Course:CONS370/Projects/The Legacy of the Alta Case: Legal and cultural impacts of Norway's Alta Hydroelectric Power Station on the Sami People's management of their customary territory

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In the 1970s, the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Administration (Norges vassdrags- og energidirektorat, or NVE ), backed by the Norwegian State, made plans to flood a remote area in northern Norway that included two remote Sami villages.[1] This news generated unrest in the surrounding area of Alta and protests against the state and the NVE were organized by Samis and local Norwegians.[1]

Local Samis recognized that their traditional cultures and livelihoods would be jeopardized if a dam dispossessed them of their land and forced relocation.[1] These concerns were not shared by the Norwegian state in 1975 and no official recognition had been given to Sami language, culture, or politics at that point in history.[2] The ensuing public debates and protests of 1978-81 highlighted the incompatibility of contemporary Sami lifestyles with the culturally uninformed development goals of mid-century Norway.[1] Ultimately, the dam’s construction proceeded, albeit with modifications intended to address Sami demands.[3] In spite of the dam's approval, the controversy is recognized as a watershed moment for recognition of Sami rights and a catalyst for future legislation intended to formalize and protect those rights.[3]

General Background

The Sami are a Finno-Uragic people indigenous to the Sapmi cultural region, stretching across the northernmost parts of the Fennoscandian peninsula.[4] They are believed to have existed in the region for at least 5000 years.[5] Sapmi crosses through the modern borders of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia.[4] Throughout this range their total population numbered between 50,000 and 100,000 in the early 1980s, 15,000-20,000 of whom were regular speakers of a Sami language. [3]

Sami Community and Lifestyle
The main unit of community organization in Sami society is the siida (plural: siidat), a term which describes a community of families and their village(s), common pastures, and shared natural resources.[4] Such arrangements can contain 2 or 3 families or or up to 20-30 families, numbering in the hundreds.[3] Sami siidat occupy a mixed economy often arranged around reindeer herding (around 2100 people in 1983 were wholly dependent on a herding livelihood), but typically also integrate agriculture, fishing, hunting, and handicraft.[3]

In the 1500-1700s, Sami people transitioned from a dependence on a variety of subsistence modes (e.g. hunting, gathering, fishing) to a fully nomadic economy around maintaining large reindeer herds.[4][2] Reindeer followed retreating ice sheets north into the Fennoscandian peninsula 9,000-10,000 years ago and have since developed an annual spring migration seaward to the grass sources required by pregnant and nursing cows.[2][6] During this transitional period, Sami adapted closely to this cycle of movement, and transhumant Sami have since intertwined their schedules to the reindeer’s inseparably.[2] Archeologists and traditional Sami histories suppose that reindeer have been a primary source of materials and sustenance for the Sami as long as they have inhabited the region, even before the advent of herding.[2] Reindeer are also featured importantly in Sami cosmology.[6][7]

Driving this cultural evolution was the encroachment of Nordic settlements on traditional Sami lands and the resulting depletion of wild game.[4][2] Siidat responded to European encroachment and competition by adapting and reorganizing around the novelties of this new, fully nomadic arrangement.[4] By weaning themselves off their dependence on ever-shrinking wild animal populations and taming reindeer instead, Sami communities ensured access to a reliable source of meat that delinked them from direct competition with European hunters.[6] A detailed protocol around herding arrangements in the siida structure evolved over the ensuing centuries.[4] Sami property rules dictate that reindeer are individually owned and inherited, but are collectively herded as a siida unit with the combined reindeer from several families.[2] Siida are flexibly arranged and families will tend to group and regroup in different sida arrangements over the course of a year.[2] Much of one’s extended family can be contained within the Siida unit.[2][8]

Traditional Knowledge
Sami culture is also well known for a deep and well-adapted tradition of medicine and ecological knowledge.[6][4] Like reindeer herding, traditional Sami medicine has survived into the modern era and relies on a detailed ecological knowledge refined from centuries of observation and testing against the arctic environment.[9][10] Herders are recognized as standard bearers of traditional culture among Sami and especially valuable to the survival of Sami culture, given the high rates of assimilation in coastal and southern populations.[2] Public advocates of Sami culture have emphasized the holistic and integrative nature of Sami knowledge as distinguished from what is perceived as the more secular and itemized knowledge learned in Norwegian classrooms.[7]

A Sami man with two reindeer.

