MAC: Mines and Communities

The Week Ending Essay: Subverting Scandinavia's Sami

Published by MAC on 2020-07-23
Source: The Independent Barent's Observer (2020-07-13)

This article is, in our opinion, extremely well-researched and presented; we thank the London Mining Network for sharing it with us.

It focusses attention on how extractive companies, assisted by chemicals manufacturers, electric-driven vehicle producers, and with the support of Scandinavian ruling governments, are now methodically trying to possess and divide-up Indigenous Sami territory that ought to be protected by UN legislation.

All this is happening within a falsely-framed consumerist context that manifestly owes nothing to original peoples' cultural values - ones that have sustained them and their ecosphere over many centuries.

 

How miners’ hunt for metals to power electric cars threatens Sámi reindeer herders’ homeland

Some of the metals that are key to a green transportation transition can
be found in Arctic Europe. But they lie beneath a landscape that's vital
to the Sami way of life.

By

Thomas Nilsen

The Independent Barents Observer -

13 July 2020

Tuomas Siilasjoki and Minna Näkkäläjärvi say they were taken by surprise
when a mobile drill rig one day appeared in the horizon. Nobody had asked
them about exploring for minerals inside their siida, a reindeer foraging
area, in northern Finland. The Sámi families here in Tarvantovaara
wilderness area fear the world’s hunger for metals to ramp up the green
economy will destroy their indigenous way of life.

There is not much vegetation on the mountain plateau, but for reindeer,
this is valuable feeding grounds in summer and autumn. Windy enough to
avoid insects so more time can be spent on eating. The picturesque
landscape in Finland’s northwestern “arm” is one of Europe’s last great
wilderness. The nearest road is several hours’ walk away. From a height of
about 600 meters above sea level, the Norwegian municipality of Kautokeino
can be seen to the north and the Swedish village of Karesuando is in the
far horizon to the south.

Homeland to Sámi reindeer herders since ancient times, though, it is what
is beneath the surface of these moss- and lichen-covered rocks that now
draws global attention. Studies made by the Geological Survey of Finland
show findings of nickel, copper, vanadium and cobalt, all being minerals
highly demanded in the production of electric vehicle batteries. According
to a scenario report by the International Energy Agency the numbers of
electric vehicles are expected to boom up to 116 million in 2030. That is
significantly up from the 2020 estimated sales of EVs, believed to be 1.7
million globally.

Battery producers supplying carmakers like VW, Nissan, Hyundai and Tesla
are already rushing to secure as much raw materials as possible. Metal
prices are skyrocketing, making mining companies even more eager to
explore new areas. Electrification of the transport sector and renewable
energy production are key to slow down the global climate crisis. But it
all comes with a price: Mining. Big mining. In that regard, northern
Scandinavia proves very promising.

For Minna Näkkäläjärvi, the battle to save her part of Lapland has just
started.

“It’s not possible for reindeer husbandry and mining to co-exist in the
same area,” she says. “The grazing land and migration routes vary from
year to year depending on natural conditions,” she explains and tells how
climate changes make it all even more unpredictable.

During summer the sun doesn’t set for weeks over the Sámi village on the
banks of Lake Salvasjärvi, some 230 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle.
This is where Minna, Tuomas and the other herders in the siida gather the
reindeer for marking the calves. Reindeer do not like the heat and with
temperatures above 20 degrees C, the herders decide to wait until late
evening before bringing the animals to the enclosure where the marking
takes place.

The marking is the time when they all team together. Adults and teenagers,
the elderly and even the youngest children participate. Joni (11) was
practicing throwing the lasso at some logs while most others were still
sleeping. “I’m starting to be good,” he smiles and can hardly wait for the
hundreds of reindeer and calves to be brought to the enclosure. “This
isn’t only about a job, reindeer is our culture, our lifestyle,” Minna
says.

Sámi traditions may vanish too if reindeer herding disappears. The Sámi
peoples in northernmost Scandinavia are the only Indigenous peoples in the
European Union.

Piercing of the calf’s ear, by cutting their owner’s mark, makes it
possible later to recognize which reindeer belongs to whom. It sounds more
brutal than it actually is. Identifying and capturing the calves with the
lasso, though, takes hours and some of the young animals get exhausted by
running in circles inside the enclosure. Good then, to get some reindeer
milk from a feeding bottle. The annual calf marking is important for
passing knowledge from one generation to the next.

It has gone four years since the drilling rig and a tracked vehicle came
to collect samples from the rocks on behalf of the Geological Survey of
Finland (GTK). More 3,300 meters of core samples from some 20 drilling
sites, additional to aeromagnetic surveys in the 245 square kilometers
Hietakero area inside the Tarvantovaara and Käsivarsi wilderness areas
proved findings of copper, cobalt and nickel, the GTK report from 2018
reads. In February 2020, the Finnish branch of the Dutch-based Akkerman
Exploration made a notification reservation. The reservation was approved
by the Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency in April.

Jan H. Akkerman, Managing Director of Akkerman Finland OY, says more
early-stage exploration studies are needed and that no decision is yet
taken on whether or not to apply for an exploration permit.

