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Thirty kilometres from the Swedish world heritage site of Laponia, plans to introduce a controversial new iron ore mine in Gallok (also known as Kallak) are under way.

The opinions of the 3,000 people living in the nearby town of Jokkmokk are polarised.

Tor, a father of two, reclaims his Sami surname and joins a group of indigenous and environmental activists to stop British company Beowulf from mining on the ancestral lands of the indigenous Sami people.

But he faces strong political and economic forces, local rivals and a Sami collective that hesitate to accept him as one of them.

His old school friend, Kjell, an advocate for the new mine, believes that the new job opportunities will revitalise the town - the population of Jokkmokk has been declining for decades - and is willing to resort to dirty tactics to ensure the mine is greenlit.

The Swedish government weighs up the mining-concession bid with the traditional landowners' claims that the mine will destroy their livelihood of reindeer herding.

Tor and his daughter Astrid at a demonstration in Jokkmokk [Kim Silfving/Al Jazeera]


By Tell Aulin

My old friend Tor Lundberg seemed both tense and eager when he visited me seven years ago. At 50 years of age, he was due to become a father again.

However, that was not what worried him.

"They're planning another mine up in the north. It will affect us immensely if we can't stop it. They want to mine 2,000 tonnes of iron ore in Gallok," he said.

"How can I raise my children to free and thinking beings when we are forced away from our home?" 

As a photographer and local writer based in Gallok, an area located in northern Sweden, Tor is no stranger to finding interesting events and stories.

However, it is usually about other people and other places.

This time it was different. He suddenly found himself in the middle of something that quickly became one of the most high-profile and controversial mining projects in Sweden.

Randijaur Lake, north Sweden [Tor Tuorda/Al Jazeera]

As I witnessed the fire in Tor's eyes, I realised that this was an important story that we needed to tell the world. We decided to make a film to spread awareness about the situation in the north of Sweden.

What I did not understand was how long and incredibly complicated this process would become.

Starting a mine is much cheaper in Sweden than many other countries. However, it is possible to appeal and subsequently delay the application process in several instances and obtaining the go-ahead for the mine can actually take several years.

Playing the waiting game is not so much of a concern for large international companies with massive financial muscles. They have the time and the money to power the legal process in their favour.

For an individual who opposes a mine, several years can feel like an eternity.

To be able to wait for every decision, to appeal and to explain how mine would poison and wipe out everything you own, everything you inherited and want to hand over to future generations, can cost a lot.
I had to accept that our film probably would not come with a happy end.

Once again, Tor would find himself as a David against a Goliath. It was not the first time. He had previously fought against nuclear power. As an environmentalist, he had opposed the Social Democratic Party which, with 40 percent of the population, was arguing for more mining and more jobs.

Tor and Astrid at the mining area in Aitik, Sweden's largest open-pit copper mine [Kim Silfving/Al Jazeera]

I documented Tor's journey, as he became a protest leader and public figure in a national movement that conducted demonstrations against several new mines, and managed to get environmental activists and indigenous activists to join the same fight in Gallok.

As a filmmaker, I want to entertain, but also educate the audience. I want to give people the opportunity to form their own perception of reality.

Freedom for the average person is the opportunity to make his or her own choices. For me, that is especially true when it comes to issues concerning nature and the environment, which is easy to see in some of my previous films, such as The Horseman and Women with Cows.

A personal narrative is critical to me. That's why we chose to give Tor his own "inner voice" in situations when he participates in dialogue meetings with politicians and visits Sami villages.

At the same time, we have managed to highlight how Tor's family is struggling in their everyday lives with the cost of living, wear and tear in the family, gossip in the grocery store and friends who break up.

'Some believe that only Sami who own reindeer may call themselves Sami' - Tell Aulin [Tell Aulin/Al Jazeera]

I, myself, was surprised when I realised that the old post-colonial and racist view of the Sami people is still very much alive in Sweden, with the mining issue as the focal point. I also realised that Sami discriminate among themselves - some believe that only those who own reindeer may call themselves "Sami".

Tor himself is well acquainted with these remnants from the time when Sapmi (the large area in Russia, Finland, Norway and Sweden populated by Sami) was colonised. Back then, Sami who did not own reindeer or were residents of the area would have no choice but to "assimilate" becoming Swedes and farmers.

Tor's own grandmother chose to deny that she was Sami, in order to be accepted in Swedish society.
But as Tor's personal involvement in the mining issues increased, so did his interest in his own Sami background and he began to feel an urgent need to set things right.

His Sami identity becomes increasingly important for him to pass onto his children, Astrid and Nils, and Tor Lundberg reclaims his Sami surname Tuorda, becoming Tor L Tuorda.

Source: Al Jazeera