Vladislav Sokolenko Feb. 23, 2015, 6:07 p.m.

Norwegian Saami Niilas Somby: I want my voice to be heard!


Today Norwegian society, conditionally divided into Saami, who supports them, and those who do not want to recognize their special status. Active work on protection the rights of indigenous peoples in Norway began in the middle of the last century. By the beginning of the eighties the Saami special rights of the land, rivers and sea areas use were fixed by the law, active work on the preservation and dissemination of their language began, the public national organizations were found and the first Saami politicians appeared. The correspondent of "7x7" met Niilas Somby, a Saami representative. Actually, he led the fight for the Small Indigenous People’s rights in Norway in the second half of the XX century

Niilas Somby - Norwegian Saami, director of documentary films, writer and journalist. He is one of the first Saami activists, supporting the Indigenous Peoples of the North rights.  Niilas became famous because of the story that happened in the seventies of the last century. He organized the first Saami hunger strike in Norway and planted a bomb on hydroelectric power station. Niilas Somby, together with other Saami from the Tana area in the north of the country, opposed the construction of hydroelectric power station on the semuzhey river Alta.

- We were the first who drew the attention of the authorities on the life of the Saami people. When it became known that it is planned to build the station on the river, I gathered the people and on the proposed construction place we set up the camp - put our national dwellings (Lavvu). We discussed how to protect the river. We decided to go to the capital. After a few days the whole our camp has been located in the front of the parliament building in Oslo. We asked for a meeting with the leadership of the country. We wanted to tell that the river Alta is our “foster mother”, and any industry will impact on the nature and on us as a part of it. But politicians were not going to talk to us. But the townspeople came to us. For many, it was a wonder to see Saami in the national dress, with deer, in the national dwellings. People met us, learned how and what we are doing for living, - says Niilas Somby.

Three days Saami lived in the camp, met with the southern Norway’s residents and told about themselves: about the culture and the way of life, about why they came to the capital. On the fourth day they were invited to the Parliament, were listened and were promised to stop the construction of the station.

- Our goal was a meeting with the rulers. They denied us in the dialogue, and then we went on hunger strike. At that time it was an emergency situation, and only thus we got their attention. After all they held negotiations with us. - mentioned Niilas.

It was the first Saami strike in the Norway history. Its result was the official recognition of the Saami rights on the traditional way of life, on the rivers and pastures usage. The laws define duties of manufacturers to consult with the Saami community before development or construction. According Niilas, authorities promised to stop the hydroelectric power station construction, but did not keep their word, and a year later the station was ready for use. Then Niilas and his associates decided to take an extreme measure.

Niilas Somby case

- I and my two fellows prepared to undermine the bridge leading to the hydroelectric power plant. We have gathered all the necessary to make a bomb. It was a winter. We loaded the sled and went to a deserted river. Explosives were installed to destroy the bridge. Everything was ready. But at the last minute digital clock (timer) stopped working. Most likely, the battery has been damaged. I had a spare, and I decided to replace it. As soon as I put a working battery, the device exploded. I still remember the white veil, and how I saw the all near and dear people faces ... like in the movies! And it felt so good and so easy! As soon as, I heard the voices of my friends who were struggling to bring me to life, I felt such pain that I thought it would be better to die at once! - Niilas describes his condition.

Somby survived through several operations. He lost an eye and a hand. Already in the hospital the police worked with him. He almost immediately had to change the hospital room to the prison camera. He was tried on one of the most rigorous articles of the time, as a terrorist. In order to remain liberty, he had to show considerable creativity.

Why the Norwegian authorities have justified a "terrorist"?

- I understand that, while I was in prison, I had no chance to win the court. I wanted to get out by all means. I became to pretend insane. I refused to eat and said that they were trying to poison me, so I even did not live up to the court. "Performance" lasted few weeks, ended by transfer to a psychiatric clinic. From the hospital I was able to go home. Of course, I could not leave the country until the end of the trials, but I went to the crime and fled to Canada. Indians sheltered me, - says Norwegian fugitive.

Niilas did not agree with the accusation of the terrorism. According to him, by hydroelectric power station "undermining" he drew attention to the Saami people’s problem that no one wanted to notice. Also he demonstrated that Saami are willing to protect the land on which their people originally lived and led economy. He wanted the people who came to the tundra, to take into consideration and to respect the indigenous opinion. And he achieved his goal.

- I've had excellent comrades, also among journalists in America. They were the first by writting in Times: «Norwegian terrorist hiding in Canada, but is he a criminal?". The news was picked up by many international media, and all were talking about justice of the charges. After all, the Norwegian government had to admit that I am not a terrorist. The court acquitted Niilas because of his protests only he suffered and he had no intent to cause harm to people. A group of young Saami intended only to destroy the bridge. A few years later I was able to safely return home. Some met me as a hero, others - as an anti-hero. So far, despite the fact that I am quite old, some people treat me with contempt because of my action, - says Niilas Somby.

Today Niilas is a man of venerable age. He shoots a film about the life of its people, writes books and builds houses. By his project the modern cottages in ethnic style appeared in the northern Norway. Appearance and basic forms in his projects are traditional. For example, a round hearth as the center of the building or a peat roof (as in the dugout). Niilas is trying to save the Saami way of life and pass it through the future generations, but in a new format. Now Niilas is far from politics. Although during the interview, he expressed his dissatisfaction with modern Saami Council in Norway. According to him, they are too kind and are too compliant with the politicians. By the way, the Niilas case is almost the only one example in the history of the international Saami policy. Saami community has always demonstrated its peaceful mood and insists only on a dialogue with the leaders of the countries of residence and business, who are interested in the use of natural resources in the North.

Original article in Russian http://7x7-journal.ru/item/53440