The Alta Dam Controversy

In 1978 the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE) had plans to build a dam and power plant on the Alta River in Finnmark, northern Norway, a river the Sami utilized for wild salmon fishing and reindeer herding. Because the power plant and dam would disrupt these activities and would potentially displace a Sami village, many Sami organized coalitions to combat construction efforts on the river. Some of these coalitions attracted non-Sami supporters from dozens of countries worldwide. Members of these coalitions protested the project by setting up camps and blocking machines around the construction site, engaging in hunger strikes outside the parliament in Oslo, and chaining themselves to the construction site when their original efforts seemed unsuccessful. Despite their protests, the Norwegian Supreme Court ruled in 1982 that the government had the right to construct the dam and power station, and the project was completed in 1987. However, the Alta demonstrations brought international attention to the question of indigenous environmental rights and eventually inspired the Finnmark Act of 2005, which gave the entire population of Finnmark more rights over the country’s property.

Contributed by Sophia Callahan
Course: Modern Global Environmental History
Instructor: Dr. Wilko Graf von Hardenberg
University of Wisconsin–Madison, US