Social History in Norway
Sami people have existed side by side with the majority Norwegian culture for hundreds of years, manifesting in modern times as an unequal power relationship between a nation-state and a semi-nomadic people. [11] [12] Sami were historically stereotyped as a poverty-stricken and intellectually unadvanced group, and racialized discrimination against Sami has historically been widespread in Scandinavia.[13] Sami in Norway were subjected to a long period of assimilationist policy, known as Fornorsking (literally "Norwegianization"), that is recognized as having taken place roughly between the years 1850 and 1980.[13] The 1850s saw the creation and implementation of legislation intended to re-orientate Samis to Norwegian culture and farming practices, including measures that discouraged language use among Samis and restricted Sami access to certain reindeer pastures.[13]

A significant policy was Finnefondet ("the Lapp Fund"), a permanent space made in the national budget for programs intended to promote the use of the Norwegian language in place of Sami ones.[13] These efforts were focused primarily on school-age children. Money from these funds was used to build isolated boarding schools around Finnmark county, where speaking Sami was prohibited during all school hours and where individuals of Sami background were prohibited from teaching.[13] Former students of the Fornorsking school system have in the past been uncomfortable bringing up personal memories of their experiences for historians or researchers.[13][7] The effects of Fornorsking were most pronounced in the coastal areas, where Sami and Norwegian speaking populations lived in proximity, close enough to become ethnically mixed.[1] In these overgangdistrikter (transitional districts), use of Sami language and culture was more easily monitored and discouraged by the state and education system.[13]

The Alta Region and Local Sami

Settlements and Geography
The Alta river is the third-longest river in Finnmark county, and empties an ecologically complex watershed into the Norwegian Sea.[14] Before the 1980s, the Alta river was over 150 km long and one of the last remaining rivers in Europe still unregulated.[3] The Alta river canyon is among the largest in Europe and contains a varied topography.[14] Upstream, deep in Kautokeino county, the open tundra provides herds with vast lichen pasture, transitioning to forest and meadowland downriver to the sea.[1] The valleys of the Alta river support a diverse assemblage of European birds of prey not found elsewhere.[2]

The headwaters of the Alta-Kautokeino River are located deep in western Finnmark and continues past the Sami villages of Kautokeino and Masi and into two lakes.[2] From there it takes a journey through a geography of mountains and canyons, into the Alta valley and out to the sea.[1] The Norwegian town of Alta sits at the mouth of the river, an urban centre of about 3,000. In pre-modern times however, even the lower reaches of the river were inhabited exclusively by Sami.[2]

The Finnmark County in Norway where Alta is located.

Sami Villages on the Alta
The two Sami villages of Masi and Kautokeino are politically contained in the Kautokeino municipality of Finnmark county and are situated along the upper reaches of the Alta river.[14] Kautokeino, located farther up river than Masi, had a population of about 2,000 in the early 1980s, where over 80% of the residents spoke Sami as their primary language.[2][8] Many herded reindeer but others were employed in farming, hunting or fishing.[8] Others still worked in local administration or were employed in a service position.[8] Farther downstream is the village of Masi, which held about 400 people during the same period and was almost 100% Sami-speaking.[2] These villages had retained Sami culture to this extent partly because Fornorsking policies saw a weaker implementation in the interior of the Finnmark plateau compared to the coast.[2] Observers note a strictly local system of social control, so that even Sami that work in non-traditional occupations maintain a distinct Sami identity.[2]

Sami in this area existed in settled households as well as in transhumant arrangements, following their herds to the coastal regions in the summertime but maintaining principal households near their interior reindeer pastures.[2]

Masi Residents used spring pastures around the Alta river to graze their herds and their migration routes to summer pastures stretched through the region.[3] The Alta river was known as one of the best areas in western Europe for the angling of Atlantic salmon, and has historically hosted a significant amount of the species's spawning habitat in the region. [15]. The Alta river provided subsistence options for both Sami and Norwegians and also supported an economy of commercial fishing, sports fishing, and tourism.[1] These activities netted Alta-sourced salmon in quantities of 50-100 metric tons a year during the 1970s.[3]

