(Glimpses of people and their stories on the Finnmark Heath, post no. 5; English version)

The construction of the Alta dam in the 1980s brought much that was wrong – and paradoxically enough, much that was good as well. The madness became swiftly evident: The construction represented an abuse of power by the greater society that is without parallel in modern Norwegian history: It served to expose the arrogant indifference towards Sami life and culture, and it damaged the nature of the Alta River (the current of the water in the narrow Virdnejávri Lake tamed in the service of the current of electricity).


(Photo from the dam construction by Jan Ekman, reproduced by permission of Alta Museum.)

But ironically enough, something good also came out of the construction of the 110- meter high dam at Šávču/Sautso, although this could hardly be said to have been part of the intention of the developers or the Norwegian Parliament. The construction triggered the Sami’s own, active struggle for their rights as an indigenous people and led to an epoch-making vitalization of Sami consciousness, culture and language. 1987 was not only the year that the Alta dam was officially completed; it was also the year when the new Sami Law was passed in the Norwegian Parliament. And two years later the Sami Parliament was inaugurated.

Another ironic benefit – this time of purely private significance for the Joatkajávri Lodge and for Helge Romsdal, its manager at the time – had to do with the construction of the road leading to the site of the dam. The route of the road took it across the mountainous land along the western shores of the Joatka lakes. Thus the Lodge suddenly ended up being situated only some 3 (instead of almost 20) miles away from a road. The picture below, taken this summer (2017), shows the “new” road turning around the outcrop called Tutteberget [“Tutte’s Crag”] by the Joatka lakes.

Tutteberget 2

But Helge Romsdal was, all said and done, content with the fact that this benefit was located some three miles from the Lodge. To sit in the kitchen of the Joatka Lodge and listen to his thoughts on this matter, was like hearing somebody swear aloud in church – although the church in this case was the capitalist Norway of Ceaseless Growth and the swearing was directed at its Holy Gospel of Progress.

During the construction of the dam the mayor had called and asked whether Helge would like to get a road connection that could link the Lodge to the new construction road along the Joatka lakes. Helge’s answer was negative. The major couldn’t understand it, who wouldn’t want road access today?

But among Joatka’s fine attributes, Helge thought, was precisely the fact that one had to use one’s legs to get there. Car access by road would bring people of a different kind to Joatka. It would become a different type of life. More noise and hustle and bustle – and more alcohol and more drunkenness.

As Helge remarked to me, he had after all moved up from Tverrelvdalen and taken over the management of the Joatkajávri Lodge precisely because it was situated far off the beaten track. Why in the world should he then, thirty years later, want a road all the way in?

Road building has of course been one of the strongest symbols of socio-economic development in our own time, but electrification was certainly also part of the Holy Gospel of Progress. And the question of importing electric power to the Joatkajávri Lodge also surfaced in the time of Helge’s management, when the power line between Alta and Porsanger was built in the beginning of the 1970s, a few years before the damming of the Alta River. The power line passes behind the ridge of Dálločorru/Sydkjølen and is at its closest less than two kilometers (a good mile) from the Lodge.

2011.y.aug7.kraftlinja.mot.vest8 – Versjon 2

Helge was told that it would cost one hundred and thirty thousand Norwegian kroner to install electricity at the Lodge. But why should he actually do this? Helge asked. The generator at Joatka gave him the current he needed. And with regard to heating, he added, felling trees and chopping wood were part of his life. He enjoyed being in the birch forest during the summer and autumn. And what would he do if he wasn’t in the woods?

Helge i vedskogen

I can still hear his words: Was it necessarily so, that the time he could thus save, would be used for something better? Everybody seemed to think that whatever made things easier, had to be dandy; it meant progress. But was this, truth be told, really the case?

2017 Text © Fredrik Chr. Brøgger