This report presents a study of the consequences of the mine in the Stihke area, based on the experiences of Voernese Reindeer Herding District. This mine was operated by Boliden from 1976 until 1988. To date, little is known about the impacts of mining on Sámi land use, including reindeer herding. This is, to our knowledge, the first empirical study of the long-term impacts of the mining industry and the efficacy of rehabilitation, as experienced by an affected reindeer herding district in Sweden.
The study was conducted in 2019 and 2020 in a collaboration involving the Voernese Reindeer Herding District, Sámiid Riikasearvi (the Swedish Sámi Association) and the Stockholm Environment Institute. Data was generated primarily through interviews, workshops, document analysis and GIS mapping. In this report, we focus on Voernese Reindeer Herding District and do not address the impacts of the mine on other districts or on those Sámi not engaged in reindeer herding.
The results demonstrate that the mine has had substantial consequences, both during and after its operation. Voernese Reindeer Herding District carries out reindeer herding together with neighbouring Vilhelmina Södra Reindeer Herding District, on whose lands the mine was located, and it has hence been affected by land dispossession, disturbances, and damages to the pasture at the site. Today, the main impacts are caused by the road that was constructed in previously roadless territory and by tourism.
These impacts create considerable additional workload and costs for the herders, as well as stress and anxiety in the community, and leads to a loss of traditional Sámi knowledge of the land. Herding activities are also constrained by drill pipes and scrap iron that were left behind after prospecting activities carried out by the Swedish Geological Survey prior to the construction of the mine. Moreover, this study shows how in the 1970s the Voernese Reindeer Herding District was excluded from planning decisions for the mine and the district once again finds itself marginalized in the planning process for reopening the mine, this time by a different company, namely Vilhelmina Mineral.
The results of this study help to correct a common misunderstanding in both political and public debate about mining, namely that it can coexist with reindeer herding without significant impacts. They also contribute to an understanding of the geographical extent of the impacts of mining and associated infrastructure: that is to say, mines have consequences for reindeer herding districts beyond the specific district where a mine is located. In a wider perspective, this study offers yet an example of how mining companies and the state marginalize Sámi knowledge and abuse the participation of reindeer herding districts during environmental assessments.
These issues have their roots in insufficient protection for Sámi rights within Swedish legislation. They also owe to the ambiguous role of the state in navigating conflicts of interest, specifically between a duty to protect Sámi rights and promoting socio-economic objectives. The failure of the state to take responsibility for the issues experienced by Voernese Reindeer Herding District demonstrates that the colonial exploitation of natural resources in Sápmi is far from a historical problem – it is happening right now. For instance, the state has made no effort to review whether the limited financial compensation offered in the 1960s and 1970s corresponds to the actual damages suffered by the reindeer herding district.
In the short term, many improvements could be made through specific interventions to address the problems experienced by Voernese Reindeer Herding District in the Stihke area. The municipality and the county administrative board could act to mitigate the impacts of tourism and recreational activities. The government could also task the Swedish Geological Survey to clean up after its prospecting activities.
Yet the main issue arising from this study is the need for the state to develop a comprehensive strategy to review and provide redress for the many impacts of Boliden’s mine, including the effects of the associated road. Recent legal developments on Sámi rights should offer ample opportunity for the state to review its responsibility for the damages wrought in the Stihke area.