Timeline of Events

  • Early 1970s: Plans for the Alta dam began in the early 1970s bolstered by a perceived increase in the energy needs in the north of Norway[16].The Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE) is a government agency that gauged the energy needs in the north and put together the initial plans for the Alta dam[16]. When the directorate was formed in the 1920s, they were given scientific, advisory, supervisory, and executive responsibilities for all electricity and damming projects.[2] The plans were developed under a closed door system with no consultation with local communities despite including plans to flood the village of Maze.[2]
  • 1974: Building permits for areas around Masi were being denied to villagers, prompting suspicions that ultimately led to the discovery of the Alta plans.[2]
  • 1974-1979: Opposition towards the proposed dam grew as soon as plans became public.[2] After news of the initial plans for the Alta dam were met with fervent opposition, the Storting Parliament that had ultimate legal decision-making power mandated an investigation into the implications of the project in 1974.[17] NVE was commissioned to perform this investigation despite their clear conflict of interest as the contracting body.[17] This destroyed the chances of an impartial investigation as NVE would lose profits if the project did not go forward, creating incentive for them to selectively include evidence due to a conflict of interest. In addition, local knowledge was ignored including from reindeer herders whose pastures would be affected.[17] The selection of NVE to conduct this investigation is one example of how the Storting used their power to limit the perspectives included in the conversation around this issue. Official protests began in 1975 when Norwegian Friends of the Earth (NVF) pointed out errors in early drafts of the project.[18] The goal of this group was not only to reconsider environmental impacts of the dam but also to improve transparency and consultation in the planning of infrastructure projects. However, little attention was paid to NVF as the Storting parliament still had ultimate power.[18]
  • 1978: Folkeaksjonen, a protest movement formed and mass protests began. Although legally they had little power, the Sami and environmental activists did have social influence and man power.[3] Protests included everything from small acts of civil disobedience to attempts at legal action. With construction beginning in 1979, a Sami lawyer, Leif Dunfjell claimed that the lack of proper notice and compensation on the part of the government were illegal.[3] This lead to construction and further lawsuits coming forward in the local courts. A case was brought by the local state regarding compensation as well as one filed by NVF concerned with the process of approval.[3] Construction was halted for about a year but the court ultimately ruled in the Storting’s favour and construction continued. [18] Despite this ruling, these cases were significant as it was the first time that an environmental matter decided on by parliament was contested in court and opened up new possibilities and precedence for future legal action.[18]
  • 1979: Protests eventually lead to a halt in construction as court cases made their way through the Norwegian legal system.[18] With little legal sway, the Sami turned to acts of civil disobedience in protest.[18] In 1979, about 8 Sami individuals camped out in front of the Storting Parliament buildings and began a hunger strike in protest.[3] This garnered attention from the parliament as well as from media and likely contributed to Nordli’s decision to delay construction.[3] Resistance camps were also a key component of Sami protests.
  • 1980: The Sami Right Commission was formed to address concerns over the lack of recognition of Sami perspectives at a federal level.[18]
  • 1982: Cases against the Norwegian government made their way to the Supreme Court of Norway and for the first time, Sami land rights were acknowledged and discussed at this level.[3] Ultimately, the court ruled in the Storting's favour and construction restarted in 1982. Camps and hunger strikes were also organized when construction began again in 1981.[3] This resulted in Brundtland deploying 600 police officers or about 10% of Norway’s police force to remove protesters.[3] These acts of protest drew widespread attention from media both locally and internationally. As views of Indigenous rights began to change globally, this was a serious hit to the perception of Norway’s respect for human rights. The massive police force deployed against protesters led to the Sami eventually backing down.[18] Despite this, Sami rights to land became an important part of the coming decades with many scholars pointing to the Alta controversy as the catalyst for change.[18]
  • 1987: The construction of the dam was completed.[18]
  • 1989-1991: In 1989, ILO 169 was completed with Norwegian influences in the process.[19] The following year, Norway ratified the convention and it was put into force September 5 1990.[19]
  • 2005: In 2005, the Finnmark Act was enacted and transferred 96% of the land of the county of Finnmark to the new Finnmark Estate agency, managed by a board with at least 50% Sami representation.[20]

