Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Day 1 in Kiruna

This blog was originally posted on the Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic Blog on June 25, 2014.

by Alexandar Vujadinovic and Kyle Morrison

The day began with a lecture by Åsa Persson, leader of the Mining Inspectorate (Bergsstaten), a
governmental agency responsible for decisions concerning permits for exploration and mining. It was very interesting to hear her presentation of the decision-making behind the mining operations in the northern territories of Sweden. In the presentation, she gave an overview on how different companies apply for exploration permits, how the Mining Inspectorate tries to evaluate the capability of the interested party to actually perform development in the area, and the other steps that are necessary when attempting to establish a mine. Mining and exploration activities need to comply with environmental regulations, and applicants may be rejected if they are obviously incapable of conforming to the regulations, or have a record of violating rules. We learned about controversies that may arise in this business regarding the decisions made by the Mining Inspectorate. The only areas that are protected from mining are state-owned national parks and city areas that are defined for a specific usage in the municipality area plans.

We also got a more detailed insight in Kiruna’s status as a mining town, and why a significant amount of people actually are supportive of the upcoming move of the town, even if it means that their homes will be demolished, and that they’ll have to be relocated to new ones. Studies have shown that parts of Kiruna will collapse into the ground as mining activities goes deeper into the ground, which ultimately led to the decision to relocate the inhabitants and companies. The mining activities are the main sources of income for the town, and many are aware of the fact that it’s a very remote community with relatively limited opportunities to support its existence at the current state, should the mining be stopped.

The group had prepared a set of questions before the meeting and a lot of them revolved around the
area’s status as native Sami lands. One of the questions asked was if Åsa Persson’s opinion on the aspects that make Sweden different from other countries that traditionally are associated with colonialism. It was apparently hard to find a good answer, but one noticeable difference was the fact that the Sami weren’t associated with a lower socio-economic status, as native populations in some other states in many cases do. Another question was whether there were any people from the Sami communities in the Mining Inspectorate. The answer was that there were none. Negotiations are usually held with Sami people that are affected by mining activities, but none from the community are part of the Mining Inspectorate’s authority to make final decisions on resource extraction.

In the afternoon our field work task was to explore the mining landscape at the mountain Luossavaara – one of the main mining areas at Kiruna, nowadays closed. We studied the area – and the way the Kiruna municipality narrates it – by hiking up the Midnight sun trail (Midnattssolstigen). The trail was about 4.5 kilometers. At the top we were asked to document the sights of the landscape and how we believed humans had overall changed the landscape. The landscape at first glance looks untouched but when taking a closer look one can see many differences that have been affected by mankind. In the distance there were many electrical wires and also open-pit mines that had been refilled with water and made into lakes. There were also a large and flat plateau which was clearly not natural to the landscape. Another interesting point to bring up was that even the trail and the signs that surrounded us were changes to the landscape that had been implemented to this area. The largest and most apparent of all the changes to the landscape was of course the iron mine that had created an unnatural canyon near this trail.

Some important questions to consider when viewing these changes are who and what are they going to affect? Will they have effects on the reindeer herding activities of the Sami? Or perhaps will they have an effect of the balance of the ecosystem and the health of the inhabitants? These all serve as reminders of how mankind has changed and will continue to change the Arctic.

Photographs by Alexandar Vujadinovic

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