Prospecting for minerals and stones has exploded in Sweden. Many foreign prospecting and/or mining companies come to Sweden in search for a new Klondike – even though in a more modern “suit” than the historical one at Dawson City in Canada at the end of the 19th century. Many people and groups today get affected because of mineral search on land they own or use such as private land owners, wild life tourist centres, people with outdoor interests – and reindeer herding communities.
This blog-text contains a short overview on how the two reindeer herding communities Jåkhågaska Tjiellde and Sirges in area of the municipality of Jokkmokk in the north of Sweden are affected by such search for minerals carried out by the prospecting- and mining company Jokkmokk Iron Mines AB (JIMAB).
Since it is an overview every aspect or matter in this case cannot be mentioned – it would end up being too long. The sources referred to are official documents, more or less, because they have been used when making decisions that are now legit, or they are containing legally bounding decisions.
Problems for reindeer herding caused by the mining project
JIMAB is a wholly owned subsidiary company to British Beowulf Mining Plc. JIMAB was created in February 2012 for a future mining industry in the area of Jokkmokk. It is stated in the Swedish Minerals Act that every foreign prospecting- and/or mining company in Sweden must establish a subsidiary company in Sweden in order to get, and to have, permission to proceed their work.
But JIMAB’s prospecting activity in the area has caused trouble, foremost for the Sámi reindeer herding village Jåkhågaska Tjiellde.
The two Sámi villages in the area lodge complaints to the Mining Inspectorate of Sweden against that JIMAB had at least two times been test-drilling on a site that had not been mentioned in the company’s working plan as a site they would work upon. According to the Minerals Act must every prospecting- and/or mining company in Sweden make a so-called “working plan”. The plan shall contain a description of the work planned, a timetable and an assessment of the impact on private rights and public interests. The plan shall be communicated to all landowners and other parties affected. A working plan will enter into force if there are no objections. It will also enter into force if the applicant and the objecting party can agree on the plan. If they cannot agree, the matter can be tried by the Mining Inspectorate, who in some cases can set up conditions for the exploration work. In JIMAB’s case, the Mining Inspectorate found out that the company had been test-drilling on an outdated working plan, but the Inspectorate found out that no test-drilling had been maliciously made so the case was left without any remarks.
But JIMAB’s work came to cause other problems. The Sámi villages were not able to use the winter grazing area in November and December. Moreover are the two test-drilling sites – Parkijaure and Kallak – on a peninsula that is used almost on an annual basis, even though foremost in the winter time, by Jåkhågaska Tjiellde. The peninsula is crossed in the north and in the south by reindeer moving paths that are classified as being of “national interest”. Any future transportation road from any of the sites to the existing road in the area will cross the northern reindeer moving path. On the peninsula are there also resting areas for the reindeers.2011 because of JIMABs’ activity the Sámi villagers’ grounds of use. The Sámi were forced to take their reindeers upon a mountain they usually do not use because of the high amount of predators there, and eventually it turned out that the move to the mountain had ended up in a higher rate of predatory killed reindeers. The new grazing ground also brought along higher for supportive foddering because the mountain is such a poor grazing ground. Also, the mountain lies further away from the homes of the Sámi villagers, so their travelling costs had increased.
According to another complaint, from a private party this time, had JIMAB been driving on thaw with heavy four-wheeled cross-country vehicles. It is prohibited in the Terrain Driving Act to drive heavy vehicles both on thaw and on bare ground due to the big damages such vehicles can cause in the terrain. The complaint was addressed to the County Administrative Board that sent it to the police which sent it to the Land- and Environmental Court, and is under investigation.
Mineral prospecting and mining in the light of land use and land owning
Another aspect to mention when it comes to what issues mineral prospecting work can cause in Sweden is that some of it takes place on Indigenous lands designated as state land – which for reindeer herding Sámi means on state land that they use for their livelihood. To keep it simple: reindeer herding Sámi in Sweden are not recognized as land owners, but as land users. Some land used for reindeer herding are privately own land, a situation more common closer to the coast of the Gulf of Botnia. Many solicitors though claim that the Sámi are the legit land owners, but the Swedish government have never accepted the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention 169, or shorter the ILO-convention 169 – a paragraph that acknowledge the people who lived on the land as the true land owner before any state came and claim it, thus making the state the legal land owner. So the legal status of land in Sweden in this specific case, is land designated as state land and used by Sámi reindeer herders.
