Protester vid Gallak. Foto: Anneli Kråik Jannok
Protests against the Bristish mining company Beowulf Mining and test drilling in Gállok outside Jokkmokk in the summer of 2013. Photo: Carl-Johan Utsi.

The dream of inexhaustible wealth in the north

In 1542, Gustav Vasa proclaimed that "all permanently uninhabited land belongs to God, Us and the Swedish Crown, and nobody else''. The land in the north was viewed as Sweden's colony, and it was important to utilise its wealth in every possible way. Mining for silver in Nasafjäll in 1634 was the start of a whole series of failed mining projects. This was also the start of Sweden's exploitation of Sápmi's riches.

Something happened in 1634 that breathed life into the Swedish state's dream of a land in the north as an inexhaustible source of raw materials. Two people, one of them a Sami called Peder Olofsson, announced that they had found silver ore in Nasafjäll in Pite Lappmark, close to the Norwegian border. For the state, this was like a gift from above. Silver meant income to the Swedish state, which was heavily burdened by war expenses.

Forced labour
The discovery at Nasafjäll was the start of 25 years of great suffering for people and animals alike. The year after the find had been made public, construction and mining work commenced in Nasafjäll. The Sami were not called in to work in the mines, admittedly. They were considered weak, volatile, slow and unused to hard work. However, they did have to take care of transportation between the mine and the smelting-works, a distance of 60 km, in return for pay in the form of frieze, flour, salt, tobacco and liquor.

For the Sami, this forced recruitment encroached greatly on their own work with the reindeer and on hunting and fishing, but they did not have the option of refusing. In a report of legal proceedings dating from 1660, some workers describe how reluctant Sami were treated: "We tied them to a couple of timbers, pushed them down into the rapids a few times and then pulled them up to allow the water to run out of their mouths again, so all the people working in the mine were aware of the situation''.

Fled to Norway
Moving the ore was heavy work for the reindeer, and there are descriptions of the road between the mine in Nasafjäll and the smelting-works in Silbojokk being lined with bleached reindeer skeletons long after mining finished. As a consequence of this harsh slavery, many Sami fled to Norway to avoid tormenting themselves and their animals.

Small yield
The mining operation continued for 25 years, but the yield was small: 860 kg of silver and 250 tons of lead at a cost that far exceeded the value of the products. A military force came across from Norway in 1659 and plundered and burned the mine and the smelting-works. This was the end of the mining operation.

Spreading God's word
Axel Oxenstierna believed that God had allowed the silver ore to be found, in order that God's word could be spread in the Sami region and so that schools could be established. When it became apparent to the authorities that the mine was a failure, some still argued that it should be kept open. It would then be possible to keep the Sami truly "God-fearing'', so that they would abandon their idolatry. It was also felt that they would be more courageous if they spent time with Swedes and stronger if they ate Swedish food.

New mines
You might think that the authorities would have had doubts about the idea of a new mining company in the Sami region, bearing in mind the poor results in Nasafjäll, but that was not the case. In 1657, a Sami called Jon Persson had found silver in Kedkevare (now called Silbbatjåhkkå) in Lule Lappmark. He had kept quiet about the find, but when he was drafted to work at Nasafjäll, he disclosed the find in order to obtain an exemption. The new finds were viewed as a welcome replacement for Nasafjäll. The operation commenced in 1661. The transport was to be undertaken by the Sami here too, with the result that they moved to Norway. The operation ceased in 1702. The many tons of ore that were extracted only produced a few kilograms of silver. är en webbplats för dig som vill veta mer om samerna och sápmi.

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