Tenure arrangements

Historic Context of Land
The recognition of the Sami peoples and their rights has changed immensely throughout the 19th century and continues to evolve in Norway today. Prior to 1850, there was little regard for the Sami people and their traditional lands from the Norwegian government.[21] After 1850, as nation-building became a focus, Fornorsking was intended to weaken Sami assertions of independence and the lands traditionally occupied by the Sami became of greater interest to the state in economic and geopolitical contexts.[22] Nationalist sentiment was growing in response to security threats from surrounding countries. Efforts of forced assimilation, Fornorsking, towards the Sami began in earnest.[22] It was during this time that official assertion of ownership by the state over all non-registered or what was perceived as “ownerless lands” was made.[21] This seizure led to the government taking ultimate decision making power over land use and resource allocation of traditional Sami lands which include the area of Alta.[23]

Justification of the seizure has been made by referencing the nomadic or semi-nomadic ways of life associated with reindeer herding.[23] The government claimed that the Sami had not settled in particular areas to cultivate the land and therefore no ownership could be claimed despite occupation and use of these lands. This argument stems from John Locke’s ideologies around ownership over land belonging to those that put work or labour into particular areas[24]. The Sami have opposed this view since the seizure, arguing they have a right to land based on use from time immemorial.<ref="Sillanpää" />

ILO ratifications and Implications for Land Use
Attitudes towards the Sami people and their rights to their traditional lands and territories did not change until after the Alta controversy. At this time, the Sami were not officially considered Indigenous Peoples and had no differentiated rights from Norwegians.[2] ILO 107, which was initially published in 1958, pushed for protection of indigenous rights including rights to their lands. At the time it was published, Norway did not ratify the convention.[18] Proceeding from the Alta controversy, with growing international pressure from human rights groups, international law, and the UN, Sami rights were bolstered to the forefront of the Norwegian political agenda. This controversy was a huge turning point in Norwegian politics and the decision to ratify C107 was revisited. however it was still not ratified as by this time the assimilationist views were outdated.[18]

The Sami Rights Committee was put together after the Alta controversy to begin reconciliation efforts. Many of the recommendations of the committee were approved by the Norwegian government, including the creation of the Sami Parliament. Around this time, criticism of ILO 107 lead to the production of ILO 169 and Norway became the first state to ratify this convention in 1990.[21] Article 14 of this convention states that “the rights of ownership and possession of the peoples concerned over the lands” needed to be identified which sparked conversations around land rights of the Sami in Norway. This launched Sami’s rights to the lands and waters into the political agenda.[25]

The Sami Parliament of Norway buildings located in Finnmark County.

Finnmark Act
The examination of Sami land rights by this committee also lead to the Finnmark Act in 2005.[19] It was determined that individual claims to land were onerous and complainants faced unfair barriers so a collective transfer was deemed more efficient and just.[19] This act transferred 96% of Finnmark’s land to residents of Finnmark.[22] Finnmark is a majority Sami county in the north of Norway and includes Alta. The land is held collectively by the inhabitants of Finnmark, whether or not they are Sami but does not cover fishing, saltwater, or mining rights.[19] Mining continues to be one of the most controversial instances of resource use in Norway.[20] There is some controversy around whether the Finnmark Act complies with ILO 169. A major criticism voiced is the call for land ownership rights of Indigenous peoples in Article 14 of ILO 169. The rights of the peoples of Finnmark differ from private land as there is a lack of requirement for compensation to be paid in the case of expropriation. Decisions regarding land use are made by the board of the Finnmark Estate, of which half of the members are appointed by the Sami Parliament and half by the Norwegian Finnmark County which means that encroachment on Sami rights in Finnmark could still occur.[26] These factors prove that the Finnmark Act does not reflect the ownership rights called for in Article 14 of ILO 169.[25] One of the greatest issues that the Finnmark Act faces is a lack of protection against future changes in legislation.[26]

