Green coloniality of power over Sámi in Finland?

Written by Johanna Zilliacus


In my opinion, there is no climate justice if there is no justice for indigenous people

Mari Valjakka, Sámi pastor at Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, in an interview by Barents Observer[1]

Free White Windmill Under Gray Cloudy Sky Stock Photo

Photo: Expect Best /


Indigenous Sámi communities in Finland, Sweden and Norway, have all spoken up against green colonialism in their territories[2]. They claim that these governments’ climate action violates their rights to land, livelihoods and decision-making. Most of the opposition to green colonialism relates to wind farms built and planned in the Sámi territory (Sápmi). Further, mining projects for minerals needed for electric vehicle batteries are considered to be conducted in Sápmi. A (currently dormant) railway project crossing Finnish Sápmi[3] could also be categorised as a climate change project. They contribute to shifting our societies away from fossil fuel dependency. At the same time, these climate projects can be seen as a continuum of centuries of repressive politics of the Nordic countries on Sámi communities.[4] In this blog post, I’ll look into Finnish wind power development in Sápmi from a lens of coloniality of power and the process of bordering and continued social exclusion of Sámi peoples.


Case: wind power in Sápmi creating borders

The global climate change emergency requires quick action by nations worldwide to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. One important measure is the shift towards producing renewable electricity[5]. This is also the motivator behind the several wind power projects planned and implemented across Finland, including in Sápmi, where wind conditions are good. One example of this is a project in Lapland by Smart Windpower Oy. The planned wind power farm will expand over 68 m2 in the area of Ylitornio.[6] Local communities, including Sámi communities, have vehemently opposed this project.

The main reason for the local opposition is the expected negative impact on reindeer herding, a traditional livelihood of the Sámi population. Studies have shown that reindeer avoid going near wind power parks, which affects their grazing behaviour and places more pressure on the smaller amounts of land available for grazing, impacting the longer-term sustainability of those lands[7]. Another reason for the opposition is the lack of care for seidas, the holy places of Sámi[8], many of them located on the fells and hills where wind farms tend to be built. Finally, an important reason lies in past negative experiences of energy projects linked to coloniality of power and social exclusion of Sámi. Hydropower plants were built in Sápmi in the 1960s, causing the forced relocation of hundreds of Sámi in Finland, negatively affecting reindeer-based livelihoods and tearing apart language and cultural networks. These projects were developed without proper engagement and consultation of the local population[9], which can be seen as a misuse of the colonial power of the Finnish government for the extraction of natural resources in Sápmi. This past act of repression is thus clearly still a cause for the divide between Sámi communities and the Finnish government, and the wind power projects continue with this bordering process.


Political implications of the wind farm projects

Janne Hirvasvuopio, a Sámi member of the Green Party, explains that he cannot support the wind power ambitions of the Green Party as long as they imply wind power farms in Sápmi. He claims that wind power projects in Sápmi are a continuation of colonial power relations. The Finnish government uses its colonial power to extract natural resources of the Sápmi lands once again and draws parallels between the wind power projects to the disastrous hydropower projects[10]. Interestingly, the Green Party has been one of the most vocal parties in relation to Sámi’s rights, but at the same time, green colonialism is drawing borders between (green) Sámi activists and the Green Party.

On the other hand, the concept of green colonialism could also be misused for political purposes to drive the agenda of the climate change-denialist “True” Finns Party. Member of Parliament Kaisa Juuso has used it as a facade to oppose wind power projects[11], however, without acknowledging the colonial power relations between the Finnish government and the Sámi population.


Whose knowledge counts?

Another aspect of coloniality of power and social exclusion of Sámi in the form of green colonialism is the Eurocentricity of knowledge and generally approved science relating to climate change action. In line with the assumed rationality[12] of the Western forces driving modernity, technology (such as wind power) is seen as a central solution to climate change. This view completely ignores the indigenous knowledge that could provide less resource-intensive and more sustainable solutions for tackling climate change[13].

This blog post is not a stance against wind power. We need to disconnect our societies from fossil fuels as soon as possible, and renewable energy is a meaningful way forward for this. However, we need to ensure that any climate projects are designed with an understanding of the underlying power relations between the Sámi and the Finnish government, respecting the Sámi community’s knowledge as well as the right to their lands and livelihoods. Further, indigenous knowledge should become a central input for all climate change action.


