A mining company defeated in Samiland by local resistance!
A year ago I wrote about Karelian Diamond Resources seeking diamond mining rights in Utsjoki. The local inhabitants rose to resistance and expelled this Irish company from Northern Lapland ending it’s yearn for diamond excavation in exchange for destroying the most important salmon river in Europe. [Irish Independent, referred 14.4.2015 ]
Karelian was scared off by the bad publicity of mining in indigenous Sami people’s land against their will. The victory sends a strong message: indigenous rights must be acknowledged and respected.
However the true receivers of this message must be the Finnish authorities that did unforgivingly poor job in both preparation, presenting and communicating this mining exploration project. The Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency (Tukes) was utterly unaware of the Finnish legistlation and good business conduct while administrating the mining exploration rights to Karelian. First Tukes didn’t communicate with other Finnish government agencies in a good manner leaving multiple questions unasked granting e.g. the rights to use motorized vehicles in places where they are strictly forbidden. In addition Tukes granted rights to seek exploration in a strict nature reserve. In both cases Metsähallitus – Park and wildlife agency had to seek correction after Tukes had granted Karelian rights with out consulting with Metsähallitus first.
Second Tukes didn’t communicate their decisions in Sami language even though required to do so by the Finnish legislation. They did that only after being asked to do so but were clearly unprepared for these requests.
It is totally another question what motivated Tukes to grant such rights to seek destruction of the most important still free running Arctic river in Europe in the heart of indigenous Samiland virtually on the border of two nations Norway and Finland. My take: lack of professional competence and poor management skills with a hint of arrogance.
I also want to question Metsähallitus for it’s stay-at-home conduct on this mining exploration episode. Fully aware that Utsjoki (the river) is perhaps the most important Freshwater pearl mussel (critically endangered) habitat in Finland, they did absolutely nothing to bring this issue into public discussion. Not to mention the salmons. It seems their business code is to remain passive instead of being active. Information delay leads to wasted resources.
But the community stepped in. Together we can! Where You find value in Your own environment You can Stand up against injustice. With reason and argument minds can be won. Where there is a will there is a way.
Kevo, Deatnu/Teno/Tana, Utsjoki. This is the place where Karelian Diamond Resources (later Karelian) from Dublin Ireland plans an open pit mine. The river is Ohcejohka (Finnish: Utsjoki). A Sami heritage site, a nationally valued landscape area, and the most important daughter river of the most important wild salmon river of Europe. On top of the hill begins Kevo Strict Nature Reserve – a Natura 2000 area and an area excluded from people due to its flora and fauna. Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency (Tukes) has granted Karelian a research permit to explore diamond mining that extends into the Kevo Strict Nature Reserve.
This land is at the heart of the Sami. The mine would destroy the ten thousand year old livelihood of salmon fishing, severely weaken reindeer herding possibilities and destroy landscape and natural values irreversibly. There is a reason the state of Finland hasn’t signed the ILO Convention No. 169. The convention would grant rights to the Sami indigenous people to their land and give them power in matters that affect their future.
“Mining industry is the Nokia of the future”. These are the actual words by our standing president Mr. Sauli Niinistö (Taloussanomat / Kaleva: in Finnish). It seems to be the consensus amongst our political ‘leaders’. The reality is different. Almost all (if not all) of the current mines in Finland balance between living and dying – floating and going belly up. The most constant product from Finnish mining industry are the applications to exceed their toxic waste water allowance into the nature. Extremely poor managerial skills and technology failures are a routine in mining – a strong contrast to the overoptimistic promises of ‘green technology mining’ that label every single new mining plan in Finland.
A mine in Ohcejohka river valley would be extremely destructive. The landscape carves out into this valley from all over the fell plateaus around it. No matter where the waste water pools would be established the water would eventually pour into Ohcejohka. There is no place to dump the waste rock except the river valley where the river runs. Or the Kevo Strict Nature Area. A significant reindeer calving area is just a rock throw away. Kevo Strict Nature reserve is adjacent to the mining area. To top it all: the iconic Kevo canyon is 3 kilometers away from the diamond research site.
The State of Finland Refuses to Ratify ILO 169 in Favor of Short Term Investments
If ILO Convention No. 169 was signed by the state of Finland, the Sami would have their say in matters such as mining in Samiland. Vast majority of the inhabitants in Utsjoki municipality are Sami. Ratification of ILO Convention No. 169 would almost certainly mean the end of mining business in northernmost Finland. It is either pure nature or poisoned nature. From up here the choice would seem logical – almost all of the local income comes from unpolluted nature and tourism. The state of Finland has chosen to overlook these needs against better judgement. It drives towards low premium – low skill – exploitative – short term economy.
