Tame reindeer herding has been carried out in Trøndelag by the Saami for many centuries. When reindeer herding actually became the primary livelihood is difficult to determine, but most researchers believe that it started around the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries (Fjellheim 1995: 58; Justis-og beredskapsdepartementet 2007). The cultural landscape used by the South Saami since that time continued throughout most of the nineteenth century (Fjellheim 1995, 58–82). Everything comprised by Saami cultural heritage and cultural landscape is called ‘the Saami room’ by the historian Sverre Fjellheim (Fjellheim 1995, 65 ff.). Even though there has been necessary modernization to keep up with the times, today’s forms of reindeer herding are an important culture carrier. The relationship between the people and the landscape has left many cultural traces, and this particularly applies to the reindeer herding nomadism. Reindeer herding and its regions, and the narrative relating to the relationships between people and territory, are part of important socialization processes and have helped create a sense of belonging to the Saami community (Fjellheim 1995, 72, and interview 15 March 2016).
Today’s threats are one of the many conflicts about regions the South Saami have been forced into over the last century, and are about more than just access to grazing lands. The right to nurture one’s own culture also includes special livelihoods that are connected to the use of land and land resources. This means that ensuring that the South Saami have the opportunity to use natural resources is protected by international law (Inntrøndelag district court, 43). Article 15 of ILO’s Convention relating to Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries is used as the platform for legitimizing the Saami demands.
The documents from the valuation tribunal in Inntrøndelag district court (June 2017) about the wind turbines in Fosen provide insight into the case. Even though the parties agree that Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (FN-sambandet) confers international protection of reindeer herding, the conclusions differ. With support from Article 27, the South Saami have long argued against building wind turbines on their grazing land in several locations. The presentation of the most recent interventions has a historical backdrop where conflicts and loss of land over several generations dominate today’s negotiation climate. The centenary celebration in 2017 of the first Saami congress, Tråante 2017, contributed to renewed media interest in the South Saami cause.
The celebration mobilized large crowds in Trondheim at the centenary of the first Saami congress on 6 February 1917. Saami from all of Saepmie (the lands of the Saami in South Saami language) dominated the streets throughout the anniversary week. Concerts and art exhibitions were arranged, in addition to theme exhibitions, presentations, political rallies and other meetings between Saami interest organizations. During the celebration on the 6th of February, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg denounced the Norwegianization policy, and President of the Storting (Norwegian Parliament) Olemic Thommesen followed this by stating that the Norwegianization policy was unwise, prejudiced, suppressive and a great loss for Norway (Adresseavisen 07.02.17).
Prior to the anniversary, the President of the Finnish Saami General Assembly stated that it would strengthen border-transcending Saami collaboration, and that it could offer the Saami political progress (NRK Sápmi 16.02.17). Tråante 2017 was therefore a particularly important arena for the South Saami and the entire Saami community, not only in Norway but in all of Saepmie. The fact that the event was arranged in the South Saami region was used to put more focus on a minority in the Saami community. The experiences from this comprehensive mobilization have contributed to a stronger focus on the Saami as a group, their history, culture and language.
The celebration may be understood as a token of respect to the Saami organization pioneers from 1917 (Norsk biografisk leksikon and Johansen 2015), and how 1917 was a watershed year as the congress started a process that involved the struggle for participation through politician representation, rights and issues relating to language and education on the Saami’s own premises. Bearing this in mind, it is of striking that the conflict level has reached new heights in the anniversary year, and that the fight over the regions took place only a few miles from the headquarters of Tråante 2017 and the speech by the Prime Minister on 6 February 2017.
Building wind turbines will mean the beginning of the end for reindeer herding and the Saami culture in Fosen, a spokesperson for the reindeer herding Saami asserts (Adresseavisen 05.03.17). The central authorities have, on the other hand, claimed that the advantages of renewable energy production must weigh heavily in the assessments, and that building a wind park in Fosen is not in contravention of Article 27 (the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) (Inntrøndelag district court, 26). The reindeer herding Saami have attempted to argue that the disadvantages are greater than the advantages, and that their arguments are supported by international law.
Attention generated by the case may be a double-edged sword. Many disputes and legal cases in recent years have led to negative attitudes to the Saami as a group. These worries emerge in an interview with a young reindeer herding Saami (Interview I. T. S 2016). The choice of strategy is based on culture having greater impact and understanding than technical matters concerning reindeer herding and economics. The premises for the communication with politicians and public opinion therefore appear to follow one particular track.
The Saami General Assembly has adopted such a line of thinking. A statement made in October 2009 states that ‘the Saami General Assembly underlines the importance of reindeer herding for Saami culture and social life’, and adds that weakening or obliterating reindeer herding will have ‘negative effects on the South Saami culture in Fosen’ (Inntrøndelag district court 2017, 7). The same arguments are pointed out in an expert report from 2008 which analyses the consequences of introducing wind-park and power-line projects in the same area (ASK Rådgivning AS and SWECO Norge AS 2008).