Administrative Arrangements Prior to Alta

Prior to the Alta controversy, there was no acknowledgement of the Sami as an Indigenous Peoples Group in Norway and as such the Sami had little influence at a national level.[18] and there was no effort or administrative institutions for the Norwegian government to engage with on the questions of the rights and perspectives of the Sami peoples.[18] In the decades before the Alta plans materialized there was already Sami concern regarding Norwegian resource development. Local Sami and Norwegian fisherman voiced their concerns over overfishing and the destruction of stream spawning areas that had been affected by hydro-engineering projects.[27] These complaints rarely reached the government after being reported to local fishery associations or were repeatedly overlooked. The decision making process of NVE rarely sought project justifications beyond the initial scientific or economic recommendations provided by government research bodies.[27] Additional issues arose as the large Norwegian Fisherman’s Association’s influence increased and tended to favour economic interests over the interests of sustainability and small-scale fisheries’ interests.[18]

The proposition and planning of the Alta dam was put together at a time when local knowledge was not on the radar of government decision makers and when the Sami lacked any recognition as an indigenous peoples. The lack of consultation with Sami and the near-total lack of venues for registering a grievance airing culminated in public demonstrations of Sami frustration.[18] These protests quickly grew to levels previously unseen in Norway and the government could no longer ignore the Sami perspective on the project. A reexamination of the original proposal for the Alta dam was commissioned by the government's executive branch.[3] However, the only experts consulted were government-approved and again, local knowledge was still omitted. Ultimately, the lack of consideration for local knowledge, the secrecy around the Alta plans, and the government's technocratic bias in project research created a frustratingly opaque communication situation with residents on the Alta river.[18]

Affected Stakeholders: Sami Villagers

The affected stakeholders in the Alta case were the Sami of Masi and Kautokeino.[2] Their principal objective was to stop the construction of a dam which would force the relocation of their villages and damage or destroy valuable habitat utilized by reindeer. The significance of flooded and flood-affected pasture had increased by the 1970s on account of the loss of traditional calving and rutting grounds elsewhere from government project development.[2] Many herders concluded that no substitute could be found for the grazing habitat expected to be lost through flooding. Initial impact assessments recognized the loss of grazing habitat equal to that needed to sustain 21 reindeer, but impact assessments completed after construction had began identified that 5 herding siidat, containing 30,000 reindeer and 80 households stood to be affected by the dam as originally planned.[2] Additionally it was predicted that summer water discharges in the Alta river would be reduced by 10-50% and that spring discharges could increase 5-fold.[28]

Some herders expressed concern that the location of the dam could interfere with spring/autumnal migration ranges and with the efficient and safe movement between summer and winter pastures.[2] All reindeer follow similar migration patterns and so the several herds near the proposed dam are all required to use the same narrow migration passages at the same time before spreading out more diffusely into their respective coastal pastures.[2] Intimate knowledge of reindeer needs and behaviour, corroborated by ecological science, were used to justify such concerns.[2] Ecologists noted that reindeer who do not spend their entire year in one location are likely to exhibit higher stress responses to disruptive, novel stimuli. The stress responses to work camps, construction vehicles, roads, and landscape-feature changes could be expected to trigger abortions in pregnant reindeer.[2] Augmenting this concern was the more general observation that the construction of roads into remote Sami tundra invites trespass by outsiders who otherwise would not have had access.[2] Such potential impacts to a herder’s income was not considered in initial government risk analyses.[3] The noise and movement from power lines and ground equipment were known to Masi and Kautokeino by this point to be confusing obstacles for migrating herds. [29][2] Herds elsewhere in nearby districts have had their migrations delayed or interrupted by power plant and dam activity.[2] In some cases reindeer refused to use grazing pasture that planning authorities had wrongly assumed would remain as active reindeer pasture after construction was completed [2]

Ultimately, Sami in the region opposed construction because they feared damage to an irreplaceable area on which they were dependent for the health of their animals and for their economic livelihoods. Reindeer management was a central, stabilizing feature of the local economy. Even Sami not employed in herding understood the trade to be an ever-present alternative if work become scarce in a preferred field.[2]

Reindeer herders in Finnmark remarked at the time that they felt they had a negligible influence on political processes compared to the more powerful lobbies of Norwegian farmers and fishermen.[2] However, drawing on the support of interested non-Sami stakeholders, local Sami found representation in large protest movements, such as Folkeaksjonen, where they could more easily get the attention of world media and national politicians.

