Hanna Sofie Utsi: resistance, mining and Sami culture
Hanna Sofie Utsi
Translated from the original Swedish into English by Anna Björklund
Huge machines gouge wounds in the earth, and tears run down my cheeks. The police have cleared away the local population, Sami, and activists.
My tears are of anger, sorrow, and despair, but not of hopelessness. Not in the least. The fight for Gállok and the Sami is far from over. It has only just begun.
The Sami are Europe’s only indigenous people. A people with their own language, own culture, own history, and own democratically elected body. A people who can be said to probably have it pretty good here in the Western world. We can go to school, have the same healthcare as the rest of the population, the same judicial system, and the same citizens’ rights. But do we really have it that good?
In school, we don’t learn about our own history and culture. We study Swedish civics over the course of many years, but knowledge of Sami and Sami civics education is minimal. It’s hard for our elderly to make themselves understood in their native language when they go to get medical care. Hospitals have no cultural knowledge of psycho-social illnesses, no understanding taught in school of our cultural practices such as reindeer herding, hunting, and fishing. It’s hard for us to just be Sami: from the state’s perspective, assimilating us has been a matter of successful policy.
My forefathers were able to live in peace on their traditional lands, until the countries that would become the present-day Nordic countries realized that they ought to tax the Sami for living here. During this period, Sami paid taxes to three separate countries. This was the beginning of a colonization which continues to this day. The state didn’t care that the Sami paid taxes and owned land.
If the state found something they could grab, they did. Sami land rich in natural resources has time and time again been sold to forestry companies, private individuals, and foreign companies. But views differ on what is meant by ‘resources.’ If you ask me, 'resources' are fresh land and clean water that animals and humans can live off of in perpetuity. If you ask the state, 'resources' are something that can be mined, dammed, and exploited. This is happening today at a furious rate, without the Sami being able to say anything about it. Railways, predatory animals, wind turbines, and dammed waterways run the risk of leading to our culture’s destruction. We can’t preserve a culture by living in a museum. We must be allowed to live.
Today, the Sami Parliament has no power. When the Sami Parliament was created twenty years ago, it was intended to function as the law-giving body for matters concerning us.
But when it concerns the continuing colonization of our land, neither the Sami Parliament nor the local people have any voice. When the state allowed companies to exploit our land through generous financial incentives, we had no choice but to practice civil disobedience in order to force a discussion, and, critically, to stop these companies from draining our land of iron, copper, gas, and everything else Mother Earth has.
The good thing is that the Sami Parliament has unanimously spoken out against prospecting, new mining projects, and the re-opening of mines in Sami lands. All of this so that we can have a chance to survive, evolve, and be the people that we want to be, not just an exotic tool to fulfill the state’s PR objectives. The state has to listen to this. Can it not be that the state doesn’t want us to be here, disrupting their selling of our land?
A mine is never just a mine. The infrastructure that is currently being planned will cut through the land, and the railways are like living meat grinders. Whole herds of reindeer can be run over, and unfortunately too many lie there gravely injured before they finally die or get help from a reindeer herder who comes upon them.
I stand in my own land and watch as the police help foreign prospecting companies use force to destroy our land. Land converted to mines can never go back to what it once was, and the residual product remains forever, continuing to leech its poisons. The water and land that we all rely upon to live will no longer be left. I'm sorry to tell you all that this is happening all over the world. Indigenous people struggle to survive and to protect their lives and the nature. For example my sisters in North America are trying to protect their land and water against a pipeline. Police and military are using violence to stop peaceful demonstrations - right now in Standing Rock. Remember Wounded Knee.
The only thing we can do is keep fighting.