Aile Javo, President, Saami CouncilAile Javo, President, Saami CouncilÁile Jávo, President, Saami Council

Plenary Address

December 2



It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you all to Sápmi, the homeland of the Saami people. The city of Trondheim holds a special place in the history of the Saami people. It was here in Trondheim the first Saami national convention took place back in 1917 – soon hundred years ago. The Convention gathered 150 Saami delegates from the high north and to the south, and was initiated by the Saami woman Elsa Laula Renberg. The steering committee for the Convention managed to gather Saami representatives from all over Norway and Sweden, in the middle of the winter; they succeeded to receive funding from Norwegian authorities and to get a prominent keynote speaker - the head of the Labour Movement in Norway at the time (Martin Tranemæl).

Elsa Laula Renberg saw the need for the Saami people to get together to address the concerns for the Saami culture and the living conditions for Saami people. Among the issues discussed was matters concerning the Saami language and reindeer husbandry, and related to the latter also, the right to own land. These themes are still on the agenda for the Saami people today, 100 years later, even though many things have improved in our societies.

The Saami people live in four countries, Finland, Norway, Sweden and north East Russia. Today activities such as reindeer herding, fishing, hunting and gathering remain important livelihoods for the Saami culture. The traditional livelihoods are the fundament for Saami culture and the only way of life for many Saami people. While some seek an academic or another kind of career, the traditional activities remain important source for food and nutrition for all of us. In that sense the Saami culture depends on healthy and productive ecosystems and the sustainable use of its living resources.

The Saami Council welcomes all the hard work that the Arctic Council and the CAFF working group has put into the Arctic Biodiversity Assessment. The assessment provides a description of the state of biodiversity in the Arctic and of key mechanisms driving change, which makes the report valuable and important for the Saami people, as well. While we are well aware of the intents to incorporate indigenous perspectives and traditional knowledge into the assessment, we think the potential in what the indigenous peoples could have contributed with, to this kind of assessment with our traditional knowledge and understanding of biodiversity and nature - is not yet fully utilized.

Loss of pastures and biodiversity is still the largest threat for the future existence of reindeer husbandry. When developing new projects that requires change in land use, it is important that the impacts for the reindeer herding entities in question is not solely considered according to the size of the development project, accumulated effects for the reindeer husbandry should also be taken into account. The reindeer husbandry needs flexibility when facing variations in climatic conditions during the different seasonal grazing. This flexibility should not be lost. This is particularly important in the years to come, with expected impacts of climate change and the needs the reindeer husbandry have for different nature type and pastures, to remain resilient.

Today it is well documented that various kinds of new development projects leads to huge losses of pastures, because domesticated reindeer avoids disturbance. Dramatic increase in constructions of cabins, roads, hydro- and wind power plants and other developments in reindeer pastures the last decades makes these a serious threat to the future of the reindeer husbandry. Huge projects of oil and gas exploitation in the Barents Sea might have negative accumulative effects by increased construction onshore also impacting reindeer pastures. And I haven’t even mentioned the mines yet.

Calculations by the UNEP shows that if this pace of industrial development continues, traditional reindeer husbandry, with a few exceptions, will come to an end in less than 50 years. Even though huge “untouched areas” of land will still remain, essential pastures will hold so much construction that reindeer herding will not be possible, and the flexibility and resilience or the reindeer husbandry, will not exist.

One of the ABA Key Findings points out climate change to be far the most serious threat to the Arctic biodiversity and in the recommendations it calls for efforts to among other things, reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Global greenhouse gas emissions are resulting in rapid changes in the climate and physical environment of the Arctic with widespread effects for societies and ecosystems and repercussions around the world. Changes in overall temperature have resulted in unpredictable seasons and we are experiencing changing weather patterns, increasing avalanches, coastal erosion, thawing of permafrost, insecure ice-conditions and moving of the tree line. We also see changes in the distribution and migration of living resources that might require adjustments in their management. The increased accessibility of the Arctic and an increase in global demand is also boosting industrial interests in the Arctic. These are changes that have a great impact on the indigenous peoples’ homeland and traditional ways of life.

Climate change alone is not driving the environmental changes already seen in the Arctic. Globalisation and good prices on the mineral resources are drivers that make the unexploited resources in our region of interest for multinational corporations and we have seen an explosion in mining interests in our homeland. We are told it is a global demand for the resources under our feet. The impact the mining industry has on the food production and food security is little heard of by exploitive interests, and the global need for food is an argument most used by the fish-farming industry occupying attractive fish spawning grounds or fishing grounds.

In particular Norway and Sweden’s standard response to the inevitable conflict between the Sami culture and livelihoods, on one hand, and mining, on the other is that “we must find room for co-existence”.  This overlooks the simple fact that most often, there can be no co-existence between reindeer herding and mining.  Mines turns pasture areas into rock.  They block the migration paths between various pasture areas.  Reindeer cannot feed on rock.  And they cannot survive if a mine blocks their migration route. “We must find room for co-existence” become empty and meaningless words as long as Norway and Sweden do not present concrete proposals as to how co-existence between mining and the Sami culture and livelihoods is to be achieved.

In Norway, another great concern with mining is the serious plans for disposal of chemical waste on the sea floor. Even though several national authorities in their responses to these plans have pointed to the impact it will have on the water sheds and ecosystems in the fjords in question. Our concern is also the impacts waste disposal in the sea will have for the salmon that is already under heavy threat from fish farming industry having devastating impacts on the wild salmon stock.

Salmon, and other fish stocks in the fjords and in the Barents Sea is the basis for the coastal Saami culture. Knowingly harming the natural resources that constitutes the fundament of the Saami culture can soon become a question of our human rights. The government has still the opportunity to change their mind in the questions regarding waste disposal in the fjords, and invest the millions of kroner spent to investigate the technologies into developing the reindeer husbandry and local fishing industry instead, and monitoring of the north Atlantic salmon Norway has taken on the responsible for protecting.

We see ourselves discussing the same issues as the Saami people that convened here in Trondheim soon 100 years ago - the future of reindeer herding and our rights to land and participation in decision making.  While some of the stressors from the past are overcome, such as active assimilation and conscious norwegianization of the Saami children through the education system. The stressors we face today are global of nature and much more powerful calling for global actions to overcome. Saami Council look forward to discuss the Arctic biodiversity with the great crowd that has gathered here in Trondheim.

We have to be bold and ask ourselves: are we all doing our best in dealing with biodiversity and managing the natural resources in the Arctic? Is the way we are working in the Arctic Council the best we can to?  While a lot of great work will be presented here on Arctic Biodiversity during this week, we have to also see how we can do better. The Co-production of knowledge, where both traditional knowledge and science are used, where indigenous peoples and other scientist, work together on equal terms, to generate the best available knowledge to guide the decisions for a changing environment in the Arctic, for a future where the traditional livelihoods still will flourish.

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