Interested Stakeholders: Anti-Dam Groups

Universities
Norwegian universities took an interest in defending the river from construction on ecological grounds and were responsible for several reports highlighting the ecological and biological value of the river. Studies by the University of Tromsø ranked Alta as top among Norwegian rivers for conservation value, a conclusion shared by ecologists and zoologists from the Universities of Oslo and Trondheim.[3] These reports were presented to government during their reexamination of the Alta Dam project.

Protest Movements

Folkeaksjonen [The People's Action] was a mass protest movement in 1978 founded in response to the Alta Dam controversy. Primary among the group's objectives was to expose the State's inattention to local interests before the mass media and generate pressure on the government to abandon the dam construction project.[3]

Folkeaksjonen group demonstration protesting the Alta dam.

Leadership of the movement was split between high-profile Norwegians and Samis, including among them Sami activist Mikkel Eira.[3] The Norske Samers Riksforbund, a Norwegian-Sami national coalition, was instrumental in building mass support for the cause.[30] It attracted over 8000 participants from both inside and outside Scandinavia and counted among them official support from globally recognized indigenous and environmental groups.[3] Protests happened on site in the Alta district and included the building of camps near construction zones and the blockading of roads. Allied convoys of Sami men and women also made their way to the Storting building in Oslo, where they staged hunger demonstrations.[3] [31] Some individual hunger strikes lasted as long as 31 days until the government agreed to delaying of the dam's construction pending a review.[3] Protests happened on site in the Alta district and included the building of camps near construction zones and the blockading of roads. Allied convoys of Sami men and women also made their way to the Storting building in Oslo, where they staged hunger demonstrations.[3] [repetition] The organisers knew that getting time on mass media was an effective strategy for forcing the authorities to address specific demands.

Protest groups, captured by the cameras of T.V. stations, could get the attention of international bodies willing to condemn the actions of the Norwegian government. Such grievances proved to be a motivating source of shame for a government that presented itself internationally as an advocate for human rights.

Sympathies in Storting
Left Socialst and Liberal members of the Storting (The Norwegian parliament] were more likely to have sympathy for the interests of local communities in Norway and were therefore a natural path to a parliamentary voice for local Norwegians and Sami who were against the dam. However, given their minority status in the Storting at the time, those parties were not equipped to turn the Storting away from final approval of the dam's construction.[1]

Local Alta Residents
The majority of local Norwegian residents in the town of Alta opposed dam construction, demonstrating sympathy for the affected Sami villages.[18] Anti-dam Alta residents were additionally motivated by general ecological concerns about their shared river and the downstream consequences of dam construction on their economies of farming, hunting, and fishing.[1] In addition to direct communication with government representatives, these residents were able to add their numbers to highly influential protests, including Folkeaksjonen. More than half of all local voters in the 1979 election participated in civil disobedience, public demonstrations, public meetings, or petition signing.[1]

Interested Stakeholders: Pro-Dam Groups

Storting and the Norwegian Executive Government
The aim of the Norwegian government regarding the hydroelectric dam in Alta was based predominantly on the energy needs in the north of the country. The geography of Norway leads to distinct separations between the north and south, with most of the population residing in the south.[2] The separation along with the isolation of the north made transmission lines between the south and north of the country very expensive. This in part lead to the conclusion that building a dam in the north would be more economically viable relative to other potential solutions.[3].

During the 1970s and 1980s, local knowledge was largely deemed irrelevant as the modernization theory became increasingly prevalent.[3] This theory justifies the national interest over local opposition as a natural progression of the nation in the process of modernization. This theory was embraced in part due to the legacy of World War II in Europe [13] . The Norwegian government, with very little Sami representation or awareness at the time, desired to emphasize their own sovereignty by removing their reliance on power and energy from neighbouring nations. [18] Thus, the investigation of potential implications of the project were made solely by government-approved experts and any local knowledge or input from Sami people was disregarded. In retrospect, some scholars claim that the emphasis on scientific understanding was wielded as a tool to justify the project as opposed to informed decision making.[2] Scholars point to the fact that the only information made publicly available was from the organization responsible for building this dam, no independent investigation was conducted, and there was no inquiry into local perspectives.[18]. The opacity of this process and lack of consideration for local communities highlights how the Norwegian government selectively controlled information flows to streamline and simplify large infrastructure decisions.