This blog illustrates how a colonial past still today affects power relations. Climate change projects developed without this understanding and consideration may lead to the further social exclusion of Sámi people and the development of a more robust cultural, social and economic border between the Finnish state and Finns, and Sámi communities



[1] Salonen, S-M. (2021, November 14). Sámi representatives in COP26 raise concerns over ‘green colonialism’. The Barents Observer. Available at:

[2] See for example: Salonen, S-M. (2021, November 14). Sámi representatives in COP26 raise concerns over ‘green colonialism’. The Barents Observer. Available at:

[3] Paltto, A-S. & Tammela, L. (2021, May 18). Saamelaisten huoli vaihtui huojennukseen, kun Jäämeren rata päätettiin poistaa maakuntakaavasta: Arvokas päätös, mutta yhä pelottaa. Yle/ Finnish Broadcasting Company. Available at:

[4] Keskinen, S. (2019). Intra-Nordic Differences, Colonial/Racial Histories, and National Narratives: Rewriting Finnish History. Scandinavian studies, 91(1-2), 163-181.

[5] See, e.g. International Panel of Climate Change (2018). Global Warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Available at:

[6] Laatikainen (2020). Ylitornion kunnanhallitus hyväksyi Honkavaara-Isovaaran tuulivoima-alueen kaavoitusaloitteen. Lapin Kansa. Available at:

[7] Seipiharju, S. (2020, July 29). Lisääntyvä tuulivoimaa luo painetta porotaloudelle Norjassa – tuoreen raportin mukaan porotalous ja tuulivoima eivät sovi samalle alueelle. Yle/ Finnish Broadcasting Company. Available at:; Ny Teknik (2016, August 24). Studie: Vindkraftverk stör renar. Available at:

[8] Verde (2021)

[9] Yle/Finnish Broadcasting Company (2010, December 10). Tutkimus: Vesivoiman rakentaminen vahingoitti saamelaisia. Available at:

[10] Leukumaavaara, J. (2019, August 29). Twitter-saamelainen Janne Hirvasvuopio haluaa puhua vihreästä kolonialismista. Vihreä Lanka. Available at:

[11] Juuso, K. (2020, February 26). Vihreä kolonialismi valtaa Suomen. Blog post at Kaisa Juuso – kansanedustaja. Available at:

[12] Quijano, A. (2007). COLONIALITY AND MODERNITY/RATIONALITY. Cultural studies (London, England), 21(2-3), 168-178.

[13] Pettenger, M. E. (2016). The social construction of climate change: Power, knowledge, norms, discourses. Routledge; Brugnach, M., Craps, M. & Dewulf, A. (2017). Including indigenous peoples in climate change mitigation: Addressing issues of scale, knowledge and power. Climatic change, 140(1), 19-32.

A colonial history of social exclusion of indigenous Sámi in Finland

Written by Johanna Zilliacus

Free Herd of Brown Reindeer on Snow Covered Field Stock Photo

Photo: Alexandr Unikovskiy /


In this blog post, I will explore the social exclusion of Sámi indigenous people in a Finnish context. This blog will serve as background to a discussion on green coloniality that will follow in a second blog post. I mainly aim to explore the sociocultural and economic borders built between Sámi and the Finnish government. I will discuss this topic from a perspective of coloniality of power, a theoretical framework initially developed by the Peruvian sociologist Aníbal Quijano, as well as borders and social exclusion. In my second blog post, I aim to tie these concepts together through the concrete case of wind power projects in Finland, exploring how green colonialism contributes to the process of bordering and social exclusion of Sámi peoples in Finland.


Coloniality of power

Coloniality of power as a framework aims to explain how the formal political colonisation system affects power relations in the contemporary world. Although formal colonialism has been abolished in most cases, a Eurocentric worldview still dominates. The colonial power structures have later been codified as, for example, race, ethnicity and nationality, and they maintain the Eurocentric power still today. The coloniality of power can be seen in perception of knowledge and science, among others. The Eurocentric view is considered the “rational” and “objective” one, compared with, for example, indigenous knowledge[1].

In Finland, Suvi Keskinen from the University of Helsinki has studied how coloniality of power exercised by the Finnish state (and before that, the Swedish kingdom, which Finland was part of until 1809) has affected Sámi peoples throughout history. Race theory was developed by Finns during the 19th and 20th centuries with the objective to “prove” the inferiority of the Sámi race, which included measuring skulls and photographing Sámi bodies. Since then, the existence of a biological race has been proven a misconception[2], but stereotypes relating to cultural, social and political race are still alive. Land ownership and land use rights have been gradually removed from the Sámi communities. For example, municipal and national governments replaced the self-organising Sámi villages (siidas). Assimilation programmes, notably the boarding schools created in the mid-20th century for promoting Finnish language and culture, are examples of the use of colonial power by the Finnish state[3], traumas which are still felt today within the Sámi communities[4].


