Reindeer herders of the Sámi Indigenous community have moved to a court of appeals in Norway to challenge a proposed wind power project. The Øyfjellet wind farm is one of the largest onshore wind projects in Norway and is expected to help the country move away from traditional fossil fuels. But reindeer herders have maintained that the project will negatively impact their animals and cultural practices by illegally blocking reindeer migration paths.

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“The Sámi people are not the ones who have contributed the most to climate change, but we seem to be the ones who have to carry its greatest burden,” said Gunn-Britt Retter, the head of the Arctic and environmental unit at the Sámi Council. “That’s not climate justice, that’s climate injustice.”

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The Sámi community lives in Norway, Finland, Sweden and Russia. They traditionally made their living through herding reindeer, and this practice is now protected by law. Only about 10% of the Sámi people still practice reindeer herding full-time in Norway. Even so, herding remains important to the community. Members of the community lament that if wind farms are built on their lands, the turbines will greatly affect the available area for herding the animals.

“Studies and Indigenous knowledge show that reindeer don’t go near wind turbines,” said Áslak Holmberg, the vice-chair of the Sámi Council. “These areas are lost from use to the herders.”

In September 2020, a court ruled against the reindeer herders, giving the project the green light. The herders have now opted to take the case to the court of appeals, with the hope of stopping the project or having some aspects revised.

“From our client’s point of view, it seems that the government will go far to protect the construction of a wind power plant that has been given concession and that this trumps the rights of the Indigenous people,” said Pål Gude Gudesen, the lawyer representing the reindeer herders.

Both Tony Christian Tiller, state secretary of the Energy Ministry in Norway, and Eolus, the company behind the proposed wind farm, have said they hope to see that the reindeer and the wind turbines can coexist. But the Sámi community said that both the government and energy companies are not taking Indigenous concerns into account.

“It’s a paradox, really,” Retter said. “You are squeezed between the impact of climate change and the impact of green energy, which is the answer to climate change.”

Via The Guardian

Image via Bo Eide