R-6/19 Sustainable Development – New Solution or Old Sorrows? Indigenous Voices on the Frontlines towards Environmental Justice in Norway

The call for sustainable development marks a major thread in almost all institutions, organizations, governments and the international community alike. In Norway, this led to the so called green shift. It includes, among other things, the development of renewable energy projects, in particular wind energy. Those projects, however, are in conflict with the reindeer pastoralism of the Sámi people, as it diminishes the exercise of their traditional way of life. As a consequence, local and indigenous communities resist the new and positively intended changes which threaten them in the name of the greater good. This raises questions of how just the green shift is, considering especially the underlying historical, cultural, sociopolitical and economic structures. Based on the concepts of environmental justice and just sustainabilities, the aim of this thesis is twofold: firstly, to elucidate the links between sustainable development, social justice and indigenous environmental activism, and secondly, to examine activists’ perspectives and experiences of sustainability and justice in regard to the Norwegian green shift. For this purpose, data were collected through both in-depth interviews mainly with people engaged in environmental issues and identifying as Sámi, and the participation and observation of several meetings. It has been shown that the informants generally evaluated the process of the green shift as contrasting with their values, knowledge, awareness, perceptions of justice and equity, identity and indigenous rights. The concept of sustainable development has been found to have lost its credibility for the activists. It fails to include not only justice at several dimensions, but also lacks different perspectives and (post) colonial and ethical considerations. Furthermore, instead of benefitting all four theoretical pillars society, culture, economy and environment alike, economy was identified as major beneficiary of the green shift. Thus, the Norwegian sustainable development is not to the same degree sustainable and just for everyone. Indigenous environmental activism is herein acting as a disturbing factor – in a positive way. This is, as it points out the weaknesses of the current discourse. This thesis outlines that what is called sustainable development and green energy by the global community, is phrased quite differently by affected indigenous communities and environmental activists.

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