SEI Publications: Fighting To Be Herd: Rebecca Lawrence on the Boliden Mine

SEI announces the release of a new report by Research Affiliate Rebecca Lawrence and Rasmus Kløcker Larsen from the Stockholm Environment Institute.

Image by Sead Dedić, via Unsplash

The report, written in collaboration with the Semisjaur Njarg Sami community, and co-published by the Stockholm Environment Institute assesses the impacts on Indigenous Sami reindeer herding by the proposed Boliden mine in Laver, Älvsbyn, Sweden. The report can be read in full here.

Reindeer herding around the Arctic is a livelihood that sustains over 100,000 people. Unlike agriculture, reindeer herding requires a nomadic lifestyle, based on generations of land-specific experience adapted to climatic and political-economic systems of the north. Communities follow reindeer herds as they migrate with changing seasons and food availability, however, as herders find themselves on the frontlines of climate change, access to pastures and freedom of movement will be ever more crucial to respond to variable climates, a challenge only compounded by globalisation, societal, economic and political changes.

One of the biggest threats to reindeer herding is the fragmentation of pastures due to industrial development, and while state-management regimes for herding differ between states and countries, Lawrence and Larsen note that a reoccurring challenge is a general lack of understanding and recognition of pastoralism by governing authorities. Management is often based on non-indigenous agricultural models and understandings of land use that are incapable of reflecting the full depth of reindeer herding as an indigenous, traditional, nomadic way of life.

Impact assessments of industrial developments and land use in reindeer herding areas are often developed in isolation, despite the fact that it is usually the cumulative impacts of developments that have the most serious consequences. Herding communities are rarely approached and included in appropriate ways, and are often consulted tokenistically at much too late a stage, after major investments have been made.

Boliden’s proposed open-cut copper mine in Laver, Älvsbyn, in Northern Sweden is located on the Semisjaur Njarg community’s winter grazing pastures. Winter grazing pastures constitute a “bottleneck” for reindeer herding in general due to other encroachments, and if the proposed mine becomes a reality, almost all of the winter pastures will be impacted, meaning that Sami reindeer herding will no longer possible in the Laver area, leading to a collapse of traditional practices as was experienced by the Gällivare Forest Sami community following the building of the Aitik mine.

Beginning with a baseline investigation of the current situation, the report provides a comprehensive description of the Semisjaur Njarg Sami community, and an analysis of current and future encroachments on their lands. The authors go on to explore reindeer herding’s social and cultural importance and the challenges herding communities face, before providing a detailed impact assessment of Boliden’s planned mine in Laver, alongside propositions for new ways of doing impact assessments that are based on the active participation of the affected indigenous communities, the inclusion of their traditional indigenous knowledge and a respect for their rights as indigenous peoples.

Ultimately, the authors find that although Boliden asserts that the impacts of the proposed mine in Laver can be mitigated, Boliden’s own Environmental Impact Assessment concedes that reindeer herders will likely be pushed out of reindeer herding. Boliden’s proposed mine would entail significant breaches of the Sami community’s property rights and individual reindeer herders’ right to culture, with no appropriate mitigation or compensation. Lawrence and Larson recommend a full human rights impact assessment of the proposed mine, in conjunction with a further assessment of the mine’s impact on Sami rights.

The full report, co-published with the Stockholm Environment Institute is available to access here.

Rebecca Lawrence is an SEI research affiliate and a Research Fellow at the Department of Political Science, Stockholm University. She is Chief Investigator for a major research project funded by the Swedish Research Council for Sustainable Development on the impacts of mining on local and Indigenous communities in Sweden, Norway, Finland and Australia. Rebecca is also funded by the Norwegian Research Council for a project concerned with the integration of Indigenous knowledge systems into environmental decision making.