Swedish police have repeatedly broken up a protest occupation by Sámi indigenous people against iron mining in a crucial reindeer herding area above the Arctic Circle. Two weeks ago, police had to dig protesters out of the ground after they buried themselves to the neck in order to shut down a road. Jokkmokk Iron Mines, subsidiary of UK-based Beowulf Mining, runs the Kallak (Gállok) site, on lands ostensibly coming under Sámi autonomous rule. Sametinget, the nascent Sámi general assembly, has issued a demand to halt all mining on Sámi lands without prior consultation. But the Swedish government does not recognize Sámi indigenous title. "The Sámi have no power to stop people coming here to exploit the land without giving anything back, not just to the local community, but also to the Swedish state," said Josefina Lundgren Skerk, chair of the Sametinget youth council.
The occupation of the site was launched in July. Among those removed from the protest lines was 85-year-old reindeer herder Apmut-Ivar Kuoljok. Swedish police have dismantled the blockade and arrested protesters, but other protesters rebuilt the blockade after the police had left. The protesters have also suffered racist abuse from locals, who threatened them with axes. The Sametinget issued a statement saying, "the police used a lot of unnecessary force, dragging the activists along the ground. The activists were passive and did not resist."
The territory is used by the Sirges and Jåhkågasska Sámi communities for reindeer herding, a practice which remains crucial to their culture. Jonas Vannar, from the Sirges Sámi community, told Survival International, "This project endangers our entire existence."
There are an estimated 80,000 Sámi in Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia, of whom more than 20,000 live in Sweden. The mining struggle has brought greater pressure on Sweden to ratify ILO 169, the only legally binding international convention on the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples. (Survival International, Sept. 3; The Local, Sweden, Aug. 13)
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