Key points:

  • Mining has extreme impacts on Sámi reindeer herding, including culture and rights.
  • Swedish legislation ignores impacts on Sámi land use, enabling land dispossession.
  • Significant changes are needed in governance to consider full scale of impacts.

When Indigenous rights and demands for mineral wealth collide, knowledge of mining impacts is a highly contested area. Yet the scholarly literature contains few studies of the impacts borne by Indigenous groups.

In this paper, the authors offer an empirical analysis of mining impacts on Sámi reindeer herding in two cases from Sweden. The mine in Kaunisvaara is an active, open-pit iron mine operated by Kaunis Iron. The mine in Stihke was an underground copper/zinc mine operated from 1976 to 1988 by Boliden. Data generation comprised of interviews, workshops, field visits, participatory GIS, and literature review.

The findings show how the two mines have caused similar impacts, including on the land and the reindeer, the economy, and Sámi culture, health, and well-being. In a comparative analysis the authors discuss five themes:

  • discrepancies between anticipated and actual impacts
  • mismatches between impacts and compensation
  • flaws in Swedish mining regulations – specifically for impact assessment
  • who holds relevant knowledge to predict impacts
  • patterns of dispossession rather than co-existence.

The authors argue that if governments and mining companies were to genuinely consider the full scale of impacts, then it would entail a fundamental paradigm shift in mining governance in Sweden.