According to recent estimates, Sweden holds 60% of Europe’s identified ore deposits and is currently responsible for 90% of Europe’s iron ore extraction.1 Sweden has an expansive mining industry. The Swedish Government has declared that further extraction of mineral resources is vital for the global economy and the good quality of life. Swedish governments want to reinforce Sweden as a leading mining country.2
Gállok is located in the municipality of Jåhkåmåhkke, Norrbotten Country, Sápmi land (northern Sweden). Noted as an Area of National Interest by the Swedish Geological Survey, Gállak North is one of the largest iron ore deposits in Scandinavia, which has not been exploited yet.3 According to the Environmental Justice Atlas, exploration of the area has shown findings of 25-45% iron in the ore and estimated that the deposit contains at least 600 million tonnes of iron.4
The British-based mineral exploration company Beowulf Mining, through its Swedish subsidiary Jokkmokk Iron Mines AB, hopes to gain a 25-year exploitation concession for the Gállak North iron ore deposit.
If the mine goes ahead, infrastructure of roads and railways will open ‘Jokkmokk mining area’ for the extraction of larger and more toxic industries, including copper and uranium. It predicted that for every 10 million tonnes of iron, 150 million tonnes of aggregate would be extracted [Fig 1].
The Sámi people, the only recognised indigenous people in Europe, have been living as pastoralists and hunters in these territories for thousands of years. For the Sámi people reindeer herding remains, after centuries, one of the principal components of their culture, identity, and economy. The territories where the mine is located play a crucial role in the survival of the reindeer herding. Future development in the area would severely affect migration paths.5 As noted by Jonas Vannar, a reindeer herder and vice-chairman of Sirges Sameby, one of the three Sámi reindeer herding communities that would be affected by the mine "in reindeer herding it is crucial for the reindeer to be able to migrate". He discusses the negative impact in other similar places where there are mines and underlines how, given that the Gállok North area lies precisely between the winter and summer pastures, urban development there will cut off the reindeers’ migration routes.6 As well as having catastrophic impacts in the Sámi community, the mine threatens the World Heritage Centre protected site ‘Laponian Area,’ which is situated just 30 kilometre away and is considered by Unesco as “the largest area in the world (and one of the last) with an ancestral way of life based on the seasonal movement of livestock.”7
If the plans for the mine materialise, the negative externalities for reindeer herding are enormous, which implies, in turn, that the Sámi people’s main source of subsistence, culture and livelihood are seriously at stake. The most affected community would be the herding community of Jåhkågåsska Tjiellde, whose territory would be cut in two.
At the same time, Jokkmokk area faces increasing challenges. As former forest activist Daniel Rochment explains: "While youth migration to more densely parts of Sweden, there is aging population and raising unemployment".8 Social impact of the mine includes: human rights violations, economic colonization, loss of livelihood, displacement, unemployment and lack of work security, loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, land dispossession and destruction of landscape, public space and sense of place. Expected environmental impacts are: air pollution, biodiversity loss, loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, noise pollution, soil contamination, soil erosion, deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, surface water pollution as well as decreasing water quality, groundwater pollution or depletion, large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems and mine tailing spills.9 Politician, reindeer herder and activist Henrik Blind explain:
The two things will happen if the mine goes ahead: Firstly, there will a whole in the ground. They will destroy the ground where the reindeer find their food. Secondly, these grounds are telling the story of my people. All our history in being written in the land. This is a place where we find our knowledge, where the future generations will find their knowledge so they can take can take it to future generations. So, you cannot just replace an area because we are so connected to these lands. They are part of our identity.10
The Sámi activist Lars-Patrik Tjärkat argues “if we don't stop them now and they open the mine, they will bring infrastructure, railroads and bigger roads to the area. This will open the way for the other and more toxic mines, including copper and uranium. As consequence, the traditional Sami way of life will end.”
Since 2013 the network Kolonierna,, has been opposing strong resistance to the mining project. Kolonierna is a non- hierarchical, group of activists from both Sámi and Swedish heritage who share a common interest in denouncing the colonial intervention of Sweden in Sápmi land. Swedish aerial photographer and activists Mose Agestam explains “when I arrived in this area, I understood from people that these is a colonised land. This used to be a Sami land. This knowledge opened up a whole new understanding to me. This land has been taken from Sámi people, used and abused”.
In the summer of 2013 [Fig 3] Kolonierna organised a two months camp to prevent the mining company from entering the site. In response, the company chose to act against the resistance camp with violence supported by estate forces, such as the police who "exercise a different kind of power towards the activists.” Since then, activists from Kolonierna have been visiting Gállok regularly, meeting locals and organising direct actions, expressing, as Person, Harnesh and Islar suggest “an alternative discourse based on local, traditional, environmental and anti-neoliberal worldview.”