Artists boycott market in Arctic Sweden over mining conflict

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The Sami flag is pictured on snow covered trees at the Kallak prospecting area near Randijaur village, 40 kilometers north-west of Jokkmokk, in Swedish Lapland on November 6, 2013. (Jonathan Nackstrand / AFP)
The Sami flag is pictured on snow covered trees at the Kallak prospecting area near Randijaur village, 40 kilometers north-west of Jokkmokk, in Swedish Lapland on November 6, 2013. (Jonathan Nackstrand / AFP)
Thursday is Sami National Day, celebrated internationally by indigenous people of the European Arctic, including in Sweden.

This is also when the annual Jokkmokk Winter Market, with a history over 400 years old, starts in the far north of Sweden, just above the Arctic Circle. But the market is not without its controversies, and several artists are boycotting this year due to disputes over the possible establishment of a mine in Kallak, located in the municipality of Jokkmokk.

A handful of artists, designers and culture workers who were orginally planning to participate in the Jokkmokk Market have announced their decision to boycott.

Gallery owner Mia Viltok, who initiated the boycott with her sister Lena, told Swedish Radio P4 Norrbotten, “It was clear that we needed to follow our hearts and not participate in the market this year.”

Theme: Reindeer

The market attracts visitors from all over the world with different cultural events and crafts, and this year the theme is reindeer, and the brochure explains how important reindeer have been to the Sami over the centuries, both in terms of providing food, clothes, household goods and material for handicrafts.

“We’re taking a stand. We don’t think the leaders of our municipality in Jokkmokk can have their cake and eat it, too by saying a firm yes to the establishment of a mine that will wipe out the reindeer industry that’s the basis of our culture, while at the same time wanting to strengthen the Sami brand. By boycotting, we want to show that this is not okay,” said Viltok.

Instead she will go to the Sami week in Tromsö in Norway.

Controversial policy suggestion

The market is also highlighting another controversy, this one between the Sami community and the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats. In the tabloid Aftonbladet Thursday, two leaders of the Sami community, wrote an opinion piece expressing rage that Jimmie Åkesson, the leader of the Sweden Democrats wants to stop the current policy that permits Sami, and no one else, to keep reindeer.

“The Sweden Democrats argue that the state has reserved the right to keep reindeer for the Sami, and that it’s a privilege the state gave the Sami people,” write Ol-Johan Sikku and Torkel Stinnerbom. “This is absolutely wrong. The Sami were in Scandinavia long before the Scandinavian nations were founded.”

Ol-Johan Sikku and Torkel Stinnerbom accuse Åkesson’s rhetoric of echoing a time when “race biology” was in its “golden age” in Sweden, writing that at that time the Swedish state was doing everything it could to reduce the Sami population and make reindeer management into just another industry.

Åkesson will be visiting the market, according to Aftonbladet.

Related Links:

Canada: The Shard Protest – Are environmentalists trampling indigenous views on Arctic development?, Blog by Mia Bennett

Finland:  Finland last to sign indigenous rights treaty?, Yle News

Greenland: Analysis: Implications of Greenland’s decision to allow uranium mining, Blog by Mia Bennett

Norway:  Sustainable future for Arctic people?, from Deutsche Welle’s Iceblogger

Sweden: UN report critical of Sweden’s treatment of the Sami, Radio Sweden

Russia: Analysis – Putin shutters Russian indigenous peoples’, Blog by Mia Bennett

United States:  New interactive map details Alaska mining boom, Alaska Dispatch

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