Sami people have lived through a period of strong Finnish colonization from 1695 until 20th century. The Finnish Lutheran Church has officiallyapologized (Finnish Broadcasting Company: news) the violations of human rights of that period. These violations were part of the Finnish state coordinated ‘Finlandization’. The King of Norway has apologized Norwegian colonization of Sami in Norway (The Associated Press story) and Norway has ratified ILO Convention No. 169 improving Sami rights to their land and water.
The state of Finland denies such colonization and refuses to ratify ILO Convention No. 169. (Read president of Finland Mr. Sauli Niinistö deny Finnish colonization. YLE: news). This interpretation conflicts the academic consensus, the Finnish Lutheran church’s interpretation, the interpretation by the Kingdom of Norway and naturally the interpretation by the Sami parliament of Finland. However this is the official status of the State of Finland until proven different. The colonization is well and kicking.
A Dangerous Game
The state of Finland is playing a dangerous game. Ohcejohka flows into Deatnu (Finnish: Teno, Norwegian: Tana) river, which is a border river between Finland and Norway. Norway has already taken steps to increase the protection of Deatnu’s wild salmon after it grew tired of cooperating with Finland in that matter (The state of Finland treats Deatnu’s wild salmon population as an abundant natural resource owned by the state. Norway recognizes it as a scarce resource owned at least partially by the locals i.e. Sami) . The state of Finland has chosen to overlook the vulnerability and special circumstances of Arctic nature.
The latest Finnish mining legislation was heavily lobbied by the mining industry as it was formed a few years back. It violates not only the rights of every citizen in Finland to own land and to livelihood but also is in gross violation to indigenous people’s rights defined by the United Nations, the European Union defined Natura 2000 -legislation and also violates the rights of foreign citizens across national borders.
By allowing mining industry at the heart of Sami heritage site and also potentially endangering Norwegian Sami people’s rights to their land and water the state of Finland is in danger of running into conflict with Norway and eventually European Union and the United Nations. As a Finnish citizen there is nothing I find dignifying in the way the state of Finland treats its own citizens and cultivates the richness found in multiculturalism.
Current mining legislation in Finland is in super rapid need of total change. Karelian Diamond Research advertises on its web site its close and longstanding relationship with the Finnish national agency Geological Survey of Finland. The state of Finland is selling our national treasures to the highest faceless bidders in expense of its own citizens. In fact you have to pay close to nothing for mining research permits. The state agencies completely lack experience and comprehensive knowledge of their actions. Their ignorant decisions threaten Finnish citizens, our national treasures and our environment. By overlooking these issues the state of Finland is selling its citizens and our land at a fire sale.
How would You feel if we poured some Talvivaara uranium oxide into your Guinness?
The news has gained international attention. Finland is a bilingual country (Finnish, Swedish) with Sami language as a regionally official administrative language. The research permits and other official decisions by the Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency (Tukes) are in Finnish only. To my understanding this is in violation with Finnish law.
Lapland closes for the month of May. Hotels, skiing resorts and activities close their doors for a month and open up again as the summer season begins in June. Yet the nature blossoms and offers gems for adventurous minds. Why not enjoy the First of May celebration in good company in groin deep snow instead of rainy park in downtown big city or muddy suburbs?
Lapland closes down since the masses of tourists stop pouring in as the snow melts in Southern Finland. But it doesn’t mean that the winter is over for many months in Lapland. Many resorts offer special prices in tickets and accomodation for the last winter weeks. In general all the activities from snow boarding to ski trips on the snow covered fells can be extended well into lain man’s spring. May is the month when the locals in Lapland head into fells for ice fishing. Tourists take notes!
The flow of updates on my social media today was full of people complaining about bad weather, rain and “cold” in lower latitudes. The couple of past weeks has been the same but about flourishing allergies and street dust. What a perfect timing to get a nice tan zipping hot chocolate on a fell side laughing at people dipping head first into a pool!
Writing this I am sitting in Kuukkeli restaurant in Saariselkä enjoying their nationwide famous cloudberry doughnuts. In this continuously buzzing winter hub there are now only three other people with me. The skiing resort closed just yesterday for the season that saw very little snow. Still the cross country tracks are in supreme condition and will stay that way for a week or two with the nightly frost. Now imagine a winter with an abundance of snow!
That abundance we will find on the other side of Lapland – the West-Lapland. As we speak I’d call it the perfect spring time paradise. Every day of last week was a Pow-Pow day in Ylläs skiing resort!!! Levitunturi saw close to 30 cm of new snow over one night! Woot 😀
Sunday night leaving Ylläs skiing resort behind after the closing for the season with virtually all white snow cover was a pity. The best of the best spring weather had just arrived. And the cross country tracks man! Even us, lesser talented skiers, could enjoy late evenings in the taiga forests just gliding on easy snow.
And don’t be afraid to head out for off track skiing in the taiga forests in May. From East to West and towards North there are many places where the skiing is at its best after sunny days and freezing nights.
