|Silje Karine Muotka
Alta, Norway Silje, a member of parliament in the indigenous Saami community, is fighting a proposed copper mine that would dump nearly 2 million tonnes of waste into the Repparfjord, impacting traditional livelihoods, human health, animals, and the environment. We’re sharing Silje’s story as a part of our efforts to pressure mining companies and the banks that fund them to #DitchOceanDumping.
Silje Karine Muotka was born in Kirkenes, a small border city where Norway, Finland and Russia meet– in the northernmost region of Finnmark County. “I am from an indigenous Saami community that has maintained its traditional fishing, reindeer-herding and farming lifestyle for centuries” says Silje. Early years growing up in proximity to the border shaped her belief in the important balance between nature and development.
“I remember really well when the borders opened up and we could meet our neighbors,” she says. “Russia had a lot of power plants close to the border – Andrejeva Bay is still totally contaminated with radioactive waste. When the wind blew from east, some of the trees died – on that side where the toxins came in from Russia.”
Silje now lives in Alta, with her husband and two children. She is a member of the Saami Parliament’s governing council, overseeing environmental, industrial, and developmental issues.
For the past 8 years, the Saami Parliament has faced off with Nussir ASA, a local mining firm that is pursuing a copper mine in Finnmark County. If approved, the mine would annually dump an estimated 2 million tonnes of mine waste into the Repparfjord and seriously disrupt the reindeer herding of indigenous Saami people.
Past mining has severely impacted the Repparfjord and its fisheries, and Silje is concerned this new mine will reverse the slow recovery process. They have learned the hard way that mining is a risky economic bet for their community. For generations, her family made its living in the Kirkenes mines, riding the booms and busts of the local mining industry.
“Mining has put bread on the table for my family, but society has suffered from being so dependent on this unreliable industry,” she says. “Mines may mean work and it is good that people are employed, but in the mining industry, people have no control on how activity is organized and run. It causes a lot of pollution and destroys other possibilities.”
She has also grown concerned about mining’s impact on Saami culture, language, and way of life. The Saami people have learned the hard way that extractive activities can complicate efforts to preserve an indigenous culture based on well-managed renewable resources.”We cannot afford projects that are designed to dump and pollute the fjords.”
“We know that mining activity will end. I’ve seen the community suffer in the aftermath when the mines shut down. Especially in Repparfjord where we have reindeer and fisheries that suffer the consequences.”
“It isn’t a question of economics, it’s a values question, a moral question about what we want to leave future generations. In Norway we talk about the ‘green shift’ which says that environmental aspects should be taken into consideration and that we must move toward more environmentally friendly industries. I do recognize that we need materials for new technologies – so we should look for better projects that don’t harm the environment and destroy our culture. When we find a way to do it that doesn’t cause destruction, then they can go ahead with the project. But not until. We must wait for technology to be there – I’m optimistic about this because humans are always finding new ways when they really need to.”