The life and activities of the South Saami have for centuries been integrated in the landscape through the lifecycle and migration of the reindeer, where the relationships between the people, the reindeer herd and the landscape have a special position linguistically, culturally and materially. The negotiations that are still ongoing about the landscape are perceived as a threat against the very core of the South Saami culture. The concession rights have important conditions connected to the basis for wind-power facilities and power lines, which state that it must be rational in a social sense, and that the advantages must be balanced against the disadvantages (Inntrøndelag district court, 13). The premises for what is socially rational and the underpinning for balancing advantages against disadvantages are placed with other people than the Saami.
Thus, much is at stake, and not only for the reindeer herding Saami. Heavy commercial interests have already invested substantially in preparatory work for the wind park, and political gains are glimmering in the distance with the talk of renewable energy. The former Saami General Assembly President Vibeke Larsen has said that the state authorities must bear the responsibility for eradicating the South Saami language if the wind park becomes a reality (Sagat 23.08.17). These harsh words raised the conflict level and hardened the frontlines in the period following the evaluation tribunal’s decision.
The emphasis on language and culture is pervasive, and not only from the Saami side. International law provisions have been introduced in the debate to find support for the South Saami arguments. A member of the Storting (Parliament) asserted in an interview ‘we as a nation’ are obliged to preserve the Saami indigenous population, their language, culture and livelihood, and for this reason, the herding of tame reindeer cannot be reduced (Trønder-Avisa 03.09.17). Several politicians have been concerned about preserving the South Saami culture, and a small group of politicians and South Saami spokespersons highlight culture and language as the most important aspects in the debate. Saying that the lines of conflict are drawn between culture/language and wind power may be seen as a simplification, but this is in fact an effective indicator of what is at stake.
The wind turbine park in Fosen is one of the biggest industrial investments in this part of Norway in recent decades. Approximately NOK 11 billion will be spent on the project, in addition to significant amounts to be used for building the required infrastructure. Spokespersons for the project have claimed that it will generate growth in an area with limited business opportunities and with negative population development. Politicians on different levels and the developers have argued that new workplaces will be created and long-term investments will have ripple effects for businesses and the municipal economy. A complicating factor, which is an interesting and demanding political issue, is that the industrial developers have won on their arguments about economic gain and environmental advantages with the general public and the authorities.
In a letter dated 14 April 2011, the reindeer herding Saami in South Fosen asserted that little intervention is needed before it is in contravention of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and that the sum total of earlier interventions is so large that any new intervention will be in violation of international law (Inntrøndelag district court, 16). In response to this, the wind-power developers claim that the ILO Convention (on indigenous and tribal peoples in independent states) has not been embedded in Norwegian legislation, and that the Saami thus cannot base rights directly on this platform (Inntrøndelag district court, 31). This has been an important and contentious issue where the Saami people have believed that the ILO Convention confers special rights and protection.
The developers have stated that the intervention will not prevent the practice of Saami culture in the region, but that the intervention is planned in such a way that it will permit ‘the minority to continue to have financial gain from the activity’ (Inntrøndelag district court, 33). It is not clear what is meant by the formulation ‘continue to have financial gain’. The core issue is that in referring to the same legislation the Saami are using, Fosen Vind and Statnett find that the assessment of the scope and consequences of the interventions is that they will not prevent reindeer herding in the area. The objections from the Saami have included the importance of the lands for the exercise of their culture and the possibility of carrying forward a traditional livelihood (Inntrøndelag district court, 37).
Will the external pressure the Saami are experiencing cause the internal sense of community to be strengthened, and the South Saami society to also include South Saami that are not engaged in reindeer herding? The historical backdrop of marginalization and displacement is not only a part of our history that is behind us, but, according to the reindeer herders, it also appears to continue under new conditions and with new actors. Today’s conflicts must also be considered in connection with earlier actions and mobilizations for Saami interests. In the South Saami’s area, the protests against an artillery range have been important because they established an alliance between environmentalists and the reindeer herding Saami. The plans to develop an artillery range in Fosen in the 1970s and the hydropower dam in Alta/Kautokeino in the 1980s (Fylkesmannen i Nord-Trøndelag 1982), which both involved substantial interventions in Saami lands, have coloured all later regional conflicts between the Saami and the greater society, and the plans for development have both divided and brought together local communities across political parties and alliances. Where landowners and municipal politicians have seen financial gains and workplaces, others have seen destruction of nature and harmful interventions.
