Northern Sweden – There are eight seasons in the Sami calendar. Each coincides with a stage in the life of their reindeer.
In the mountains near the border between Sweden and Norway, at the height of the summer season the Sami call Giessie, the reindeer herders mark the newborn calves that are just beginning to roam this land.
For a few short months, the sun never dips below the horizon. It is a way of life that the Sami, Europe’s only indigenous people, have followed for thousands of years. It is now one they say faces an uncertain future. A British company, Beowulf Mining, has been carrying out test drilling for iron ore in the area.
It says analysis of samples from its proposed Kallak iron ore mine are encouraging – the ore extracted from deep beneath the ground appears to be of a high quality.
Kallak is one of the largest known iron ore deposits in Scandinavia that has yet to be exploited. Beowulf is waiting for the Swedish authorities to decide whether to approve its application for a 25-year mining concession.
Eventually, the company hopes to extract up to 10m tonnes of iron ore a year at the mine.
But Sami reindeer herder Jakob Nygard believes the mine, and the infrastructure needed to operate it, could destroy his livelihood.
“They always tell us the mine will just be a small area,” he tells me at his wooden cabin in the isolated settlement of Vaisaluokta, an hour’s boat journey from the nearest paved road.
“If you throw a knife in the heart it is only small cut but the result is death.
“In the summer time we’re with the reindeer up in the mountains but in the winter we need to go down to the forest. The reindeer need to find food in nature so they need a big area to graze.
“We take many things from the reindeer into our culture so I think if reindeer herding dies then our culture also dies.”
Opinions among the 3,000 people living in the town of Jokkmokk, 40km (25 miles) from Kallak, are polarised.
The town would be one of the main beneficiaries if the mine goes ahead. Beowulf says its project would create 250 direct and over 1,000 indirect jobs.
“The population of Jokkmokk has been declining [at] basically 1% a year over the last 40 years, so the future is mining,” says Clive Sinclair-Poulton, executive chairman of Beowulf Mining.
“The mine will be an enormous economic injection that will bring back viability to the town. Jokkmokk needs jobs to go ahead and grow.
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