Nature is the best medicine to you and your whole entourage to get away from busy and stressful every day life and I couldn’t imagine a better place than the white playground of Lapland. The midnight sun is literally just days away. The combination of sunshine and snow fun will blow your mind away. Guaranteed!
Yellow lenses and an iPod. Those are the basic tools for future explorers in the warming climate of the Arctic. The warm lenses to make everything sunny and pretty and music to keep you going in an inhospitable environment. We spend one week in Sarek national park in Sweden practicing expedition skiing in what turned out to be a pretty good simulator of the upcoming climate in the warming Globe.
But before I begin I want to say my greatest thanks to all the fantastic participants of our team Antti, Heidi, Iina, Ilkka, Jaakko, Kaisa, Marko, Reno and Thomas. Their high spirits and especially smily faces really was the core of the experience superseding any other part of our expedition. Thank You for a great company my new friends 😀
And then to the unpleasant truth. Climate change is forecasted to provide us with more clouds, high winds, downpour, fluctuations in weather fronts and what not. In lain mans words milder temperatures and more extreme weather phenomena. And that is exactly what we got.
We begun our ski journey from the fell station of Ritsem but the first thing was to get there by a car. Not really a challenge unless the average wind speeds level out at 35 m/s with peaks around 47 m/s. The skibox on top of my car opened up from the hinge side and the lid cracked in half. Luckily though since the whole box was about to fly away. We had to wait for the winds to cool down before continuing safely to Ritsem.
On the first day of skiing there was a constant 17 m/s wind whirling over lake Akkajaure with pouring rain the whole day. Occasionally we were skiing ankle deep in water on the frozen lake. The landscape on wind and rain beaten Stora Sjöfallet national park on the other side of Akkajaure reminded more of early May than mid March with bogs and small hill tops completely removed of snow coverage.
Even my well explored soul hit its spiritual bottom the next morning as my sled was filled with water and the supposedly water tight back holding my camera gear and change clothes really wasn’t so water tight (well I have my electronics always either in at least double safety or one foolproof safety i.e. a Pelican case). Really I wasn’t prepared for a 24h downpour in mid March Swedish Lapland expedition. Fjellpulken take notice: start making watertight cover sheets! Especially if you market them in your Expedition series. We are gonna need them.
On the way back down from the mountain plateau, as we headed for safety from yet another strong storm, at the birch forested valley I could slam my skiing pole all the way to the solid ground through the entire snow bed – something you can do in mid May but certainly not in mid March. The Climate Change is gonna cost us our winters.
Losing an Arctic habitat
Up on the fell plateau we faced an environment dominated by moist wind. The higher the temps rose the higher were the winds. Two storms ( 25+m/s and 28+m/s) crossed our paths. The lowest temperature that we had was probably around -5 C at end of the week as the skies cleared a bit. Highest around +5 C. If it wasn’t a snow storm either the clouds were hanging low or there was a constant modest snow fall. From what we observed and what we heard the winter has been very warm, moist and windy. Not fantastic for enjoying the great outdoors.
And you can see the change with a naked eye. Even though some suggest that Sarek is the last step on continental Fennoscandinavia before actually going to high arctic in Spitzbergen, Greenland or similar, the arctic of Sarek is shrinking. The birch forest climb already quite high and the mountain passes at 900+ meters aren’t the home of an arctic fox anymore but a backyard to the red foxes. Already in mid winter. At places the fell floor was frozen solid or completely exposed. Where are the lemmings going to survive and what’s the toll of wind erosion on the ecosystem?
Sarek mountain plateau is the high peak facing Atlantic Ocean and weather fronts from the ocean dictate the weather in Sarek. If the future brings more moist and warm cyclones Sarek is certain to loose some of its arctic attributes.
Wow that ended up as the most negative post I’ve written in this blog! Still everything I wrote pours from my increasing first hand experiences of our arctic heritage. And I can’t keep my mouth shut as I see parts of our vast treasures just disappear in front of my eyes.
What for example Sarek is known for is it’s mountainous landscpape, glaciers and “largest area in the world (and one of the last) with an ancestral way of life based on the seasonal movement of livestock” (1). That has earned it a place on the Unesco list of World Heritage Sites. I argue that once the warming really heats up it is A) too late to react and B) only the high peaks of Sarek will remain. The heritage that has earned Sarek it’s place among the most exciting places on Earth will be gone with the warm wind.
I am excited to present the opening night of my very first exhibition on Thursday the 24th of May @ 18:00 in Siida Inari, Samiland. I will open the exhibition with a presentation of my work. The presentation takes place on the European Day of Parks -day.
Ylpeänä esitän ensimmäisen oman valokuvanäyttelyni avajaiset torstaina 24.5.2012 klo 18:00 Siidassa Inarissa. Avaan näyttelyni valokuvaesityksellä, jossa kerron tarkemmin valokuvistani ja työskentelystäni. Avajaiset pidetään Euroopan kansallispuistopäivänä.