The ruling by the Norwegian Court of Foreign Affairs was handed down today. With a very narrow majority – three to two judges – the local population of Karasjok came to the conclusion that almost the entire municipality is the rightful owner of the land.
This makes residents the third largest landowner in Norway with 5,361 square kilometers.
The disputed area currently belongs to Finnmarkingen’s collective landowner organization Finnmarkseiendommen (FeFo).
The ruling is based on indigenous rights, forcing Norway to recognize areas traditionally used by the Sami.
There have been many legal cases about rights in Finland, all the way to the Supreme Court, but this is the first time dealing with a large Sami core area.
The verdict will have major implications for other parts of the county, particularly parts of Kautokino and Thana..
There is already a demand for joint ownership by local people in both municipalities.
Read the full judgment here:
Judgment of the Court of Outland on Karasjok
An appeal is being considered
Director John Ollie says the verdict against landlord FeFo is not surprising.
He pointed out that there is a difference of opinion among the judges.
A minority in the Court of Foreign Affairs believed that the people in Karasjok primarily used their immediate areas, not the entire municipality. Reindeer farming uses large areas beyond municipal boundaries.
The same judges pointed out that the government was the owner and allowed the people to lease the land. All this means that the people do not own the entire municipality, a minority believes.
Ollie explains it this way:
– It goes without saying that these are complicated matters on which you may have different opinions. We have to go into the judgment in more detail to assess whether I can appeal or not, says Ollie.
The Finnmarkseiendom Board ultimately decides whether to accept the decision or bring it before the Supreme Court. The board consists of six members elected by the Sami Parliament and the County Council.
Olli believes that rights issues are very important in Finland.
– We have a big responsibility to follow them up, so that when the case and rights mapping is done, we are all satisfied and the results stand with time.
– Critical judgment
– This is an important judgment in Norwegian legal history and a victory for local people and the rights of indigenous peoples, says lawyer Caroline Lund of the law firm Lund & Co.
– This case has been handled very thoroughly by the Finnmark Commission for 10 years, and now the trial has been going on for more than three weeks. Lund says the sentence is broad.
– We hope that FeFo will accept the ruling of the Outland court so that we can start with the local administration of Outland in Karasjok.
Digging into history
The trial lasted three weeks in January. Advocates went deep and detailed into history to find out who used the resources in Karasjok and who ruled them.
There were also elaborate preparations in the lengthy investigation. The parties’ legal costs alone amount to NOK 24.35 million. Government is all inclusive.
Most of Karasjok’s land was transferred in 2006 from Stadtskog to Finnmarkingen’s own land holding company, Finnmarkseiendammen (FeFo).
But local groups can still claim property in their immediate areas. This has happened in many places.
There was also a group claiming property only on behalf of the Sami part of the population in Karasjok, but they were unsuccessful.
vs. the hunter and the fish
People in Karasjok wanted to control, among other things, hunting and fishing. As landowners, they can decide who will use the resources. Then they can ensure that the municipality’s own residents get a bigger share of the cake and aren’t displaced by visitors.
At the same time, karasjokværingen have the right to use nature in other parts of the district. They are guaranteed by the Finnmark Act. A victory in this court case gives them a double boost: exclusive rights in the home and rights in other municipalities.
At the same time, people from Karasjok have already demanded special rights in neighboring municipalities.
The Norwegian Hunters and Fishermen’s Association was among those who believed the settlement was unfair, and sided with FeFo during the trial.
Linda Heitmann is president of NJFF Finnmark.
– Unfortunately, we have to say that it didn’t go the way we wanted, she says.
– We work to ensure access to outdoor resources for the public in Finnmark, and we work closely with the Norwegian Hunters and Fishermen’s Association in this regard.
Skeptical reindeer owners
The dispute over Karasjok has been portrayed as a Sami struggle against the colonial rule of the old state. But the Sami forces were not united in their demand.
Among others, a group of reindeer owners objected to local ownership. The group has winter pastures in Karasjok and summer pastures in Nordkapp, and believes the highlands are primarily a migrant area, not permanent residents of the municipality.
Like the NJFF, this group, Máhkarávju siida, comes from the side of FeFo in terms of so-called party assistants.
* CORRECTION: An initial version of the lawsuit brought an incorrect amount for legal feesNo.
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