Sweden approves controversial iron mine on indigenous Sami land
The Swedish government has given the green light to a controversial iron mine that locals say threatens their livelihoods. Beowulf Mining, a British company, will now begin an environmental review of its proposed Kallak mine and submit an application to start processing the ore. The mine was strongly opposed by the Sami natives in Sweden, as well as by the United Nations.
The decision comes as Sweden is in the midst of a national toll over its treatment of the Sami. In 2020, Sweden established an independent truth commission to investigate past abuses against the Sami, who have faced generations of rights abuses, discrimination, land theft and cultural eradication.
Sami people and other activists have been protesting the mine at Kallak (Gállok in the Sami language) since Beowulf began exploring mining activities in 2006. Kallak, believed to be located in the municipality of Jokkmokk in the province of Lapland, could producing hundreds of millions of tons of iron ore creating dust that could pollute the air and water of the region, in addition to infrastructure that the Sami believe will disrupt their reindeer herding. The company said the mine will create hundreds of jobs in the region.
“When the conditions for reindeer herding in Gállok are eradicated, it ultimately means that the conditions for maintaining Sami culture in the area are also removed,” the Sami Parliament wrote in a statement.
The Sami have been recognized as an indigenous people in Sweden since 1977, and it is estimated that up to 40,000 Sami live in Sweden, many of whom live in Sapmi, traditional Sami lands that cross Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. The area is crucial for Sami reindeer herding, an essential part of Sami culture that also contributes to the ecological health and diversity of the area. It is also home to the World Heritage Site of Laponia, recognized by UNESCO as an outstanding example of traditional land use and for its natural beauty. The mine would be less than 40 kilometers from Laponia.
Although the Swedish government’s decision means that Beowulf can carry out environmental studies, the speaker of the Sami Parliament, Håkan Jonsson, issued a statement saying he was skeptical that these studies would lead to meaningful environmental protections.
In February, the UN joined the Sami in resisting the mine, pointing out the toxic dust the mine will produce and calling on the government to consult with the Sami. “We call on Sweden to build future good faith relationships with indigenous peoples at the national level, based on recognition of their cultural heritage and traditional livelihoods,” UN officials wrote in a statement. “A decision not to approve the Gállok project may demonstrate a decisive change from past injustices.”
Earlier this year, the Swedish government passed a law requiring consultation with Sami representatives on “matters of particular importance to the Sami people”, but the law does not come into effect until 2024. Jonsson’s statement says that the decision contradicts the spirit of the law.