Social, cultural and economic borders

The national borders that divide Sápmi into parts of the Nordic nation-states are not generally visible, but they play a significant role in the daily lives of Sámi. A person might have to cross a national border to visit a relative living in the same Sápmi region, speaking the same language. The creation and shifts in the national borders have negatively impacted Sámi cultures and livelihoods[5]. However, these are not the only borders that exist for Sámi communities. Borders can be seen as complex institutions that are multidimensional and overlapping[6]. Apart from administrative and geopolitical nation-state borders, sociocultural and economic borders have been built between the Nordic settler states and the indigenous Sámi groups. These borders appear and are often established to draw lines between the “self” and “others”[7].

As a result of the coloniality of power that has been exercised against the Sámi in Finland, borders have been established that divide Finland/Finns as the (settler) colonial power from the “others”, i.e. Sápmi/Sámi. Socially, Sámi peoples have been infantilised, leading to Finns of the mainstream culture seeing them as incapable of managing their matters, justifying the assimilation programmes that have historically taken place. Culturally, this is seen in the mocking of Sámi culture in Finnish media, such as TV shows, as well as through cultural appropriation of e.g. Sámi traditional clothing [8] . There are countless accounts of Finns speaking out to undermine the gravity of this ridicule and cultural appropriation[9]. Economically, limiting access to land and regulation of central Sámi livelihoods such as reindeer herding and fishing has negatively impacted income opportunities and sustaining livelihoods [10]. I have also personally witnessed the coloniality of power exercised by the Finnish state. I myself grew up in Southern Finland in the 90s surrounded by TV sketch-shows ‘punching down’ at Sámi, kids in my school yard wearing fake Sámi hats, and being taught virtually nothing of Sámi history and culture in school.


Social exclusion of Sámi

The bordering processes have led to the social exclusion of Sámi peoples. Social exclusion as a concept looks at the processes that drive power relations and inequality. Further, it examines the multidimensionality of deprivation and different forms of it. Although there are many definitions and applications of social exclusion, one of its aspects is examining inequalities or exclusion as a result of social relationships, taking into account the power and status of different groups of people. The unequal use of power creates hierarchies of power between social groups[12]  – in line with the concept of coloniality of power. Social exclusion aims to discover the process in which these power relationships cause inequalities between different groups. The process of social exclusion of the Sámi has been built during several decades of uneven power relationships between the Finnish state (or the Swedish crown , before the establishment of Finland as a nation state) and the Sámi communities[12]. The unequal use of power can be explained through the coloniality of power. The Finnish, Eurocentric view on knowledge, science and rationality was considered superior to the infantilised Sámi peoples.


See my second blog post that discusses how the social exclusion of Sámi communities is affected by green colonialism as part of Finnish climate politics.




[1] Quijano, A. (2007). COLONIALITY AND MODERNITY/RATIONALITY. Cultural studies (London, England), 21(2-3), 168-178.; Quijano, A. (2000). Coloniality of Power and Eurocentrism in Latin America. International sociology, 15(2), 215-232.

[2] Chou, V. (2017). How Science and Genetics are Reshaping the Race Debate of the 21st Century. Blog on website of Harvard University, The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Available at:

[3] Keskinen (2019)

[4] West, S. (2021). Eatnameamet: Our Silent Struggle. Documentary film

[5] Keskinen (2019)

[6] Haselsberger, B. (2014). Decoding borders. Appreciating border impacts on space and people. Planning theory & practice, 15(4), 505-526.

[7] Newman, D. (2003). On borders and power: A theoretical framework. Journal of borderlands studies, 18(1), 13-25.

[8] Ranta, K. & Kanninen, J. (2019). Vastatuuleen: Saamen kansan pakkosuomalaistamisesta. Kustantamo S&S; West (2021)

[9] See e.g. Näkkäläjärvi, P. (2016). Näkökulma: Närkästyneet saamelaiset otsikoissa. Yle/ Finnish Broadcasting Company. Available at:

[10] Ranta, K. & Kanninen, J. (2019). Vastatuuleen: Saamen kansan pakkosuomalaistamisesta. Kustantamo S&S; West (2021)

[11] Mathieson et al (2008). Social Exclusion: Meaning, measurement and experience and links to health inequalities. A review of literature. WHO Social Exclusion Knowledge Network Background Paper 1. Available at:

[12] Keskinen (2019)