Ongoing solidarity without borders. (Sign at Gállok. Photo: Peter Steggo).
Since the beginning of July, the name of the place Gállok (in Sámi, or Kallak in Swedish, in the municipality of Jokkmokk in Northern Sweden) has been given a new meaning. A mining company (Jokkmokk Iron Mines AB, JIMAB, a subsidiary company of the British Beowulf Mining) has been granted permission to complete exploratory drillings for iron ore. JIMAB initiated exploration at the end of June; the next step, i.e. blasting for further prospecting, is about to begin.
The prospecting process raises concerns. If an iron mine were to be built, it could jeopardize the ability for people that live in the area to carry out traditional reindeer herding and other livelihoods. There is also a risk for pollution in the Lule River and the ecosystem of the valley.
Gállok is situated in Sámi land. Reindeer herders have used the area since time immemorial. It is one of many sites where mining companies have received prospecting rights: the Swedish Mineral Act is generous and advantageous for foreign companies to prospect and exploit the land for minerals – without taking into consideration indigenous rights.
“Change the Mining Act” (Sign in Gállok, with the Sámi flag). Photo: Peter Steggo.
The situation at Gállok is not only a symptom of a defective mineral policy from older times. It is also a manifest expression of disregard for indigenous rights.
However, it is not JIMAB that puts the name of Gállok on the map. Rather, it is a growing environmental movement for the protection of Sápmi and against the mining industry that makes the name Gállok synonymous with reaction to planned mining.
The depth of consequence that mines in the Sámi area would have for reindeer herders and the population in the area triggers questions and concerns.
Environmental activists and locals set up “Camp Gállok” in July 2013, as the first digging was to begin. On several occasions, the police were ordered to remove the activists and the blockades. A new police intervention is going on at the time of writing (21st August).
People at Camp Gállok receive support from the local population that brings food and supplies on a daily basis. People from other parts of the country also visit the site and donations are collected.
Cultural workers play a significant role in the struggle. Performances and concerts take place every week; artists from the Jokkmokk have contributed with paintings and art installations.
(Sign at Camp Gállok. Photo: Peter Steggo).
The mining industry makes appealing promises in terms of job opportunities and financial growth. Therefore, the struggle for Gállok causes strong reactions, and the issue of a future mine divides the population.
However, since its start in July, the movement in Gállok is increasing with the support it receives and the attention it is given in the media. It has already been compared to the the Alta struggle, which remains one of the main conflicts in modern Sámi history. The conflict in Alta was about the construction of a hydroelectric power plant on the Alta river in Norway in the late 70s – early 80s. The power plant was built, but the Alta struggle laid the ground for the establishment of national Sámi parliaments in the Nordic countries. In the case of Alta as in Gállok, the conflict brings to the fore the question of the legitimacy of a political decisions that violate indigenous rights. Further, it underscores the insufficiency and inadequacy of contemporary minority politics and the need for a new environmental legislation.
The growing attention that the Gállok movement receives – where social media play a significant role for sharing information, building networks and giving support – shows parallels with another indigenous movement, such as the Idle No More-movement that started in Canada in November 2012.
We find similarities in the use of social media and digital technology for contestation; grassroot initiatives for the protection of indigenous rights; and how something considered a local issue grows into a global issue of concern on an international level. Also, the role of cultural workers illustrates the power of culture as a vehicle for communication of values.
The coverage of the events in Gállok, from everyday life to political actions, has spread through social media: on Twitter with the hashtags #Gállok #Kallak, on Facebook groups, on YouTube, blogs, more blogs etc. Consequently, it has reached out to traditional media (for instance Dagens Nyheter, Dagens Nyheter again, Svenska Dagbladet, Aftonbladet). The dedication and commitment of the people in Gállok have succeeded in bringing the issue to national and international levels.
One of the pits.
One of JIMAB’s machines.
The conflict also contextualizes current differing perspectives on nature: as heritage or as commodification.
Gállok is today a place of contrasts where big machines open up the ground and where blasting is about to break the silence of the forest.
Gállok can not anymore be considered a remote place in Sápmi.
Gállok has become the center for a growing environmental movement for indigenous rights.