The last indigenous peoples of the EU fight for self-determination and their territorial rights

The last indigenous peoples of the EU fight for self-determination and their territorial rights

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“The governments of Finland and Norway are trying to outlaw the salmon fishing practiced by the Sami people and give new fishing rights to the rich who have built huts on our land. It's a robbery in broad daylight. We are denied the right to our culture and access to one of the fundamental food sources in the Arctic. ”

A serious man dressed in the gákti, a traditional Sami costume (also Saami and known in Spanish as “Lapp people”), speaks in a video:

"This is a call for help," he begins. “The Governments of Finland and Norway are trying to outlaw the salmon fishing practiced by the Sami people and give new fishing rights to the rich who have built huts on our land. We are denied the right to our culture and access to one of the fundamental food sources in the Arctic ”.

The speaker is Aslak Holmberg, Vice President of the Sami Council, which represents the interests of the indigenous Sami people in Finland, Norway, Sweden and Russia. He is also a fisherman in Nuorgam, a town in the northernmost municipality of Finland, Ohcejohka (Utsjoki in Finnish).

"I have fished salmon with my father for as long as I can remember and I have learned more than I could possibly explain about subsistence, nature, language and culture."

The video was published in March, days before the Finnish government signed an agreement with Norway that drastically modifies fishing rights in the border river, the Deatnu (Teno in Finnish, Tana in Norwegian).

Permits have to be purchased online and by specific number of hours and days; each fisherman must buy his own permit; and the tributaries, previously exclusive to the local population, are now accessible to anyone who purchases fishing rights.

The agreement is an attempt by Norway and Finland to protect salmon as the Deatnu River is home to one of the most diverse salmon populations in the world. However, locals note that fishing rights for traditional techniques used by the Sami people have been disproportionately reduced, i.e. by 80%, while recreational fishing has seen a 30-40% decrease.

“They say they are protecting the salmon from us. Of us? Who depends more on salmon than we do? This contemptuous and paternalistic attitude towards indigenous peoples is common all over the world and it still seems to be completely acceptable in Norway and Finland, ”Holmberg says.

“They are ready to sacrifice the entire Sami culture of salmon fishing. This agreement is the clearest violation of the right of indigenous peoples to self-determination and even consultation ”.

The only indigenous peoples of Europe

Between 75,000 and 100,000 members of the Sami people live in the Arctic region of Norway, Finland, Sweden and Russia. Most live in Norway and Sweden, about 10% in Finland, and around 2,000 in the Russian Federation. They are an indigenous community whose life is closely linked to their homeland, Sápmi (known in Spanish as Lapland).

Reindeer herding is probably the most recognized of the traditional Arctic livelihoods, but fishing is another essential part of life for the Sami people.

Like indigenous peoples around the world, the Sami or Lapps have had to cope with incursion, colonization and extractive industries as they have been taxed on hides and hides since the 15th century.

In Norway, schooling in the Sami language was banned from the late 19th century until after World War II. Many Sami were also forced to adopt a Norwegian name as a prerequisite for owning land.

In Sweden and Finland, these policies were not official, but many older Sami still speak of the shame of their language and culture.

Also in both countries, many indigenous children were sent to boarding schools where they were not allowed to speak their own language.

Rights to culture and language are now guaranteed in all states where Sami populations live, except Russia, but conflicts over fisheries and land rights underline the different interpretations that Western states and indigenous peoples attribute to culture".

"Traditional livelihoods and the use of our lands, waters, including those of the sea, and natural resources are the foundation of the culture and identity of the Sami people," says a statement by the Sami Conference, the highest governing body. of the Sami Council.

The interests of the Sami people are represented by the Sami Parliaments in Finland, Sweden and Norway, as well as by the Council which extends to all States. However, its power is only advisory.

"They can hear us, but they don't listen to us"

Climate change also poses new challenges for the Sami people. Warmer summers allow southern species to migrate further north, and unpredictable winters affect traditional livelihoods that depend on seasonal patterns, such as reindeer herding. It also makes the Arctic region more accessible to industry.

In recent years there has been a mining boom in the Arctic region. A still ongoing conflict over reindeer grazing land related to an iron ore mine in Kallok, Sweden, made international headlines in 2013. The Arctic region also has significant reserves of uranium, gold, diamonds, zinc, platinum and nickel, as well as gas and oil.

The response of the Swedish Sami Parliament to the interest shown in extraction has been very clear: “While awaiting the ratification and implementation in Swedish law of the ILO [Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989] 169 and the Nordic Sami Pact, the Swedish Sami Parliament would like a moratorium on all exploitation in Sápmi [Lapland]. All natural resources, both above and below ground, found in traditional Sami territory belong to the Sami people. This issue is clearly specified, among others, in Article 26 of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples ”.

On the other hand, Finland is planning a railway line to the Arctic Sea. Heikki Paltto, reindeer herder and vice president of the Finnish Sami Parliament, tellsEqual Times your concern for initiatives such as this railway:

“Indigenous peoples and reindeer herding should be taken into account when planning large projects. At the very least, they should evaluate its various impacts. In general, in matters and legislation concerning the Sami people, our views are hardly taken into account ”.

“They can hear us, but they don't necessarily listen to us. They always say they have the best intentions, but in reality Finland does not respect our human rights ”, Paltto denounces.

If they did, says the pastor and politician, the Deatnu river fishing agreement would not have been "done as it was." Finland also updated its legislation on forestry administration last year, and a clause preventing the weakening of the Sami culture was excluded from the final version of the legislative text.

Finland and Sweden, like Russia, have not ratified Convention No. 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO).

Rights and Moratorium

Anni Ahlakorpi, a local councilor for Ohcejohka, describes Holmberg's video of the fishing agreement as a "red flag." He even refuses to call these new arrangements “agreement”: “We did not agree. Everyone here was against it, the municipality of Utsjoki was against it, local businesses were against it, the Sami Parliament, the fishing districts were also against it, so it is misleading to call it 'agreement' ”.

He has joined the movement that is now known asThey Deatnu! (Long live the Deatnu River!). A moratorium has been declared on the river-shaped island of Čearretsuolu, where the local population actively disobeys the new legislation.

The movement has galvanized the local community. At the end of July, more than 700 people attended a benefit concert in Ohcejohka, a city with only a population of 400 and a center with a supermarket, a bar and a gas station. But Ahlakorpi considersThey Deatnu! as a continuity of previous movements in Sápmi, such as the resistance to the Kallok mine.

They Deatnu! It has also written to the governments of Finland and Norway, asking them to provide proof that they have a right to the river.

“If you could show a letter, a statement or an agreement where the local population has granted the rights to the State, we ask you to show it to us. As far as we know, no one at the local level has signed a document to grant ownership of the river to the nation states, ”explains Ahlakorpi.

As Paltto points out from his home surrounded by thick wild nature turned into a national park, but which in turn is the grazing area for their reindeer: “Our parents have lived here for a long time and they have always told us that these lands are ours. .

“We have grown up with this idea and it comes naturally to us. And, of course, we want to protect them. There is the origin of the conflict ”.


This article has been translated from English.

Originally published in Equal Times

Video: What is Self-Determination? (June 2022).


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