “Reindeers’ need for open area is being run over by mining and wind power,” she told Klassekampen. “Our rights to the land and the water in Sami areas are still unclear.”

There has been progress in several other Sami issues during the past year, however. Several Sami artists have gained national and international attention and support. The Sami languages and dialects has also won new attention and support, with even Disney Animation highlighting it in its new Frozen film. A national study of earlier persecution of Sami is underway and Sami war heroes finally received formal state honours in connection with last fall’s celebrations of the liberation of Finnmark.

Sami celebrations were being hosted at around 30 locations around the country this week and as usual, Norway’s government website was decked out Thursday the colours of the Sami flag. It also carried a congratulatory greeting on what’s called samefolkets dag (the Sami people’s day). Four government ministers now have Sami issues in their portfolios, with new minister Linda Hofstad Helleland claiming that she “looked forward to contributing towards strengthening of the Sami culture and Sami languages.”

Samefolkets dag was first celebrated in 1993 and commemorates the first cross-border meeting of Sami from Russia, Finland, Sweden and Norway met in Trondheim on Februay 6, 1917. Norway has the largest Sami population, now estimated at around 55,000 compared to 20,000 in Sweden, 8,000 in Finland and 2,000 in Russia.

Several places around Norway including Bodø, Levanger, Tromsø, Tysfjord and Hamarøy are celebrating the Sami over several days this week. The national flag day on February 6 is not an official holiday in which schools and businesses close, however, like they do on Norway’s national day on the 17th of May. That has sparked protests from some Sami including the 17-year-old deputy leader of the Sami youth organization Oslove Noereh, Ida Emilie Lindseth, who questioned the ongoing lack of “free day” status in newspaper Aftenposten on Thursday.

The government’s own website declared that Samefolkets dag is meant “to remind us that we share a common history, and that we together must take responsibility for the future.”