Support for the dam in Storting was found most strongly from members of the Labour and Conservative parties, whose centralist and growth-orientated values informed an eagerness to approve projects with economic potential for nation-building.[1] With a majority in Storting throughout the 1970s and 80s, those parties possessed a large amount of influence on legislative and executive decisions relevant to the outcome of the Alta Dam proceedings.[1]

Local Elvebakken Residents
In contrast to the anti-dam Alta residents, residents of the nearby township of Elvebakken, who had no fishing privileges in the Alta river, were more likely to support construction of the dam and less likely to express concerns over possible damage to the river.[1] Pro-dam citizens in Elvebakken and Alta sometimes joined counter-protest demonstrations or voiced their mind in town hall forums or the local papers.[1]

Outcomes

Social and Political Outcomes
Despite the problematic planning of the Alta dam, in 1980, in response to the protests, the government did create the Sami Rights Commission.[20] This commission was tasked with investigating the potential infringements of the planned dam on the lives of the Sami People.[20] For the first time, the government was creating official institutions to engage with the Sami. The Sami Rights Commission would go on to advocate for the recognition of the Sami as an Indigenous Peoples Group as well as ratification of ILO 169. [25]
The Commission came forward with a number of recommendations including the transfer of land and non-renewable resources to a newly established council representing the Sami peoples. [13] Allowing the Sami Parliament delaying veto rights when Sami interests are involved was also proposed. [13]

The creation of the Sami Parliament allows for increasing official consultation with the Sami communities as well as increased participation in decision making.[20] Despite improved consultation processes, the Sami Parliament continues to criticise their lack of involvement under the Mineral Act which limits their right to object in cases of mineral extraction permits within Finnmark.[32] There are also controversies in the Finnmark act as ownership rights are replaced by rights to aid in management of lands.[32]

The planning of the dam happened in relative secrecy with the public learning of it for the first time through a leak. The government was initially ignorant of any economic value or way of life associated with the surrounding area as the only impacts considered were on agricultural operations of which there were none in Alta. [2] Opposition from the Sami and environmentalists began building and by 1975 official protests had begun. [2] The first delay in proceedings occurred when a Sami activist and lawyer challenged the lack of proper notice in 1979. [2] This was followed by more cases being brought forth on a variety of charges including lack of compensation for affected communities.[33] These cases lead to delays of over a year but ultimately, the court ruled in the government's favor and the dam went ahead. [17] Despite the ruling in the government’s favour in each case despite a lack of legal precedence for Sami land rights, judges began expressing concern over the lack of recognition of the legal rights of the Sami.[17] It was also the first time a case pertaining to Sami land rights had made it to the supreme court, allowing Sami rights to begin to gain legal and social traction.[17]

Despite the project ultimately continuing, the protests did result in some victories for opponents of the dam. The project was downsized substantially from the initial plans and was modified so as to not flood the village of Maze. [2] Ultimately, despite the dam being built, the adamant protests from the Sami people led to tangible change in Norwegian politics and sparked legal and social changes in the years preceding and following the project, resulting in the recognition of Sami as an Indigenous Peoples group.[21]

The completed dam.

Ecological outcomes
As predicted by opponents of the plans in Alta, the dam did have negative effects on the local ecology. A study on salmon density in the Alta River beginning in 1988 found significant reduction in salmon populations in parts of the river furthest upstream as a result of the Alta dam.[15] The highest part of salmon habitat is located 2.5 km downstream of the dam and significant changes in temperatures were observed there.[15] An increase of 1-3 degrees Celsius in September and 1-2 degrees in the winter was discovered along with a decrease of 1-2 degrees Celsius in the summer.[15] The warmer winter temperatures lead to a decrease in ice cover of the river resulting in a doubling of mean river discharge. Ice has been shown to provide protection for juvenile salmon from invertebrate predators and the reduction of ice is likely a cause of lower population sizes.[15] Additionally, turbine malfunctions have caused sudden drops in water levels leading to stranding and increased mortality of fish.[15]

