Sami demonstrators have dismantled their camps in downtown Oslo and suspended their protests over wind turbines on their land, at least for now. After getting the chance to complain directly to King Harald V, they felt they’ve been both seen and heard.
“It was a powerful meeting,” said Ingke Jåma, wearing her Sami dress, outside the Royal Palace in Oslo on Monday afternoon. The palace grounds were a busy place on Monday, after the king first held an extrarodinary Council of State to formally approve seven new government ministers and then a series of audiens, which literally means “an opportunity to be heard.”
They were grateful for the opportunity, according to Jåma. “We could show our feelings and felt we were seen,” she told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). Both King Harald and his son, Crown Prince Haakon, met with leaders of the Sami activists who last week occupied Parliament, blocked the main boulevard running from the Parliament to the palace and held demonstrations outdoors, and then moved on to block the entrance to state power provider Statkraft at Lysaker, just west of downtown.
On Friday the demonstrators blocked entrances to several government ministries and then set up another camp on the palace grounds. By Friday afternoon, they had an invitation to meet with the king and crown prince at 12:15 on Monday.
“I think it’s very nice that we are invited inside to speak with the king on such short notice,” Jåma said. “That means he also thinks this is an important issue.”
The Sami are mainly protesting how the government has failed to follow up on a Supreme Court decision from 2021. It declared that construction of wind turbines on Sami grazing land at Fosen in Trøndelag violates the human rights of Norway’s largest indigenous population. They have grazing rights on the land, but the turbines disturb their reindeer and make grazing difficult if not impossible.
Few details were revealed from the short but standard royal audience time of 15 minutes, but those attending expressed that the king and crown prince showed sympathy and understanding for the situation. Elle Nystad, leader of the youth group for the national Sami organization NSR, had told news bureau NTB before the royal meeting that “we hope His Majesty will listen to us and remind those responsible in the state about their responsibility.”
Included in the group of seven representatives for the Samis’ concerns was Mihkkal Hætta, who first set up his lavvo (Sami tent) in front of Parliament more than a month ago. His camp was far from his home in Kautokeino in Finnmark, but the 22-year-old claimed he wouldn’t leave until demonstrations against the Fosen turbines succeeded. He slept outside for more than four weeks, and reported getting lots of public support but also unpleasant incidents when drunks tried to break in or vandalize his camp.
Now he, too, has taken down his tent along with others set up around his last week. They’d used what fellow Sami activist Ella Marie Hætta Isaksen called “an ancient Sami tradition of going to the king” when they felt they had nowhere else to go.
It wasn’t the first time Sami have approached the Norwegian monarch either. A palace spokesman noted that the late King Olav also received protesting Sami in audiens in 1981, when demonstrations against development of the Alta-Kautokeino waterway for power generation were in full swing. Mikkel Eira and Nils Gaup presented their views on the project that threatened the Alta River, and they were also heard.