“At this very early stage of investigation it is difficult to define
whether reindeer herding and mining can coexist in the Hietakero,”
Akkerman says.

He explains that more knowledge is needed on whether there are any
mineable mineral deposits and what the eventual type and scale of mining
and mineral processing would be. “For now we are interested to understand
the views and concerns of the local community, as well as possible
interest for cooperation or participation.”

Akkerman welcomes dialogue with local stakeholders and makes clear that a
decision whether to apply for an exploration permit or not will be taken
after all have had a chance to present their opinion and submitted
possible complaints.

For Minna, the assurance that no mining will start without dialogue is not
soothing.

“Nobody ever asked us before they started geological surveys in the
mountain. If mining is approved, we have no rights to appeal according to
Finnish law.” She says even the uncertainty has a negative impact. “The
younger generation, my children, start to wonder whether or not reindeer
herding has a future, or if they should give up (and) choose another
occupation.”

What about the world’s need for metals vital for the transition to a green
economy?

“I don’t know which metals they found, but I don’t think the world will be
a happier place without our Sámi reindeer herding culture,” Minna says.
She looks thoughtfully towards the horizon before stating frankly: “If we
lose the grazing land to mining, we lose everything.”

Tuomas adds that the mountain plateau in question for mining is the summer
and autumn pasture land. “We have nowhere else to move. All other areas
are occupied by other reindeer herders.” 70 percent of the Hietakero area
reserved for mining by Akkerman Finland Oy covers Erkuna siida. The rest
of the municipality of Enontekiö, the “arm” of Finland, is divided between
other siida.

When the mining reservation became known, Minna started a website
collecting names for a petition calling on a permanent ban on mining in
the municipality of Enontekiö. After two weeks, more than 6,000 people had
signed. “We have no other option than trying to influence the politicians
in Helsinki, attract attention. Maybe it is hopeless, but then I have at
least given it a try,” she says. The signatures will be handed over to the
Finnish government.

Minna explains how the Sámi people have already seen the devastating
effects that ‘development’ projects have brought to the Sámi homeland with
waste, deforestation and extinction. “We as a people, can’t take the risk
that the encroaching mining companies lay waste on our lands and leave us
with toxic, barren wastelands,” she states.

Unlike Norway, Finland has not ratified the ILO Convention on the Rights
of Indigenous Peoples. If signed, it would give the Sámi a bigger say over
their traditional culture and homeland.

At the University of Lapland in Rovaniemi, professor Jukka Similä is an
expert on natural resources and Arctic environmental protection. He
confirms that the pressure to increase mining is linked with higher
demands for battery metals.

“The government of Finland is very positive and authorities like to
promote mining industry all over Finland, especially here in Lapland and
eastern Finland,” Similä says. He doesn’t expect a boom in opening of new
mines in the nearest years, but points to Sakatti deposit north of
Sodankylä as one of the most controversial from an environmental point of
view.

“The mineral deposits are partly located in the Viiankiaapa nature
conservation area. The deposit is so rich that they plan to enter the area
via a tunnel from outside the protected zone,” Similä says. “But for now,”
he elaborates “it is difficult to make any impact assessment because we
don’t know the details of the mining company’s plans.”

The professor, though, believes the plans have the potential to become a
huge international environmental conflict.

Sakatti Mining Oy is the Finnish subsidiary of Anglo American.

The company describes the deposit, whose riches lies hundreds of meters
beneath the Earth’s surface, as having an “excellent exploration potential
for metals of the future.” That includes battery metals like nickel,
cobalt, copper, but also platinum, palladium, gold and silver. Sakatti
Mining underlines the importance of protecting nature, stating “when done
right, impacts on the conservation area can be minimized.”

For now, the company concentrates on test-drilling to determine the
potential of the deposit.

A few kilometers further north is Sweden’s mining giant Boliden operating
the Kevista mine, one of the biggest open-pit mines in Finland where both
nickel and copper are extracted. Outside Gällivare, Boliden is also
operating Sweden’s largest open-pit copper mine.

Boliden Kevitsa near Sodankylä in Lapland is located south of the core
Sámi area. Behind this gate is one of the biggest open-pit mines in
Finland. The main products are nickel and copper concentrate and in
addition to this also significant amounts of platinum, palladium, gold and
cobalt.

The reindeer herders in the Erkuna siida believe their fight isn’t only
about them. Allowing for one mining company could set precedent for many
others to follow. Similar conflicts between reindeer herding and mining
companies take place in northern Norway and Sweden. And mining just adds
to the pressure already existing from construction of wind-mills, logging,
tourism, railway plans and road construction.

Pirita Näkkäläjärvi, Member of the Sámi Parliament and former editor of
Yle’s Sámi-language news, says the area available for traditional Sámi
livelihoods has been reduced and fragmented by the demands of other forms
of land usage. “When threatened by competing land usage, reindeer herders
simply don’t have anywhere else to go with their reindeer,” she says and
explains that Finland has 54 herding cooperatives where reindeer have to
stay within the boundaries.

