Demonstrators led by Sami reindeer herders blocked access to a construction site for what’s been billed as the largest windmill project in Europe this week. They claim the windmills at Storheia on the Fosen Peninsula in Trøndelag will violate the rights of Sami as an indigenous people, along with disturbing the natural environment.
The protesters are also filing complaints against public authorities in their latest effort to halt the project that they’ve been battling since inception. “The windmill project at Storheia simply can’t be accepted by the Sami people,” declared Aili Keskitalo even before she was elected as president of the Sametinget (Sami Parliament in Norway) last fall. “We must not give up the hope of a political solution, but I think this case is of a type that can also be fought in court.”
Keskitalo has claimed that reindeer herding on the Fosen Peninsula north of Trondheim is important not only for the Sørsamiske (southern Sami people in Norway) but also for Sami society in general. She has visited the area and supported the efforts of young Maja Kristine Jåma, who is trying to secure another generation of Sami reindeer herders in the area including herself.
“Against our will, they (local and state authorities) have taken a third of our winter grazing area, as if our income source has no value,” Jåma stated on the website for the national Sami federation Norske Samers Riksforbund (NSR). “But we know that what we do has great value for the southern Sami culture and language, and that this is an issue that affects the entire community.” She and others view the windmill project that will prevent reindeer grazing in the area as yet another example of offenses against the Sami people in Norway.
On Tuesday a group of protesters grew impatient and blocked the road into the construction area where windmills are due to be erected on the Storheia mountain plateau. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that NSR leader Beaska Niillas traveled from Tana in Finnmark, Northern Norway, to take part in the demonstration.
“We’re here to stop the construction activity and the building going on here,” Niillas told NRK. “We don’t think this is legal either under Norwegian or international law.” He and the other protesters are angry that construction crews “have started destroying the nature” at Storheia despite pending legal action.
“We have come here to protect Sami land,” said another protester, Niillas Holmberg. “We have come out of love and respect for it. We want to protect future generations’ foundation to still be able to live like us, in line with the nature and not as its overlord.”
Norway’s chapter of Friends of the Earth (Naturvernforbundet) supports those protesting construction of the large windmills that are due to generate electricity for an estimated 170,000 households. “This is an important matter of principle for the Sami,” chapter leader Kjell Derås told NRK. His organization views the project as a violation of the fundamental human rights of the Sami people to earn a living and maintain their culture and language. “They strongly rely on reindeer herding to develop and maintain the southern Sami culture,” Derås said.
Torbjørn Steen of Fosen Vind, the company developing what it calls a “windmill park,” was surprised by the demonstration this week. “We have all the permission and licenses in order after a long process, and we’re half-way finished with building roads into the area,” Steen told NRK. He claimed Fosen Vind has had “a constructive relationship with affected reindeer owners.” Fosen Vind is owned by local power company TrønderEnergi, state power provider Statkraft and the European investor consortium Nordic Wind Power DA.
The windmill project has been controversial for years and firmly opposed by the Sami Parliament. State officials have defended it as an important part of alternative and renewable energy projects aimed at cutting carbon emissions.
The Sami have already lost an initial round of legal action in which they complained about the process itself, alleged violations of an obligation to file environmental impact reports and deficient expropriation of the land. Now they’re filing complaints against public authorities for allowing the project to move forward when an appeal of last year’s defeat is still under review.
Police arrived to talk with the demonstrators, who eventually removed a lavvo (Sami tent) erected to block a key access road. They promise their protests will continue: “We hope our complaints will open their eyes, so that we’re taken seriously,” Niilas told NRK.