Direct impacts of the Alta dam on reindeer population are difficult to study. The initial plans included flooding of the Iešjávri basin, an area central to up to 40 000 reindeer’s migratory routes.[34] Although this plan was revised, the areas ultimately flooded by the revised plans were however important to spring calving.[34] It is also speculated that indirect effects of unfamiliar infrastructure may also negatively impact reindeer populations.[2][34]

Recommendations

Recommendations regarding Issues in Alta

In retrospect, a major failure in the Alta case was the lack of consideration of the Sami perspective prior to the plans being formulated for the Alta dam. A potential source of this issue was the ignorance around the Sami way of life as well.[2] To avoid these issues in the future, communication, representation, and Sami involvement in decision making institutions are vital steps. The recognition of the Sami as an Indigenous Peoples’ Group was an important step.[19] In Norway, there is evidence of additional advances through the creation of institutions like the Sami Parliament. Preceding the Alta case, the efforts to recognize the Sami as an Indigenous Peoples Group and the creation of the Finnmark Act also show that Sami relations have become an important part of Norwegian culture. Additionally, Sami is now recognized as an official language in Norway.

Other Resources: Mining
Recent efforts to expand mining projects into the Finnmark region have once again caused discussion of resource use on traditional Sami land.[35] Similar to the Alta case, opposition to these proposals is in large part due to concerns about the effects that the development of mines would have on reindeer herding. One of these proposals is to redevelop an old copper mine in Kvalsund municipality.[35] The Sami parliament has expressed opposition to both projects. however, the case moved up to the state level where zoning plans were eventually approved.[35] This case led to questioning of Norway’s commitment to prioritize Sami rights. However, a modification to the Planning and Building Act gives municipalities the right to “protect the natural basis for Sami culture, economic activity and social life.”[35] When the draft was submitted to the planning authority, the Kautokeino Municipal Council, the council chose to protect the current land users' rights.[35] Investigation into the legality of the rejection of this project concluded in favour of the Council and the Sami. This case shows that Norway has robust legal protection for the rights of Sami peoples.

Sami Resource Rights in other Nations
The Sami people occupy territories not only in Norway but also in Finland, Sweden, and Russia.[35] Their protections vary among these countries and each state could benefit by looking at the successes others have had in protecting and prioritizing Sami rights.[35]

Finland has a similar institution to Norway's Sami Parliament called the Finnish Sami Parliament and which is historically opposed to most mining operations.[35] In recent years mining companies have expressed concern and consideration for Sami culture and lands particularly as they must obtain a social licence to operate. In order to avoid a lengthy appeal process from the Sami parliament, most companies desire to work with the Sami.[35] The governing body for decisions regarding mining projects has recently been transferred to Tukes, The Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency and this recent transfer has led to accusation that they do not yet have enough experience in handling complaints.[35] As acknowledged by the mining companies and exemplified in the Alta case, increased communication and honesty are key in building trust.[35] The leak of the Alta plans and opacity of the planning process created huge tension in Norway and the Finnish mining sector seems to have learned that open communication is key.

There is further tension between the state and the Sami population in Sweden over resource use.[35] Mining in the Lulea River has the potential to affect drinking water which has led to public protests similar to the Alta case by way of road blocking and demonstrations. Similar to the county of Finnmark, Sweden does make the distinction between Sami and non-Sami lands. As explored earlier, this has drawn criticism that Article 14 of ILO 169 has not been fulfilled. however, Sweden has not ratified C169.[25] It is recommended that in both Sweden and Finland, exploration of the Finnmark Act’s compliance with ILO 169 should continue, and the rights to land determination and ownership should continue to be strengthened.

In Russia, there is no legislation requiring consultation with Sami communities, creating fear that future mining projects could infringe on the remaining reindeer herding pastures.[35] The energy information administration can request an ethnological report detailing the effects of a proposed project on Indigenous groups. however, this is an option, not a requirement.[35] Much of the mining sector was established during the Soviet period prior to the consideration of any Indigenous rights. Additionally, the land is mostly federally owned and it can be difficult for local opposition to be heard.[35] One strategy that Norway implemented in Finnmark was the creation of institutions that ensure local citizens have a voice in natural resource allocation in the area.

Of the Nordic countries with Sami populations, Norway is the only country to have ratified ILO 169 and ratification of this convention in other nations would be an important step in proving their commitment to Sami rights.[19]

References

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