The Sámi homeland comprises the municipalities of Enontekiö, Inari,
Utsjoki, as well as the Lapland reindeer herding cooperative in Sodankylä.

“Information about large-scale projects, like the mining plans, is
typically reaching Indigenous rights owners of the area randomly via
grapevine and newspapers,” Pirita says. “Neither the reindeer herding
cooperative nor the Sámi Parliament in Finland received an official
notification about the Hietakero reservation.”

The Sámi Parliament has appealed against the mining reservation, but
Pirita fears the protest will fall on deaf ears.

“The appeals might not have any impact because the Supreme Administration
Court in 2013 decided that under the Mining Act, reindeer herders,
reindeer-herders cooperatives and the Sámi Parliament have no right to
appeal on reservations in the Sámi homeland. This right is reserved to
competing companies only.”

Manufacturing of batteries, mainly for electric vehicles, now accounts for
60 percent of the 125,000 tonnes of annual global mined cobalt. As human
rights organizations put a stronger pressure on battery producers to stay
away from Congolese child cobalt mining, developing new deposits in other
places are most welcomed to meet the current shortage caused by strong
demand growth from battery-powered cars, trucks and busses.

While your smartphone battery contains some 5 to 20 grams of cobalt, an
electric car requires between 3 to 30 kilos of the same metal. Some
car-makers, though, like Tesla, says it might be possible to produce
batteries without cobalt in the future. Others, focusing on
next-generation solid-state batteries, expect the cathode to contain
similar amounts of cobalt. Electrification of the transport sector is
expected to push the annual global cobalt demand to between 250,000 and
300,000 tonnes over the next decade.

A European Commission strategic action plan for batteries production
estimates that Europe could capture a battery market of up to €250 billion
a year from 2025 onwards. However, the EU acknowledges that access to raw
materials is of top importance as 96% of them are produced outside Europe
today. Lithium, nickel, manganese and cobalt mainly come from South
America, Congo, Russia and Asia. “This means that if the EU does not act,
it will become increasingly dependent on third countries such as Brazil
and China,” the EU statement said.

Securing raw materials like cobalt, nickel and copper inside Europe to a
large extent means mining in northern Scandinavia. The ongoing transport
revolution with switching from fossil fuels to electric power could
trigger a mining and industry boom of unprecedented dimensions in the
North.

“It could become bigger than the oil industry,” says Frederic Hauge,
founder of the Bellona Foundation. Hauge is a true electric car enthusiast
and was the first to drive electric all way from Oslo to the North Cape in
2013.

Together with industry and investment partners, Hauge recently founded
Morrow Batteries, aimed at building a battery cell factory to start
production in Norway by 2024. “Norway could have three to four battery
factories,” he says.

“The electrification of the transport sector is extremely important to
solve the climate changes,” Hauge says and states that “we will need an
enormous amount of batteries for the future.”

He admits that this green shift doesn’t come without consequences. “We do
have to discuss the conflicts of mining these minerals and need to be
honest about that, but we also have to remind ourselves that the oil
industry also comes with a lot of consequences.”

Hauge calls on the environmental movement to be open and take the debate
about Arctic mining. “If you really take global warming seriously you do
need to have exploitation of copper. And yes, that will have environmental
impacts, some places conflicting with special local environmental values,
also conflicting with native peoples’ way of living. Those are dilemmas we
need to talk about.”

In northern Sweden, Finland and Norway, three other battery cell factories
are already in pipe. Northvolt in Skellefteå, Nornickel and BASF in
Harjavalta and FREYR in Mo i Rana.

First to enter production is Northvolt’s giga-factory in Skellefteå,
northern Sweden. Founded by two former Tesla executives, Northvolt will
commence large-scale manufacturing in 2021 and will ramp up capacity to at
least 32 GWh production by 2024. The company has signed deals with both
the Volkswagen Group and the BMW Group and is a major receiver of support
from the European Commission to help meet Europe’s green battery
production strategy. Car-makers want battery production as close as
possible, and from northern Scandinavia, the production happens with 100
percent renewable energy, a greenish sales-argument in itself compared to
coal-powered production in China.

Key customers have already ordered batteries from Northvolt with a value
of $13 billion through 2030, the company informs. From its test production
facilities in Sweden, Northvolt delivered the first battery pack in 2018.
That pack was installed in a vehicle for underground mining. If Northvolt
will succeed in securing all its raw materials from transparent mining in
Scandinavia remains to [be] see[n].

At Harjavalta refinery in northern Finland, Nornickel has entered
partnership with BASF on supply of raw materials for production of
lithium-ion batteries in Europe. Harjavalta gets nickel and cobalt
feedstock from Nornickel’s mines in Russia.

In Mo i Rana, the Norwegian start-up FREYR aims at building a lithium-ion
battery cell giga-factory with a capacity similar to Northvolt’s
Skellefteå factory of 32 GWh. FREYR says its ambition is to develop a
Nordic battery belt of four giga-factories. Production at the Mo i Rana
factory is estimated to commence by 2023. FREYR’s activity is also
financially supported by the European Union.

 

 

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