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Demonstration in Oslo seeks removal of windfarms in Indigenous region

Hundreds of Indigenous and environmental campaigners have blocked a main thoroughfare in Oslo to demand the demolition of two windfarms that have been described by the Norwegian government as a “violation of human rights”.

The Wednesday protest traces its roots to a landmark 2021 decision by Norway’s supreme court that found 151 wind turbines in the western region of Fosen had trampled on the rights of Sámi reindeer herders by encroaching on their pastures.

While the court said the turbines’ expropriation and operating permits were invalid, it did not specify what should be done with the infrastructure.

As a result, the 151 turbines continue to operate, making up part of Europe’s largest onshore windfarm, even as Sámi activists repeatedly call for their removal.

“In this case there really isn’t an acceptable compromise,” said Ella Marie Hætta Isaksen, a Sámi activist. “It’s really an absurd situation. Today on the second anniversary of the verdict, we have to drop everything and put our everyday lives on hold because we need to make sure that our own government is following its law.”

Tents set up at an intersection on Karl Johans gate in central OsloTents set up at an intersection on Karl Johans gate in central Oslo in protest at the windfarms on the Sámi Fosen peninsula. Photograph: Javad Parsa/NTB/AFP/Getty Images

The government’s reluctance to remove the turbines was “completely devastating”, she said. “It truly is a painful case. It feels like the government is really strategically removing the reindeer rearing culture. And it really scares a lot of young people because for us, our culture is everything. It really feels like we are nothing without our lands or our reindeer.”

Hætta Isaksen was among the hundreds of people, some waving Sámi flags and wearing the traditional gákti, who took to Oslo’s streets early on Wednesday, setting up several Sámi tents known as lavvu. Later she joined a dozen or so people who occupied a hall in the country’s parliament building, singing joik, traditional Sami chants.

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It was the latest in a series of protests calling for the turbines to be taken down that have brought together environmentalists and Sámi since the court decision.

At a protest earlier this year, Greta Thunberg, who is due to join the protest on Thursday, was among those detained.

At the time, the climate activist explained why she and others had rallied behind the Sámi. “We can’t use the so-called climate transition as a cover for colonialism,” Thunberg told the broadcaster TV2. “A climate transition that violates human rights is not a climate transition worthy of the name.”

Campaigners in front of a lavvu they set up near to the Norwegian parliamentCampaigners in front of a lavvu they set up near to the Norwegian parliament on Wednesday. Photograph: Javad Parsa/NTB/AFP/Getty Images

The March protest was credited with pushing the government to acknowledge the harm that turbines had done to the Sámi community. “I have apologised on behalf of the government to the reindeer herding districts for the fact that the permits constituted a violation of human rights,” the minister of petroleum and energy, Terje Aasland, told a news conference.

Even so, the government has so far resisted calls to tear down the turbines and restore the lands where dozens of kilometres of roads were built. In a recent social media post, Aasland appeared to rule out the possibility, writing that “the destruction of all wind turbines was excluded”, according to AFP.

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Instead, the government has thrown its weight behind a mediation process between the windfarms, which can reportedly power 100,000 Norwegian homes, and the herders who continue to insist that the only solution is to take down the turbines.

The outcome of the conflict is being watched closely across Norway as it could signal the fate of other projects under development, from mines to power lines, in the vast lands traditionally used by the Sámi.

Fosen campaigners demonstrate inside the Norwegian parliament in OsloFosen campaigners demonstrate inside the Norwegian parliament in Oslo. Photograph: Hakon Mosvold Larsen/EPA

Gina Gylver, the head of the Norwegian branch of Young Friends of the Earth, welcomed the idea that the case could set a precedent. “It is possible to find solutions that also take into consideration Indigenous rights,” she said. “I think it is important for politicians to note that industry can be moved but Indigenous people cannot.”

Others pointed to the years-long dispute as a cautionary tale, with Ketan Joshi, the author of Windfall: Unlocking a Fossil-free Future, describing it as the “obvious outcome of extremely poorly thought-out wind power growth”.

In an email, he added: “Norway perfectly illustrates that fast but unjust clean energy development ultimately leads to a much slower pace of change than a steady, sustainable and community-focused mode of development.”