Thu, Feb 28, 2019 - Page 9 News List

The battle to save
Europe’s last great wilderness

A railway through Lapland could create new jobs, or destroy the Sami people’s ancient way of life

By Tom Wall  /  The Guardian

“I personally believe that this Arctic railway won’t be built if climate change is stopped — but in the worst-case scenario then we might be able to build it when the ice melts,” Riipi said.

The regional council does not include any representatives from the Sami parliament, but Riipi said that they do not have anything to fear from the railway.

“The Sami culture has survived even though roads have been there. This is another road — except it goes a long way in tunnels,” he said.

While the council opposes mining in the Sami homeland, it does not issue the mining permits, Riipi added.

“We made a decision at the regional level, we don’t want any mines in the Sami home area,” he said.

Rovaniemi City Council Chair Heikki Autto said that the plan is an environmentally friendly scheme.

“We all want to prevent climate change, but what seems to be inevitable is that the ice is going and this opens up the sea route. It is only one-third the distance of the current route between Europe and Asia and, of course, it is more environmentally sound to use the short cut.”

The railway would help the Sami in northern Lapland, Autto said.

“I have a Sami background myself, but the Sami-speaking population in our traditional home area has diminished to the point where if we don’t find new opportunities and business activity it will totally disappear,” he said.

There is no reason not to allow mines in the Sami homeland, Autto said.

“Why not? It has to be discussed with the local community, but it would provide livelihoods for hundreds of people directly and for thousands indirectly,” he said.

However, on the darkening shores of Lake Inari, the political machinations of the regional capital seemed very far away.

Seurujarvi warmed himself with a cup of coffee and barley bread in his kitchen.

He said he longs to live a quiet life, but believes he must resist the railway if the next generation is to live off the forests and lakes of his ancestors.

“Reindeer herding has been my only dream,” he said. “I want to give my future children the chance to live in the Sami way.”

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