Join forces with Sámi and Norwegian activists

Photo: Ewa-Mari Hedman / NRK
Sámi musicians Sofia Jannok, Inger Biret Gaup, and Sara Marielle Beaska traveled to Standing Rock to show solidarity with the Sioux Nation.

Lynn Gleason
Pacific Sámi Searvi

I admit that I tend to idealize Norway. However, as someone who follows indigenous rights movements, especially here in the U.S. and Norway, I’m getting used to disappointment. Still, I am surprised by what I see as bullying tactics by the Norwegian government regarding two issues concerning Sámi rights and preserving the Norwegian environment for everyone. Usually being proud of both their human rights policies and their pristine landscape, recent actions break my Norway-biased heart twice over.

The recently signed Deatnu (Tana) Agreement, a fishing management plan with Finland finalized March 28, severely restricts traditional Sámi fishing rights by a widely reported 80 percent. Fishing is not only the river-Sámi’s traditional main source of food and income but is also an integral part of their culture. Even mainstream Norwegian news articles report that most locals and local Norwegian clubs and societies do not approve of the agreement terms. It does limit all fishing times and quotas in the river because of a drastic drop in salmon since 2011, which is in no small part due to increased population of Finns and Norwegians. But the agreement heavily favors fishing passes on the Finnish side in quantity of passes, permissible quota, and lower pass cost. The overall redistribution of fishing rights disproportionately dispossesses the Sámi.

Another upsetting decision came December 20, 2016, when Norway’s Ministry of Climate and Environment cleared the way for a mining company, Nussir ASA, to dump tailings (mining waste) from a copper mine into Repparfjorden, also in Finnmark. Two million tons of waste annually, over an eight square kilometer area, to be precise. It is an area heavily used by Sámi for fishing and reindeer herding, as well as the Norwegian fishing industry. Several scientific organizations have stated this dumping will kill the life on the sea floor for the foreseeable future. Dumping was also approved for Førdefjorden, on the Norwegian west coast. Will these locations have the same fate as Langfjorden? So much was dumped there that it filled up with waste and the drainage tubes were extended to Bøk­fjorden where the water is deeper.

Norway is one of only three countries in the world that allow dumping of mine tailings into the ocean, along with Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. When the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) met last September, only Norway and Turkey voted against a ban on dumping.

Repparfjorden is classified as a “national salmon fjord,” which is supposed to give it special legal protections. However, with the promise of 150 new jobs, the Norwegian government sided with the mining company and against environmental and scientific groups’ protests and against the Sámi.

The Sámi Parliaments of both Norway and Finland protested these recent actions and have sworn to take their respective governments to court. While this is extremely important, there are other actions that can be taken and some can be done by Americans.

According to its website, Nussir ASA has only one American investor, and that is Citibank NYC at just over 3 percent. Citibank divestment would not be backbreaking, but it would be a start.

A more effective approach would be direct American spending. Norway takes a great deal of pride in its pristine beauty, and tourism makes up nearly 5 percent of its GDP. A booklet published by Innovation Norway in 2015 shows the first two things visitors said they want to see in Norway were “fjords” and “nature.” One powerful way to encourage the Norwegian government to do the right thing is to let them know we aren’t running to Norway to see fjords full of mining waste or the continued assault on Sámi culture.

Also, if Norway wants to remain a leader in the environmental movement and maintain its reputation for diplomacy, pointing out their apparent disregard for the spirit of ILO 169, the UN agreement on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of which Norway was the first to sign in 1989, could compel them to reverse course and do the right thing.

Bringing international attention to what may seem like a national issue has not only been shown to be successful but also been proven by Norwegians and Sámi on American soil. Sámi and Norwegian activists came to North Dakota to participate in the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. Through this action they convinced the managers of the Norwegian government employees’ pension fund, KPL, and the largest Norwegian bank, DNB, to divest from Energy Transfer Partners, the Texas-based company that owns DAPL. One of the stated concerns by DNB was the “treatment of indigenous peoples.” Norwegian divestment didn’t stop the pipeline, but it sends a powerful message. DNB’s reconsideration of the type of projects they invest in will hopefully discourage future pipelines and other environmentally destructive projects both internationally and in Norway.

Now Sámi and Norwegian water protectors in Norway need our help. The environment doesn’t recognize investments or political borders. Everything in nature is connected, including us. Ultimately, we’re all downstream from each other.
I still believe Norway can be the Norway I idealize it to be.

Want to write or call someone?
Norwegian Ministry of Climate and Environment
P.B. 8013 Dep, 0030 Oslo, Norway

Citibank New York office
388 Greenwich St., New York, NY 10013
(800) 285-3000

Norwegian Parliament (Stortinget)
Address: P.O. Box 1700 Sentrum, N-0026 Oslo, Norway
+47 23 31 30 50

Lynn Gleason graduated from Pacific Lutheran University with degrees in Scandinavian Studies and Political Science. She is a co-founder and current President of the Pacific Sámi Searvi, an organization for persons of Sámi descent or who are concerned with Sámi rights and rights of indigenous peoples. She is an active member of the Daughters of Norway Nina Grieg lodge and Poulsbo Sons of Norway. She is currently working on a book chronicling Sámi immigration to and settlement of her hometown, Poulsbo, Wash.

This article originally appeared in the April 21, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.