The (Non-)Altruism of the Green Transition in the Saami Community

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Norway is a country that has been at the forefront of the fight against climate change. In fact, there has been a great deal of investment and encouragement from the Norwegian government in the production of renewable energies to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. There has therefore been a considerable increase in large wind farms to ensure an environmentally friendly energy transition focused on complying with the Paris Agreement.

This article basically wants to draw attention to the other side of the coin when it comes to the topic of energy transitions. On the one hand, national policies are promoting sustainability and ecology, where large renewable energy companies are consolidating their businesses and industries. On the other hand, this energy transition (“more environmentally friendly”) has a negative effect on small communities and their socio-cultural traditions.

The case of the Sámi minority in Norway (Figure 1) is an example of this paradox between the benefits of green energies and the survival of the indigenous community.

Figure 1: Sami women near a herd of reindeer. Source: Ever-Changing Sami Livelihoods; Historical Discourses towards Modernity Described from a Biopolitical and Geopolitical Perspective, 2018.

The construction of vast wind farms across reindeer herding territory (Figure 2) is a blatant example of how an abrupt and forced green transition jeopardises one of the community’s main activities (Figure 3). In other words, the installation of power stations threatens the continuation of reindeer herding and Sámi traditions.

Figure 2: Map Showing the location of two wind farms inside of Sámi territory. Source: The Conflict between a ‘Green Economy’ and Indigenous Livelihoods: A Norwegian Case., 2021
Figure 3: Wind farms encroaching on the grazing land of Sámi reindeer herders. Copyright: Heiko Junge / NTB / AFP

The Sámi people, long established in the north of the Scandinavian peninsula and Kola, have a history of colonialism in which they assimilated Western customs The imposition of colonialism was a threat to the continuity of this minority. However, the communities have been resilient and able to find solutions to maintain their identity and culture. In fact, in 1989, the Norwegian Sámi Act was created in which the Norwegian government must ensure that the culture of the Sámi communities is protected and must ensure the proper functioning of the Sámi Assembly. In addition, the government also has to ensure that the community is heard before making decisions for the country.

The article therefore analyses interviews with people (Sámi) involved in reindeer herding and takes stock of the impact that the installation of wind farms has on the community. At the same time, a feeling of lack of commitment on the part of the Norwegian government towards the Sámi can be seen, as well as how this community wants to continue fighting to be heard.

In conclusion, the transition to greener energies can and must be made, but it must also include Indigenous communities living within sovereign territories. Including the Sámi voice in this process is fundamental if the energy transition is to be truly for everyone. It is also important to warn of the dangers of excluding minorities in order to help create a well-informed public opinion capable of recognising that communities also have the right to be heard and safeguarded by justice.

Reference: Normann, S. (2021). Green colonialism in the Nordic context: Exploring Southern Saami representations of wind energy development. Journal of Community Psychology, 49(1), 77–94.

Author: Santiago Villalobos Dantas