The question of the right to land for Sámi in Sweden has many other sides though, because it also includes the fact that non-reindeer herding Sámi without the right to work with that type of livelihood, got excluded from the Sámi villages in 1928. And many groups of Sámi have never been reindeer herding Sámi either; instead they have made a living by fishing and hunting, many with cultivation of for examples potatoes as a side-line. And as ILO 169 incorporates people that lived on a land before a state came and claim it, any eventual forthcoming discussion on Sámi being the legally land owners will thus include those who are not reindeer herding Sámi.
But back to the main case …
Prior evaluation and information of effects of the mining activity in the county of Jokkmokk
JIMAB have in reports concluded that their activity will have no impact on national park, ground water or day water, flora nor fauna, and no impacts of cultural values such as archaeological sites. The responsibility to control that any existing activity in an area of planned mineral prospecting, as well as care for nature, flora and wildlife, is not endangered lies on the County Administrative Board for each county.
Furthermore, one can read in JIMAB’s reports that the only direct impact JIMAB’s activity will have on reindeer herding is that it will take place on land used by Jåkhågaska Tjiellde. It is stated in the reports that the grounds for the prospecting sites are used on an annual basis by Jåkhågaska Tjiellde, but foremost in the wintertime. Sirges lies north of the now existing prospecting sites, and therefore it will not be “directly” affected according to JIMAB’s reports. The wild life tourism in the area will not be that much affected, but it is mentioned that outdoor activity in the area will be limited due to dust and noise that foremost will be produce by the process of the crushing of stones from the mountain. In reports is it stated that that problem can be diminished by keeping the time when crushing stones as short as possible.
But the two Sámi reindeer herding villages have already been affected negatively by JIMAB’s prospecting work, as mentioned, and the question is to what extent will a full-scaled mine affect the Sámi villages in the area.
But are there any positive sides to JIMAB’s activity in the area?
Positive effects generated by the prospecting and mining project?
According to JIMAB’s own statement in a county-based newspaper, and later in piece that was broadcasted on the local tv, will a mine run for 30 years and create approximate 350 jobs. The latest number is 400, a number that is mentioned on JIMAB’s webpages in the context of ore transportation; a road from and to the mine for “passenger transportation […] for about 400 full time employees”. In a tv-news piece on the effects of JIMAB’s planned mine, did the greater part of the locals in the village of Jokkmokk that got interviewed say that they welcome the mine. Many see the mine as an opportunity: it will create jobs in Jokkmokk and therefore render if not an increasing number of inhabitants at least a stable number, and will thus be a guarantee for an ongoing service within health care and different types of public services such as day-care centres and schools, banks and grocery stores and other type of shops. That can be seen as an asset in a country where the inland in the north for a long time have been severely struck by high unemployment rates and therefore also high numbers of people moving out from the area. With the increasing numbers of mines in the north of Sweden – mines that bring along job opportunities, investors and money – the area is sometimes refereed to as ‘the new Klondike’.
The County Administrative Board in the county have given JIMAB permission to a period of test-mining this summer. A private party have sent in an appeal that was overruled, but the person have said that an appeal will be sent to the Land- and Environmental Court of Appeal. A spokesperson from JIMAB still thinks the company will be able to test-mine in the summer. All according to one of the county-based newspapers.
// Ph.D., Karin Granqvist
[This piece is my part of a project titled “Effects of Mining on Reindeer/Caribou Populations and Indigenous Livelihoods: Community-based Monitoring by Sámi Reindeer Herders in Northern Sweden and First Nations in Northern Quebec” together with T. Herrmann, H. Asselin and P. Sandström]