ROME – Indigenous Arctic communities are deeply concerned about the climate crisis and race for resources in the region, the president of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues said.
“We would like to have in the agreements better protection of the indigenous people so they live from nature,” Anne Nuorgam said in an interview with EFE.
Nuorgam, who is also a member of the Sami Parliament of Finland, which advocates for the preservation of indigenous cultures, was in Rome to participate in a seminar at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization to share traditional knowledge and fishing techniques.
The community of about 500,000 from more than 40 groups represents 10% of the population of the area.
The Sami are one such group that has depended on fishing for centuries, but as a result of climate change, their livelihoods are under threat.
“I come from a fishing Sami family, so for us when the summers get warmer it affects the salmon, and I come from the largest salmon river in the whole of Europe and the fishing stocks are now getting smaller and smaller so it influences our food systems and also the traditional knowledge the Sami people pass from generation to generation,” she warned.
Ocean warming is thinning ice sheets that have turned traditional jobs into hazardous activities.
“The structure of ice is different because we don’t have cold winters anymore and there are warm seasons in between, so the ice is not hard, it can break during the winter in an unexpected way.
“So, unfortunately, in the last years, fishermen and reindeer herders are drowning more than before,” Nuorgam lamented.
In addition to fishing, hunting and reindeer herding, the Sami have traditionally relied on berry picking but the melting permafrost has had a huge impact on the volume of available fruits.
And it is not just the tangible that is being lost.
An important aspect to read the indigenous environment is also disappearing, the Sami language which is the pillar of terminology in glaciology.
Sami is more precise when describing snow or ice, although young people no longer know the hundreds of words that exist, the expert explained.
Nuorgam studied traditional languages, has worked as a translator and later specialized in law when she found herself at a loss when arguing with the Ministry of Justice over Sami lands.
For the last 20 years, Nuorgam has been a parliamentarian and since last April she has been the chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, which is a rotating position.
The Sami, made up of some 100,000 people spread across several countries, have a range of recognition of their rights depending on the country they reside in.
She told EFE that in Russia “there is really no protection” of their rights and in Norway, the extractive industries, as well as mining in Sweden, have an important influence in the region.
In Finland, there is free and informed prior consent, whereby authorities and companies have to negotiate with the Sami Parliament, which can resort to Justice if the consultation process is not followed, the Sami leader said.
Of some 500 cases that have been appealed, the Sami Parliament has won almost all of them claiming damage to their culture.
This has meant that at the moment there are no mines in that northern part of the country, although Finnish Sami still have pending challenges such as achieving autonomy over their lands since they only have the right to use but not to own property.
The only Arctic indigenous community in Europe has gone from inhabiting a hostile land for centuries to witnessing the Arctic thaw opening new trade routes and disputes over the exploitation of its resources.