The team joined a gathering of Sami church elders in Tautra. One elder recounted centuries of discrimination and struggles against large-scale energy projects from hydroelectric dams that submerged their villages in the 1960s to wind power parks that are eroding traditional ways of life.
“Invisibility has been our survival strategy,” another elder said, adding that it is an extension of the Sami worldview to “leave no mark on the Earth.” But one consequence is that lands are perceived to be uninhabited and considered available for “development” and exploitation.
The team visited the Storheia and Roan wind park in the Foesen peninsula, the largest in Norway and the largest onshore wind project in Europe costing USD 660 million to build. Despite a Supreme Court ruling declaring the park illegal, it continues to operate.
Framed as a climate change “solution,” the project comprises 152 giant wind turbines of 87 meters height and rotors of 117 meters in diameter piercing the hilltops as far as the eyes could see. Reindeer, elk, eagles and other wildlife used to frequent these areas but the team saw no animals during their time there.
"I cannot see a future for me as a reindeer herder,” said Ramona Sorfijell, a student and one of the Sami youth the team met inside a Sami turf hut in Nord University in Levanger. Hers is one of several Sami families whose livelihoods have been jeopardised by the wind park due to the loss of reindeer grazing lands.
"The question we must ask ourselves is – why do we need more energy? To melt the ice on our roads, to produce more than what we need and waste more?” said Maajja-Krihke Bransfjell, who is studying to be a teacher in the Sami language. "It is illogical to destroy sustainable cultures in pursuit of a ‘green’ economy."
“Climate change is also posing a huge challenge to us Sami,” added Bransfjell. It has changed reindeer grazing, migration and mating patterns as well as affected the health of the herds which they depend on. At the same time, Bransfjell is convinced that traditional Sami practices offer sustainable solutions to the climate crisis.
Members of the WCC Pilgrim Team Visit shared their reflections.
For Maria Mountraki, the traditional Sami turf hut in the university made of completely biodegradable and local materials was the greatest sign of hope. “Inside, Sami students can speak freely in their language, be in a safe place, and be proud of their heritage,” said Mountraki.
Andres Pacheco reflected on the role of the church. “The Sami altar inside the Trondheim Cathedral we visited is a very significant expression of recognition and acknowledgment of the role of Christianity, challenging its colonial history, but also embodying new forms and hopes of Sami people,” said Pacheco.
Overall “we witnessed incredible strength and perseverance that is rarely to be seen,” said Pawel Pustelnik. “The people we met experienced a lot of pain, sorrow and injustice but still radiate with power and faith that change is possible.”
WCC Pilgrim Team Visits accompany communities in Italy, Armenia, Norway (WCC news release 31 May 2022)