On 11 November 2016, the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy decided to reject the applications for wind-power development by Fred. Olsen Renewable AS—Kalvvatnan vindkraftverk (wind-power facility) in Bindal and Namsskogan municipalities. The Ministry clearly stated that reindeer herding is of decisive importance for carrying forward the South Saami culture and the South Saami language. The two reindeer herding districts in question are among the few districts where South Saami is used as a native language and as a working language. The Ministry therefore concluded that reindeer herding enjoys a special position based on the principles in international law about material protection of indigenous peoples, and that no concession could be granted for the Kalvvatnan wind-power facility (Olje-og energidepartementet 2017). The outcome in this case may turn out to be important in other cases in the South Saami area.
The Ministry’s conclusions have been supported by recent research reports from Norway and Sweden (Coleman et al. 2014; Skarin 2016). The documentation from Sweden and the many reservations that appear in the Norwegian study give grounds for agreeing with the critics of wind power in grazing areas; it is harmful to reindeer. The case has a human aspect that reveals how brutal the situation is. An area report cannot possibly capture all the circumstances and factors that adversely impact a small community. The reindeer herding Saami Arvid Jåma has complained several times about the situation, but in spite of support from several quarters and from expertise on the rights of indigenous peoples (Åhrén 2016), he is beginning to give up:
I am disgusted by society, that they are so vulgar that they are willing to crush so small an ethnic minority, so brutally. Now they have harassed us for several years with this decision. […] Several of us will be forced to stop herding reindeer if the project is realized, it will be the end of many of us. We need large areas of land for the reindeer, and for us this is a question of resources. […] It does not only concern me personally, but also adults and children in many families. Our grazing lands will be destroyed. (Fosna-folket 23.02.16)
Several South Saami say that the ongoing battle to make the case heard and protect their rights and interests is draining them of energy. One reindeer herding Saami in an interview claimed that the importance of reindeer herding for the South Saami community is underscored by the fact that people from various districts show their support in the fight against development through active participation (Interview M. K. J. 2016). The solidarity that comes to light between the South Saami is vital for maintaining the will to fight through community action and having faith that resistance will bring positive results. The Saami General Assembly has on a number of occasions supported the South Saami, and there is a dawning interest internationally which shows that the core of the case is more than simply reindeer herding (Artic Deeply 2016). This is apparently completely in accordance with the South Saami’s own media strategy. The threats against identity and community are highlighted and used to show what is at stake, and become more tangible as in the following:
The feeling you get when you get up there and you know that this is mine – this is where I belong. Here generations of my family have lived far back in time. I feel I belong in the mountains, and it’s an important part of my identity that I feel at home there. […] I feel that it’s very difficult because the mountains are where we are allowed to be ourselves, and without experiencing prejudices and day-to-day racism against the Saami. You feel that you are seen as being different. But when we go into the mountains, where you live and herd the reindeer, then there are no questions. Then you can be yourself. Knowing that it is being taken away from us is so painful, and we see that it is destroyed right in front of my eyes. (Interview with I. T. S 2016)
Identity is connected to the personal self-image and the individual self-understanding and position in social communities. In social and cultural communities these will be events, landscapes, objects, rituals and actions that the community recognizes as authorized carriers of traditions in the culture. But what characterizes South Saami identity? Everybody I have been in contact with points to the language, culture, landscape and the community connected to it. The Saami reindeer herders highlight the work, the mountains and the landscape as identity-forming, and as a hub of the Saami community.
A global ecological movement is working to respect, cherish and preserve environments, where the interests of indigenous peoples are incorporated into this way of thinking (Spruce and Trasher 2008). It is therefore a paradox that wind power, which basically is sustainable, clashes with the rights and interests of indigenous peoples. Saami cultural heritage and landscapes are under threat and are being violated. The history of the Saami and their presence and use of a region are not necessarily concurrent with the perception the majority society has of the region. This is a key element in the discussion about the right to use, customs, rights and co-determination. Issues connected to this have been on the agenda repeatedly, where representatives of the South Saami have argued with the authorities and the greater society over the rights to the landscape of indigenous peoples. Political and emotionally charged concepts are taken into use, such as ‘invasion’, ‘occupation’ and ‘survival’ when describing the threats against the South Saami region (Letter to the Ministry of Justice and Public Security from Åarjel Fovsen Sijte 2009).
For the South Saami, the development of wind parks is only one of many attacks. ‘We have fought before, but always lost’, says one of the reindeer owners in Fosen. She is referring to the many previous interventions in the grazing lands that have put pressure on grazing and reindeer from all sides. There is no more space to lose, it is claimed (Interview with I. T. S. 2016). Developing more and more regions into infrastructure has made it more difficult to herd reindeer, and the consequences of further encroachments will be ruinous for sustainable operations. It has also been pointed out that the total calculations have not included ruined nature and other social expenses, and that for this reason, the project cannot be profitable. The developers disagree with this analysis (NRK Trøndelag 28.05.15).