Sami mining protest in Arctic Sweden

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Archive Photo: The Kuhmunen family lead reindeer at Jokkmokk Market in Northern Sweden Photo: Fredrik Sandberg, Scanpix, Radio Sweden.This week is festival time in the Arctic Circle town of Jokkmokk in Sweden’s Far North. 

But not all the Sami, the indigenous people of Sweden’s Arctic, will be celebrating.

Mining, forestry and hydroelectricity provide lucrative business opportunities across northern Sweden.

But exploiting natural resources often leads to conflict with Sami herders when reindeer grazing areas are blocked or damaged.

High mineral and iron ore prices have led to an explosion in prospecting in recent years and increased the number of conflicts, with a regular stream of objections being brought to court.

One of them centres on a mine planned just 40 kilometres west of Jokkmokk. The mining company Beowulf has been accused of illegal test drills that damage Sami grazing lands.

‘Is this the kind of world we want to live in?’

Mattias Pirak from the Jåhkågaska Sami reindeer herding community told Sami Radio that opportunities to make big profits from iron ore should not be an excuse to destroy the environment.

“If you think that way, then you might as well chop down every tree, dam up every river, and dig up every ton of iron ore there is,” he said.

“It can be very easy to make money, but you have to ask yourself is this the kind of world we want to live in?” he said.

Pirak and other Sami herders are organising a demonstration to coincide with one the most visible demonstrations of Sami culture. Every year the Jokkmokk parade provides a blaze of colour in the dark of winter as herders lead their reindeer through the snow in traditional dress.

The market is expecting about 40,000 visitors many of them foreign tourists, and the Sami protestors will also target them with flyers printed in English.

However Mattias Pirak says that after the market protest his community will continue with their campaign – and that they will never give up.

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