Indigenous peoples and environmental issues

Environmental Conflicts

When indigenous peoples appear in the news these days, it is often when they are involved in environmental conflicts with their state government. Maybe you have seen some conflicts in the news between indigenous peoples and the government of their countries? What were these conflicts about?

Conflicts can be about general environmental issues, such as climate change or pollution, but can also occur when indigenous peoples are unable to continue their traditional ways of life due to economic development or regulation. Below are two areas of conflict, the first concerning the Sami in northern Scandinavia, and the second concerning Native Americans.

Choose one of these areas to work. Read the articles in the links and watch the videos. Then work on the tasks below.

Threats to the Sami way of life

  • The first link includes 4 videos where young Sami people talk about climate problems and modern day conflicts are affecting their way of life: Jonas, a reindeer herder, is from Jokkmokk in Northern Sweden, Àslat, a politician and fisherman, talks about how state fishing regulations affect the Sami, Anne-Maret, a journalist from Sweden, talks about the importance of nature in Sami culture, and Sarakka and Mio, two actors from Tromsø, talk about the messages in their performance art.


  • In this TED-talk, Sofia Jannok, a well-known Sami singer, talks about the Sami way of life and the effects of mining in Northern Sweden:

  • There is an ongoing conflict about fishing rights in the Tana River, on the border between Finland and Norway. The governments want to restrict traditional Sami methods of fishing in the river. The resistance movement is called Ellos Deatnu.


Àslat Holmberg explains more about the conflict (March, 2017):



  • There is an ongoing conflict between a young reindeer herder and the Norwegian state over his right to continue his traditional way of life. You can read more about it here, and the art installation that has been made in support of him: (choose English in the menu)

Pipeline conflicts in North America

  • Perhaps one of the most well-known conflicts over pipelines in Northern America was the protests at Standing Rock in North Dakota. You can read about the protests and find links to more information here and here:


  • The Standing Rock protest was not the only protest against, pipeline building. The fight against the Keystone XL pipeline is ongoing. In the links below, you can read about the planned pipeline, and how Native Americans feel about it:




Make notes on these points for either the Sami or the North American pipelines. Present and discuss in class:

  1. What are the conflicts? Give a factual summary of the conflicts, including background and a timeline of important events (where relevant).
  2. What is the conflict about? Focus on why a conflict has arisen. Explain your reasoning. Some questions to consider: Is it due to different peoples having different economic interests? Is it due to a difference in how people view landownership? Is it a conflict between traditional ways of living and modern industries/ways of live?
  3. What possible solutions to the conflict do you see? Which solution do you think would be best? Do you think this is likely to happen? Why/why not?


Indigenous worldview and the environment

Why do indigenous people care so much about the environment? You heard about the importance of nature for indigenous peoples in the links above. If you need more information, have a look at the videos on this page, before discussing the questions below:

  • Can the conflicts you have studied be linked to the indigenous worldview and ways of knowing? In what way?
  • What is a good way of life? What do you think should be the aim of a society? Do you think the society in which you live is trying to reach that aim?
  • How much personal responsibility should people take for the society in which they live? Do you think people currently take responsibility or do changes need to be made?


“Indigenous Manifesto” by Niillas Holmberg

Niillas Homberg is a Sami poet, musican and environmental activist from Utsjoki in Northern Finland. He is part of the Ellos Deatnu protest. Here you can read and work with one of his poems, called Indigenous Manifesto.