Indigenous rights: the Alta dispute

James Proctor describes the battle between the traditional and modern man

Written by James Proctor


Prehistoric rock carvings Alta Norway Lapland by James ProctorPrehistoric rock carvings, Alta © James Proctor

The Alta Dispute is the moving story of local Sámi activists who took on the might of the Norwegian state over plans to dam the Alta River and produce hydro-electric power. Their efforts attracted international attention and marked a turning point in Sámi–state relations. Demonstrations were held at the dam construction site in nearby Stilla as well as in Oslo where five young Sámi staged a hunger strike outside parliament, bringing work on the dam to a standstill. Matters came to a head in 1981 when 600 Norwegian police forcefully removed 1,100 peaceful protestors from the construction site. During the course of the Alta Dispute the Sámi learned how to work with the media and influence public opinion, which, certainly in the north of Norway, was strongly against the dam. However, construction work continued unabated and the Alta River was finally dammed in 1987. The Norwegian government set up two committees to investigate the issue of Sámi rights in the light of the protests whose findings paved the pay for the setting up of the Norwegian Sámi parliament, Sámediggi, in Karasjok and the recognition of the Sámi as an indigenous people in the Norwegian constitution in 1988.

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