Report from two workshops at the Arctic Science Summit Week in Helsinki

“Permafrost Dynamics and Indigenous Land Use” was the title of a two-day workshop at the Arctic Science Summit Week in Helsinki – which is still ongoing at the time of writing this post (5-11 April 2014). Organised by Joachim Otto Habeck and Hiroki Takakura, the workshop brought together scholars from different disciplines (from geosciences to cultural anthropology) to discuss changes in the unique landscape and land use in the Central Yakutian Lowlands. Discussions were truly interdisciplinary, and fascinating from my point of view, tackling complexities in understanding the dimension of this specific landscape that is subject to many influences. Conversations focused on the interaction between natural processes in the formation of a thermokarst landscape, global climatic changes and local changes in cattle farming. Traditional forms of cattle farming have undergone transformations during the Soviet era, inducing lasting changes on the social organisation of for instance hay making in the grasslands of the alaas landscape. In addition, modern lifestyles and state subsidies are playing an important role in the local economy today, raising the question in which direction future land use will develop.

Further meetings are planned to foster cooperation on the theme. In case of interest, please get in touch with the conveners of the workshop (Joachim Otto Habeck, Max-Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle, and soon University of Hamburg, Germany; Hiroki Takakura, Center for Northeast Asian Studies, Tohuku University, Sendai, Japan).

Another workshop, organised by the Nordic branch of the Association of Polar Early Career Scientists aimed at “Connecting Early Career Researchers and Community Driven Research in the North”. In her keynote, Gail Fondahl (University of BC) emphasised the possibility of involving members of indigenous communities in the co-management of projects. “Such an approach acknowledges that local communities can best identify their problems and prioritize their needs, that local knowledge and local resources can inform solutions to these problems, and that collaborative research can contribute to developing community capacity and thus help to empower communities.” (Fondahl et al. 2009, Co-Managing Research: Building and Sustaining a First Nation – University Partnership, UNBC). Arja Rautio (University of Oulu) explained how important this kind of collaboration is in health research where studies as well as new policies and schemes can only be devised successfully if they are relevant to the target community. Heidi Eriksen (Utsjoki Health Centre) raised attention to the fact that scientific (and in her example: medical) studies on indigenous peoples have been highly exploitative in the past, with little benefits for the researched communities themselves. Past injustices have to be acknowledged in current research and health care services.

Heidi Eriksen at the APECS workshop in Helsinki 8 April 2014
Equality? Heidi Eriksen at the APECS workshop in Helsinki 8 April 2014

Anna Afanasyeva (International Barents Secretariat), gave insights into her research on the relocation of Sámi of the Kola peninsula between 1930 and 1970, as well as her work in the project DOBES that aims at recording Sámi languages, especially of those which have only few native speakers left. Regarding the theme of the workshop, Anna told how she as an indigenous Sámi from a relocated family has been trying to methodically distance herself from her community to gain a “view from outside”, while researchers from outside the community have been trying to achieve “the view from within” – and how she has been discussing these experiences with fellow researchers.