“What Nordic infrastructure projects in Sápmi call ‘green energy,’ to the rest of the world looks exactly like traditional colonialism.”
Outside of the royal palace, in Oslo, seven Sámi youths waited to speak with King Harald V of Norway. They wore gáktis, their traditional clothing, and on the lawn, near the neoclassical building, a lávvu stood – a temporary Sámi dwelling that resembles a teepee. Just after noon, the youths were granted an audience with the king.
The meeting was the culmination of several days of protests in Oslo that captured the boldness of young Sámi activists as well as the obstacle they face: challenging the government of Norway to respect its own laws and the rights of Indigenous Sámi people. To date, they have been unsuccessful.
The protests have been fueled by frustration and anger over the $1.3 billion Fosen wind farm, the largest wind project in Norway on the nation’s central-west coast. Exactly two years before protests began, Norway’s Supreme Court ruled that the wind park had been built illegally in Sápmi, the traditional territory of the Sámi, and violated the rights of Sámi reindeer herders as well as the cultural rights of the Sámi peoples. In the wake of the ruling, the Sámi parliament of Norway demanded the wind park be torn down and the land restored for reindeer herders. However, in the years since, Norwegian officials, including those at Statkraft, the state-owned power company responsible for the project, have refused to remove the turbines, instead opting to negotiate with impacted communities in the hope that the park will continue to produce energy.
For the Sámi, that means the only authority left who may help them is King Harald V.
According to Ella Marie Hætta Isaksen, one of the seven youths to meet with the king and a Sámi organizer, there was no other option.
“We have set up lávvus on Oslo’s main street,” said Hætta Isaksen. “We have occupied the parliament for a whole day. We have blocked Statkraft and closed down 11 ministries. What more can we do?”
The act of meeting with the king is grounded in history. In 1997, King Harald issued an apology for Norway’s treatment of Sámi peoples. “We must regret the injustice the Norwegian state has previously inflicted on the Sámi people,” King Harald said. “The Norwegian state therefore has a special responsibility to create the right conditions for the Sámi people to be able to build a strong and viable society. This is a time-honored right based on the Sámi’s presence in their areas going back a long way.”
Hætta Isaksen said that they had inherited the fight from their ancestors, and that while the king made no promises and carried little power to influence state leaders, the meeting was important. “We have been met with arrogance all week,” she said. “But to meet Norway’s highest leader, who understands us, [it] gives us strength to continue.”
The latest demonstration began last week, on the two-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling, when 14 Sámi activists, including Mihkkal Hætta, who has been living in a lávvu outside parliament for a month, began a sit-in. By the end of the day, police carried activists out of the building, but no arrests were made. By Friday, activists blocked the entrances to 11 government ministries and Statkraft until they were carried away by police, and through the weekend, campaigners continued to march through Oslo.
Over the course of the year, Sámi rights defenders and environmental activists peacefully shut down 10 ministries in Oslo to protest the wind park; blockaded the entrance to Fosen, shutting the facility down for a week; and were joined by 2,000 activists outside the Royal Palace to bring attention to the problem.
However, the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy has refused to heed Sámi demands. Earlier this year, Petroleum and Energy Minister Terje Aasland officially apologized to reindeer herders in Fosen and acknowledged that the wind park constituted a human rights violation, but has maintained that “demolition of the wind farms in their entirety is not a likely outcome.” Statkraft has also committed itself to reaching an agreement with reindeer herders that doesn’t require the removal of the wind park, as has Norway’s prime minister.
“We are having conversations about mitigating and are trying to find a solution,” said Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre. “Those who run those negotiations, and the reindeer herders are present, and I hope it can lead to a solution.”
Sámi rights defenders say neither apologies nor negotiations matter.
“It is simply political reluctance that stops the wind turbines from being demolished,” said Petra Laiti with the Saami Council’s Human Rights Unit. “What Nordic infrastructure projects in Sápmi call ‘green energy,’ to the rest of the world looks exactly like traditional colonialism.”
Almost 98 percent of Norway’s electricity comes from renewable sources like wind and hydropower. With a population of roughly five million people, Norway produces around 154 terawatt-hours of electricity each year. According to Statkraft, that’s enough energy to power 15 million homes in the United States for a year. In 2021, almost 26 terawatts of electricity were exported from Norway, mostly to Denmark.
“It is important for international observers to note that the image of Norway as a fair country governed by the rule of law is shattered: the true image is what we see today,” said Elle Rávdná Näkkäläjärvi, a member of the Norwegian Sámi Association’s Youth Committee. “With two years of ongoing human rights violations, we see that Norway, as a democratic state, is not functioning.”
For now, the Fosen Wind Park is still producing energy for the state, and Sámi organizers have vowed to continue fighting.
“It has been incredibly emotional to be here today and see all the youth fighting,” said 75-year-old Niillas Aslaksen Somby. “They are probably as optimistic as we were back then.”
In 1979, Aslaksen Somby was one of seven hunger-strikers that fought to stop a hydroelectric dam being built in Sápmi. Known as the Alta Action, Sámi leaders and activists also occupied a government building while Aslaksen Somby lost an arm during a failed act of sabotage to destroy a bridge on a construction road to the dam’s proposed site.
“Almost everyone who did the hunger strike with me back then are now resting in their graves,” said Aslaksen Somby. “But the fight for Sámi rights lives on.”
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