Sami Parliament Council refers to Nussir as ‘the new Alta case’

Inger Eline Eriksen (Árja) is the new Sami Parliament Councilor for Climate and Environment. She does not mind creating space for dialogue with Nussir, if possible. (Photo: Tor Egil Rasmussen)
- Nussir’s plans are the new Alta controversy, says Inger Eline Eriksen (Árja), Sami Parliament Councilor for Climate and Environment.

The new Sami Parliament Council is opposed to the mining project in Repparfjorden, just as its predecessor was. However, it is not sure it will chose the same strategy as its predecessor when it comes to showing its opposition.

- Nussir’s plans are the new Alta controversy. An encroachment so extensive, removing the rights holders from the area while also destroying a national salmon fjord cannot but cause high public engagement. We may very well see a new Alta controversy, where Sami people, youth and environmentalists join forces in trying to stop the project, says Inger Eline Eriksen (Árja), Sami Parliament Councilor for Climate and Environment.

- The previous Sami Parliament Council focused on contacting the investors of the project. That approach will not change the application itself, nor what has already been decided in this case. That said, it is obvious that if the mining company does not have investors or money, there will not be any operations. It is therefore not clear yet which strategy we of the new Sami Parliament Council will chose to bring a halt to these plans, she says.

The final joint session of the Sami Parliament this year turned into a drama when the then-sitting Sami Parliament Council was rejected, and Vibeke Larsen replaced Aili Keskitalo as President. A coalition of Labor, the Conservatives and Árja constitute the new Sami Parliament Council. Sami Parliament Councilor Inger Eline Eriksen is clear about the new Council being opposed to Nussir. The Sami Parliament voted to oppose the project with a broad majority, and that majority is something that the new Sami Parliament Council will have to adhere to.


Twofold resistance

Last Monday the news broke that the Sami Parliament’s appeal had not been successful with the Norwegian Ministry of Climate and Environment. Thus, Nussir ASA has a valid permission to establish a sea fill landing in the fjord. The initiative has been met with widespread protests in the Sami environment. The main argument behind the opposition is that the consequences for Sami culture and industry will be too significant to accept.

- The opposition from the Sami Parliament is in reality twofold. Nussir’s project as it is today cannot be approved, because of the consequences it would have to reindeer herding and fisheries in the area. The other argument are the inadequate proceedings from the authorities on this matter. There have not been sufficient consultations with the holders of the rights in this area, Eriksen explains.

The Sami Parliament is critical to the process and claims the Norwegian authorities have violated Public International Law and its commitments to the Sami as an indigenous people.

- Consultations are not just about going to a meeting and then signing off; there have to be real consultations with the Sami interests, says Eriksen.


Traffic, dust and noise

The regulation plan for the industrial area in Kvalsund was approved by the Ministry of Local Government and Modernization back in 2014. The planned copper mine in Kvalsund will not be taking up more area than what has already been used for industry, the mining operations will take place underground, however, local reindeer owners argue that increased traffic, dust and noise levels will make it impossible to keep herding reindeer in this area.

The next step in the process for Nussir will now be to apply for an Operations License. The company will have to apply to the Directorate of Mining for such license, and the Sami Parliament is one of the consultation parties in the case. Inger Eline Eriksen assures that they will keep following up on the case.


Invited to dialogue

Øystein Rushfeldt, Managing Director of Nussir, earlier this week invited the Sami Parliament to dialogue. He thinks it is now time for the Sami environment to enter into dialogue with the company in order to affect the specifics of how the project is shaped, rather than sitting on the outside.

- In Nussir, we are open for influence, Rushfeldt says.

Inger Eline Eriksen says there have been earlier attempts at dialogue with Nussir; however, it came to a halt. She is nevertheless open to trying again.

- It is never a mistake to speak with each other. However, when it comes to the consultation right, it lies with the rights holders in this area. When they say it will be impossible to conduct reindeer herding in the area, the Sami Parliament will have to support their views. We cannot go out and argue differently. At the same time, it is our job to create space for dialogue where possible. It is, however, clear that we have chosen side in this matter, and we support the reindeer herders, the fishermen and nature in this case.


The Finnmark Act requires resolution

When the regulation plan for the area was approved in 2014, the counter notifications from the Sami Parliament and the Area Council for Reindeer Herding in West Finnmark were not successful. However, the plan states that “It is assumed that the developer in cooperation with the reindeer herding industry will agree on mitigating initiatives that form the foundation for a continuing of the reindeer herding in the area. This has to happen prior to commencing the developing of the area.”

There are disagreements as to how this formulation is to be interpreted, though Inger Eline Eriksen is clear: It must be interpreted in the light of Public International Law.

- What also remains before Nussir can commence operations is a resolution from FeFo, the Finnmark Estate Agency, which manages 96 percent of the land in Finnmark on behalf of the county’s inhabitants. According to the Finnmark Act sections 4 and 10, FeFo has to make an independent resolution regarding changed use of uncultivated lands if this is to happen. That applies to all cases about changed use of uncultivated lands that matter to Sami interests. They require an endorsement, an approval from FeFo. The Sami Parliament assumes that FeFo will follow Public International Law in this case, says Eriksen.


Waiting for application for Operating License

FeFo is waiting for the public hearing round for the Operating License. Eirik Palm, Head of Communications and Public Information, says that it is the Board of FeFo that is to consider changed use of uncultivated lands, the consequences thereof and make a resolution in the case.

During the public hearing round for the emissions permission, which was also processed in the Board of FeFo, however, it was not considered a changed use of uncultivated lands.

- This would have been different if they had planned a landfill rather than a sea fill, says Palm.

FeFo is now awaiting the public hearing round of the application for operating license. That will provide further information about the planned operations, and it will be natural for the board of FeFo to view this in light of the Finnmark Act.

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