MAC: Mines and Communities

Hope in the midst of Finland's "extractive tsunami"

Published by MAC on 2016-10-26
Source: Snowchange Co-operative

The Sami’s Näätämö River Revival: Hope in the midst of Finland’s extractive tsunami

Finland’s new forestry law is opening up the country’s Arctic north and the territory of indigenous Sami people to mining, forestry and other extractive industries. YLNM Regional Coordinator for the Eurasian Arctic, Tero Mustonen, reports on how the Sami and others are resisting new destruction and reviving healthy ecosystems.

By Tero Mustonen

Snowchange Co-operative

15 October 2016

In the Spring 2016 the Metsähallitus Law, much to the opposition of large portions of the public, all of the Indigenous Sámi communities and Parliament and several environmental NGOs, passed in the Finnish Parliament. The Law transfers large tracts of wilderness lands, most of which lie in the home land of the Sámi, to potential and actual economic uses (forestry, mining, freshwater development). Additionally the Law transfers millions of hectares of land to potential commercial uses across Finland, not just Lapland. This includes areas along the Baltic Sea coasts and inland lakes.

How has the aftermath developed over the past six months? Several ‘micro-conflicts’ have evolved while the aftermath remains relatively unknown to all parties. This short article reviews the situation in Sámi areas and other parts of Lapland.

A forestry conflict developed almost immediately between the mostly Sámi reindeer cooperative called “Muddusjärvi” and Finnish state-owned logging company Metsähallitus in the spring of 2016. After an initial ‘war of words’ the parties have now entered into a discussion process regarding what parts of the reindeer community lands will be logged and what will be ‘spared’. Metsähallitus and the cooperative have agreed to follow Akwé:kon Protocol in this case. These are voluntary guidelines designed to include indigenous peoples in the assessment of cultural, environmental and social impact of proposed developments on sacred sites and on lands and waters they have traditionally occupied.

The Sámi have not been supported, however, to have the capacity to work on an equal footing in these discussions according to article 70 of the Akwé:kon process. This requires that resources, including financial, technical and legal support should be made available to indigenous and local communities.

In addition, the baseline of socio-ecological information is not developed adequately for a proper assessment to take place. The next few months will indicate the lasting impact of this initiative. Logging in other sites proceeds and is a mix of negotiations and expanded clear cuts in the north boreal.

In terms of mining and the Sámi, on the 7th July 2016 the Finnish state mining authority provided an exploration licence to the state geological survey inside the Sámi space in Enontekiö area. This decision was severely contested by the Sámi parliament, reindeer herder’s organisations, public organisations and others. It is the first of its kind for the Western Sámi areas of Finland, with a total coverage of 390 hectares. The exploration area is located inside a EU Natura 2000 Special Protected Area and the domestic IUCN protected area for marsh mires. The Geological Survey is mostly exploring for copper, iron and gold.

Another crucial mining development is at the southern border of the Sámi space, just outside it in the municipality of Sodankylä, in middle Lapland. There mining company Anglo American Sakatti has received permits to explore a 490 hectare territory inside a EU Natura 2000 Special Protected Area of a Lapland aapa bog called Viiankiaapa. The bog ecosystem is unique with very few of such intact aapa bogs left in the country. It is a strict IUCN protected area. The process has triggered large protests locally and nationally. It is seen as a case for the future as the company will operate inside Natura 2000 area. The mining processes are not strictly connected with the Metsähallitus Law development as they are administered by TUKES, another state authority, but should be understood in the context of the larger geopolitical push to develop the wilderness areas of Lapland, together.

A third process of interest is under way in the northernmost Sámi community of Utsjoki with the rights to the Atlantic Salmon, an iconic cultural and biological resource of the Sámi along the Teno / Deatnu river. This river, a border river between Norway and Finland, is one of the most productive for the wild Atlantic Salmon, attracts a large tourism fishery yearly and is the biggest remaining Sámi salmon river in Finland. Over the summer, despite the full opposition of Sámi communities and Parliament, the Government of Finland decreed severe limitations to the Sámi cultural harvests of salmon, including the salmon dams, drift nets and other fishing techniques they have traditionally employed. This fishery is controlled by Metsähallitus. The conflict is now open and very severe between the parties.

Meanwhile, Skolt Sámi communities, fishermen and women, Snowchange Cooperative and many other partners are moving ahead with the Näätämö River Co-management Project, a benchmark new-style governance and restoration process that includes science and Indigenous knowledge in trying to find answers to the climate change impacts affecting, on top of everything else, the Sámi space. This autumn the parties have been able to move ahead in planning of ecological restoration of Vainosjoki sub-catchment area, a basin negatively affected by the Metsähallitus channeling in 1968-1972. The aim is to restore trout and grayling spawning areas and habitats. Vainosjoki is a pilot site for community- and Sámi –led restoration work for climate resilience. Our aim is to complete the actual restoration by September 2017 on these sites.

Näätämö Project, due to the special legal and political positioning of the Skolts, provides a much needed, positive beacon and counter-narrative of alternate solutions and options in the context of rapidly proceeding climate change in Lapland, to the current tsunami of natural resources conflicts.


Dr. Tero Mustonen, a passionate defender of traditional worldview and cosmology of his people, is a Finn and head of the village of Selkie in North Karelia, Finland. He works for the award-winning Snowchange Cooperative, which is a non-profit organization based in Finland with members across the Arctic, including the communities of Eastern Sámi, Chukchi, Yukaghir, Sakha, Evenk, Even, Inuit, Inuvialuit, Gwitchin and many more.


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