Indigenous Sami win landmark case against Wind Power Company
For a country whose fortunes are based on fossil fuel exports – Norway is one of the world’s largest oil and gas producers – the transition to a green economy is a crucial turning point. As pressure increases to reduce oil and gas production, the Scandinavian country is looking to increase its renewable energy exports. Hydroelectric power has traditionally been abundant enough to meet almost all of the country’s energy needs, but expanding wind power production would facilitate this effort.
While decarbonization is essential to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, in the global race for a carbon-free future, the Sami, and in particular the small South Sami community, feel they are succumbing to “green colonialism”. Members say the Norwegian authorities are ignoring their rights and endangering their cultural survival in the name of sustainability.
“Reindeer herding is a business based on cultural practices, with a very low climate footprint,” Jåma explains. “We are not the ones who should be held responsible for all of the carbon emissions that have gotten us to where we are now. We shouldn’t be paying the price when they come to take our pastures to produce renewable energy like wind power.
Maja Kristine Jåma, niece of Leif Arne Jåma and newly elected member of the Sami parliament, believes that a lack of knowledge of Sami culture among the general public could contribute to the situation.
“Reindeer herding is not just an industry in the form of meat production: it is the pillar of our Southern Sami identity – this is where our language, traditions and culture lie,” says -she. “It’s what we know best and grow up with.”
The Sami people of the Fosen Peninsula fought the development of the wind for about two decades. In 2018, the Sami Council, a supranational NGO that protects the interests of the Sami people across borders, even took their case abroad, complaining to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which called on Norway to suspend construction of the site.
The Norwegian authorities ignored this recommendation and the project was completed in 2019.
But a local appeals court found in June 2020 that the Sami had lost their pastures to the two wind farms, and ordered Fosen Vind to pay the ranchers what was considered a surprisingly large sum of money: 90 million NOK (10 million USD) to purchase fodder for animals for the foreseeable future.
Interestingly, the Sami and Fosen Vind appealed this conviction to the Supreme Court. For the former, it was a question of principle: they believed that the concession was downright illegal because it violated their rights as indigenous people, and found that a financial settlement was insufficient. Fosen Vind, on the other hand, considered the compensation to be excessive and disproportionate. The Norwegian government, fearing the case could set a precedent and deter potential foreign investors from seeking wind concessions elsewhere, sided with the joint venture in its appeal.
The Supreme Court has now overturned the local decision on the grounds that the concessions for the wind farms are invalid and should never have been granted. The judges cited article 27 of the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, saying that “in states where there are ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities”, they should not be denied the right “to enjoy of their own culture ”.
Traditional reindeer herding is a fundamental part of Sami culture and therefore needs to be protected. Wind farms have prevented the Sami from continuing their farming activities in this area, rendering the permits invalid. The Ministry of Petroleum and Energy will now assess the decision and decide on the next steps.
“If the concession is invalid, it means the wind farm is downright illegal. And when something has been built illegally, it has to be removed, ”explains Leif Arne Jåma.
While the Sami would like to see the parks decommissioned and the turbines dismantled, what the future holds for them is still not entirely clear. What is It is clear that the case sets a precedent that similar concessions could also be declared invalid if they encroach on the territory of the Sami pastoralists.
“I think that after this pain it will be very difficult for the wind farms to acquire reindeer pasture,” explains Leif Arne Jåma. “Just in case, they will have to get the green light from the Sami ranchers.”