The Society for Threatened Peoples supports the Southern Sami people in Norway so they have a say and the right to self-determination regarding a planned wind energy project in Storheia.
In the southwest of Norway, on the Fosen Peninsula, a huge wind power plant is to be built. Storheia, one of the affected areas, is of great importance for the local Southern Sami people. Reindeer herding is a central element of the culture of the indigenous peoples of Scandinavia but is repeatedly put under pressure by projects of an economic nature.
The Storheia region provides around 44 percent of the winter pastureland for the Southern Sami people’s reindeer herders. Because of this project, this pastureland is threatened to disappear, which would have drastic consequences for the Southern Sami people. The loss would mean that the last remaining herder families would have to give up their traditional trade, and thus their culture. For this reason, the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) believes that the project violates international agreements and human rights conventions.
The project is to be realized through the consortium Fosen Wind DA, which is owned by the state-owned Norwegian energy group Statkraft and 40 percent by Nordic Wind Power DA, a consortium of European investors founded by Credit Suisse Energy Infrastructure Partners AG. Its members include BKW Energy, which has an indirect stake of 11.2 percent in the project.
What is the Society for Threatened Peoples doing?
The Society for Threatened Peoples visited the affected reindeer herder families in Storheia and supports their claim for self-determination and participation in the project for the construction of wind turbines. This is why the Society for Threatened Peoples is organizing and financing a trip to Switzerland in December for a delegation of Southern Sami people, so that two of the individuals affected can talk to the investors, BKW and Credit Suisse, and present their objections in person. The Society for Threatened Peoples is also drawing the attention of both State and economic stakeholders to the fact that indigenous people’s rights must also be considered in renewable energy projects.
The indigenous Sami people were oppressed in Norway until the 1960s. Today it’s mostly economic projects that threaten their culture.
“The plant threatens reindeer herding and thus our culture,” says retired reindeer herder Arvid Jåma. Reindeer herding is at the heart of the Sami people’s traditions: it is indeed through reindeer herding that their identity and language are preserved and cultivated. The preservation of their culture is particularly important to the Norwegian Sami people, given that until the 1960s they were discriminated against and oppressed by State and society. For a long time, children were even forbidden to speak the Sami language in schools. Today, the Sami are recognized as indigenous people in Norway and 1990 saw the ratification of the ILO Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention. However, economic projects, forestry and climate change are increasingly affecting reindeer herding: The once unspoiled landscape is fragmented, and today only 10 percent of Sami people in Norway still practice traditional reindeer herding.
The Storheia region, on the southwestern Fosen Peninsula, sets a precedent. There, as part of Norway’s largest onshore wind project, a plant with over 60 kilometers of roads and 80 turbines on an area of 3800 hectares is to be built. The work on roads, platforms and infrastructure would damage more than a third of the reindeer’s winter pastures in Storheia. The associated traffic, noise pollution and fragmentation of the territory would keep the reindeer away for a long time. Furthermore, due to the climate, the vegetation will take decades to regenerate.
The last reindeer herders would have to give up
The loss of about 44 percent of their winter pastures would force the last remaining reindeer herders of the Southern Sami people to massively reduce their herds in order to be able to continue to secure sufficient food for the animals. Smaller herds, however, would no longer secure their subsistence, which is the reason why the affected herders would have to give up their work: the disappearance of an entire culture is at stake.
Although the Sami people took part in some consultations in the context of the Storheia project, they had no decision-making power. “We could speak, but we were not heard,” says Arvid Jåma. A court case concerning the validity of the concession for the wind power plant project is pending. The Sami people have also lodged a complaint with the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).
These are the claims of the Society for Threatened Peoples and of the Southern Sami community against the Norwegian state-owned energy group Statkraft and the European investor group Nordic Wind Power DA, which includes Credit Suisse and CS:
- Statkraft should halt the Storheia project and adequately compensate the Southern Sami communities which were affected during the current construction phase.
- The Nordic Wind Power DA should withdraw its investments from the Storheia wind power project, in the absence of a friendly solution with the indigenous community concerned.
- Statkraft and Nordic Wind Power DA are to carry out and publish an independent environmental and social impact assessment for future projects.
- In future projects, the land rights of Sami people must be recognized. This implies adequate compensation in the case of an agreement on land use rights, for example through profit-sharing.
The actors involved must commit themselves to UN’s “Free, Prior and Informed Consent” (FPIC) in all future investment projects and to ensure that the rights of indigenous people as well as their participation in the process are taken into account. This also applies to renewable energy projects.