COPENHAGEN, Denmark (CN) — Protesters from an indigenous Sámi youth association and an environmental group are refusing to leave Norway’s Ministry of Petroleum and Energy building in a show of opposition to a wind farm project interfering with reindeer herders.
“We have slept over here, and it is going well. The ministry has closed the main door so people cannot enter, so we can't pick up food,” Elle Rávdná Näkkäläjrvi of the Sámi youth group NSR Nuorat told Swedish broadcaster SVT by phone around midday Friday.
Protesters with NSR Nuorat and environmental organization called Nature and Youth have occupied the building since Thursday morning in a demonstration against 150 wind turbines still standing in the Fosen region of central Norway despite an October 2021 decision from the Norwegian Supreme Court deeming them illegal on the grounds of disturbing Sámi reindeer herders’ cultural rights under international conventions.
“We do not resort to civil disobedience unnecessarily. We have no choice. The Norwegian Supreme Court has said that the wind turbine construction in Fosen is illegal. And the parliament does nothing. There is nothing else we can do,” Näkkäläjärvi said.
The Sámi are the only recognized indigenous group living within the European Union. They live across northern parts of Sweden, Finland, Norway and Russia, with an estimated population of around 80,000.
Sámi culture includes a long tradition of reindeer herding. Many Sámi continue to make a living by selling reindeer meat and fur.
In 2018, after Norway had already granted permission to build wind farms in the area, the United Nations asked the Scandinavian country to stop the process until the legal system had given the green light. The Norwegian government did not act on the request.
Sámi reindeer herders argued that noise and the sight of wind turbines frightened grazing animals, posing a direct threat to their age-old tradition.
Norway’s Supreme Court deemed the licenses to build and operate the wind farms illegal in October 2021, finding they violated a 1966 treaty known as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
It was unclear what the aftermath of the verdict would be. At the time, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy said that it would “communicate later about what to do next,” but not a single one of the 150 wind turbines has been removed more than 500 days after the court order.
After the protest started Thursday morning, Norway's energy minister Terje Aasland met demonstrators face-to-face in the building's lobby.
“I understand what you mean, but I have no more detailed information about what will happen with the Fosen case other than that it must be done properly. We have to make sure that we safeguard indigenous rights,” Aasland told protesters.
On Friday, Aasland invited some of the protesters to a meeting at a later date after they refused to leave the ministry. The minister also said he is scheduled to meet with Sámi parliament leader Silje Karine Muotka on March 2.
The Ministry of Petroleum and Energy has not commented on how it will act on the protest currently occupying its building, according to SVT.
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