Summit of Barents Euro-Arctic Sámi People: Keynote speech by Silje Karine Muotka

Summit of Barents Euro-Arctic Sámi People, Plenary session 1: Climate change & the Arctic, Brussels 23 March 2023

Keynote speech by Silje Karine Muotka, president of the Sámi Parliament in Norway:

Summit of Barents Euro-Arctic Sámi People: Keynote speech by Silje Karine Muotka, president of the Sámi Parliament in Norway

Giitu ja buorre iđit, buohkaide – Thank you, and good morning, everyone.

First, I would like to thank the organizers for the invitation and the opportunity to participate and address this session about climate change and the Arctic. This is a very important venue where we can discuss sustainable solutions for the earth, for the environment and particularly for Arctic communities, including where we live, in Sápmi.

Our future generations deserve to inherit a planet that is healthy, and that gives them hope to have meaningful lives with connections to their landscape and unique cultures.

Sápmi has in recent decades experienced major changes in the climate system. Sámi livelihoods are threatened by climate change. These changes are happening so fast and unpredictably that it is difficult, and sometimes impossible, to adapt to all the changes. We see impact both directly by a warming climate and impact of new land use because of mitigation measures.  

Climate change and biodiversity are two sides of the same coin. We must solve the climate and nature crises together. There is a close connection between the loss of nature and the emission of greenhouse gases. Intact ecosystems can be large stores of carbon. At the same time, we know that intact ecosystems are more robust against climate change than degraded ecosystems.

The ongoing climate change and loss of biodiversity are also challenging our food systems. We need healthy ecosystems that delivers food security and nutrition for all in such a way that it is sustainable on economic, social, and environmental bases. We do need support to ensure, maintain and strengthen Indigenous Peoples’ food systems and traditional knowledge.

For the Sámi people, this situation on ecosystem services and climate change boils down to the natural basis for our culture. It is an existential struggle, it is about the future for sámi culture, sámi language, sámi knowledge, and way of life.

Last week, the Sámi Parliament, herd in the news about the Green Alliance between EU and Norway. The current three priorities of the EU Arctic Policy are climate change, sustainable development, and international cooperation.

The EU shares the responsibility for global sustainable development, including in the Arctic region, and for the livelihood of its inhabitants, including Indigenous Peoples. We must ensure and enhance meaningful participation of Indigenous Peoples in the EU and Arctic decision making processes.

The other issue I must address is the explicit inclusion of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and especially its ‘free, prior and informed consent’ aspect, into any new EU Arctic policy.

This brings me to the point where I like to elaborate on why I think that so called green solutions often feels like a new colonization in many Indigenous Peoples areas. It is a fact that Indigenous Peoples have suffered from historic injustices because of colonization and dispossession of their lands, territories, and resources, thus preventing them from exercising, in particular, their right to development in accordance with their own needs and interests.

That is my claim, that we currently experience such a new green colonisation in Sápmi. In the name of the green shift, we see that the Scandinavian states give permits to companies to build new industry in our areas. That is especially wind energy development that causes problems for reindeer husbandry and traditional livelihood, but we have other examples as well.

In Norway we have many conflicts between wind energy development and the rights of sámi people who are affected. I must mention the Fovsen Njaarke Sijte and the Fosen case where the influenced reindeer herding district won in the Supreme court of Norway. In addition, we have the Jillen Njaarke Sijte – Øyfjellet-case that are scheduled for the court this year. And there is many new proposed plans, especially in the Finnmark County. We see that sámi authorities, organizations and right-holders who argue that non-consensual encroachments by so-called green industries on reindeer grazing land, in conflict with Sámi right holders, is a form of green colonialism.

The Fosen-case is a proof on that, licenses for wind power development were ruled invalid in 2021 as the construction violates Sámi reindeer herders' right to enjoy their own culture.

The case concerned whether the construction of 151 wind turbines on Fosen peninsula amounts to a violation of the reindeer herders' right to enjoy their own culture under Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. A grand chamber of the Supreme Court unanimously found a violation and ruled the license and expropriation decisions invalid.

The wind farms were established in year 2019 and 2020 and has since then produced electric energy in the recognized Sámi reindeer grazing area, without the free, prior, and informed consent from the affected Sámi reindeer herders, and from their representative institution, the Sámi Parliament in Norway. The Sámi reindeer herders affected by the wind farms are Nord-Fosen siida and Sør-Fosen sijte.

Therefore, a month ago, on 23 February 2023, a large group of young Indigenous human rights defenders, together with environmentalists, occupied the reception area and blocked the entrance of the building to Ministry of Petroleum and Energy in Oslo in protests because it has gone 500 days since the Supreme Court judgment, and the Government has done nothing to stop the ongoing human rights violation in Sør-Fosen sijte and Nord-Fosen siida. The protest was ended after the Government admitted the ongoing violation of Human Rights. Yes, you heard me correctly: Ongoing violation of Human Rights in Norway, as we speak. The protests was organized by the Norwegian Sámi Association Youth and Nature and Youth organization.

The Norwegian National Human Rights Institute and the Sámi Parliament stated that the national authorities are responsible for securing the rights in the human rights convention and through the provisions of the Human Rights Act in Norway. We have requested the ministry to follow up the judgment quickly and effectively measures that will remedy the ongoing violation. But, after 528 days, we are still waiting.

I also see that indigenous peoples must deal with the dramatic climate consequences at the same time as indigenous peoples are exposed to unfair costs of climate action. It is necessary that the right and just measures are taken to prevent this from happening. If it does not succeed, indigenous peoples will be further marginalized and displaced. Therefore, my message is that there must be a just climate transition in accordance with human rights.

I mean that climate measures must be built on the most appropriate measures and climate justice. Indigenous peoples, for example, cannot accept that land areas are unilaterally demolished with industries that aim to provide renewable energy and more industry. Such expansions to green energy can only take place when the indigenous people agree to it, and when they receive a fair share of value creation. If not, then this will act as a form of green colonialism towards indigenous peoples. Progress in extracting non-renewable resources such as minerals can be part of what is called the "green shift". A green shift can also be used as an argument for establishing a new industry that leads to the repression of indigenous peoples' business practices. Paradoxically, it can be a major threat to indigenous peoples' material cultural foundations.

The Sámi peoples experience that national and EU policies expand land uses for mining, wind energy and bio-economy, like large-scale forestry in the area, causing loss, fragmentation and degradation of pastures, increasing human disturbance, and reducing the adaptation space.

Attempts by the Sámi Parliament, sámi organizations, civil societies and right holders to stop wind power and mining projects have led to conflicts with other actors, including racist hate speech. Combined with land use conflicts climate impacts cause reduced psycho-social health and even increase suicidal thoughts among herders. Lack of control over land use is the biggest and most urgent threat to the adaptive capacity of reindeer herding and overall to the right of our culture and way of life.

Thank you for your attention – Ollu giitu!