The Saami Council has learned that the Ministers of Transport and Communication of Finland and Norway have agreed to proceed with the investigation of the Arctic Railway project in order to produce a basis for decision-making on a railway construction from Rovaniemi in Finland to Kirkenes in Norway. According to press reports, the authorities of the two states are set to complete the construction of the railway project for the sake of the industry and tourism development, and the transport connectivity to central Europe and Asia.
The Saami Council is of the opinion that the authorities of Finland and Norway are in the process of forcing a large-scale industrial development in the Sami people's traditional territory without respecting Sami interests and representative bodies in a proper manner. Preservation of reindeer husbandry, traditional land use and traditional Sami land is the foundation for the survival of Sami language and culture. The Arctic Railway will inflict major encroachments on and fragmentation of large and important Sami reindeer pastures and nature areas. The railway will have major negative consequences for reindeer husbandry, other natural-based industries and the entire Sami culture. A failure to fulfill the rights of the Sami to participate in the decision-making process of an industrial project of such dimensions is, in our view, a clear breach of international law. The process of the Arctic Railway project will deny the Sami people of fundamental rights and encroach both upon land rights as well as culture and language as a whole.
The Saami Council refers to the serious concerns expressed by representatives of the Sami reindeer herding communities. The trace options for the Arctic Railway, either on the eastern or western side of Lake Inari, would cut through important reindeer pastures and migrations patterns. This will affect the income and existence of the reindeer herding communities in the entire area from Rovaniemi in Finland to Kirkenes in Norway. It is also of vital importance to consider the major negative impacts that the Arctic Railway will have not only on the traditional Sami reindeer husbandry, but also on fishing, hunting and gathering that all combined constitute the foundation of the Sami culture.
The Sami Council can not accept the project being continued with the serious consequences that the project will impose on Sami industries and Sami culture.
The Saami Council supports the demand submitted by Sámediggis (The Sami Parliaments) of Finland and Norway as well as the Sami Parliamentarian Council for a cultural, social, economic and envrionmental impact assessment of the Arctic Railway project.
The Saami Council request the Norwegian and Finnish Ministers of Communication and Transport immediately to commence with the assessment of cumulative impacts of already existing encroachments that all the affected Sami reindeer herding communities have demanded concerning the regional land use planning process. The authorities should carry out this assessment in consultation, cooperation and mutual understanding with Sami stakeholders and provide enough financial resources for the task.
Moreover, the Saami Council requests the Ministers to carry out consultations with relevant Sami rights holders and The Sami Parliaments of Finland and Norway in order to ensure that the Sami rights and needs are protected at an early stage before decisions are to be made. It is important that the responsible authorities carry out consultations in good faith in order to fulfil the rights of the Sami to free, prior, and informed consent.
The Sami Council, which represents nine Sami national associations in all four nation states in which the Sami people resides, will keep a close dialogue on the matter with the stakeholders, Sami rights holders and Sami Parliaments of Finland and Norway.
The Sami Council has also conducted a dialogue meeting in Inari on September 21, 2018 with representatives of the affected reindeer grazing districts, Sami organizations and other stakeholders, as well as the Sami Parliaments of Finland, Norwayand Sweden, who requested the Saami Council to make this statement.