These were the introductory words of Alexandr Ivanov, the head of the Olenek district in Yakutia, in his discussion during our session on indigenous people’s territorial governance under industrial development at the Northern Forum for sustainable development in Yakutsk, 25 – 26 September 2019 (full session programme).
He thought it is useful to remind researchers from any field and country that there is a tendency in scholarship to portray indigenous life in the Russian Arctic as a struggle for survival, rather than a quest for harnessing opportunities, achieve well-being and happiness, and just living at home. This stems from the old idea that the Arctic is a resource frontier with a tough climate rather than home for people. Social scientists doing Arctic Studies have acknowledged this long ago, and published on it before. Continue reading “We don’t survive – we live here!”→
Narratives, bureaucracies and indigenous legal orders: Resource governance in Finnish Lapland is the title of our chapter in a volume titled “Polar Geopolitics? Knowledges, Resources and Legal Regimes”, which has been published end of January. The aim of our chapter is twofold: Firstly, to examine narratives of indigeneity and secondly to investigate how these are tied into struggles over natural resources. Especially the narrative of indigenous peoples being the “original ecologists” seems to open up opportunities for claim-making by indigenous groups, but on the other hand also allows for patronising approaches to resource management in indigenous homeland. The specific example we then look at is the conflict over forest resources in Finnish Upper Lapland, and in particular the Nellim conflict. In the following, we discuss how state bureaucracies sometimes contradict local management regimes, which, in the case of Upper Lapland, are still based on indigenous legal order. To illustrate this contradiction, we juxtapose reindeer herding principles of the Finnish state and of the indigenous Sàmi population adhering to the notion of “reindeer luck”.
Together with the chapters by Lassi Heininen, Jeppe Strandsbjerg and Mark Nuttall our text forms Part III, “Indigenous and Northern Geopolitics”. Part I of this volume focuses on “Global and Regional Frameworks” and part II engages with “National Visions”. Follow the link below and check out the excellent contributions to this book, edited by Richard C Powell and Klaus Dodds, and published by Edward Elgar.
Nomadic and Indigenous Spaces. Productions and Cognitions. Edited by Judith Miggelbrink, Joachim Otto Habeck, Nuccio Mazzullo and Peter Koch (2013). Surrey: Ashgate.
With contributions from the editors, Denis Wood, Denis Retaillé, Gail Fondahl, Brian Donahoe, Joseph J Long, Kirill V Istomin, Florian Stammler, Claudio Aporta, and Tim Ingold (epilogue)
How is space produced and how is it perceived? Looking at nomadic and indigenous peoples, we investigated this question between 2008 and 2012 in a collaborative research project between the Arctic Centre, University of Lapland and the Leibniz-Institute in Leipzig, Germany. A conference we organised in 2010 brought together international scholars to discuss experiences from different fields. During the conference, it quickly became clear that cognitivist and phenomenologist paradigms come to very different interpretations of nomadic and indigenous spaces. This book continues that debate and invites readers to further engage with the topic, since the main contestations have not been resolved, as Tim Ingold notes in his epilogue. Continue reading “New publication: Nomadic and Indigenous Spaces. Productions and Cognitions”→
Almost exactly 20 years ago three German students of anthropology get off a helicopter in the middle of the Western Siberian forest tundra, over 100 km from the next settlement. They see a little wooden hut and a couple with two small kids is approaching them. Nobody told this people that they will have guests and the guests did not met the hosts before. In the village the students were told the day before that the poet and reindeer herder Yuri Vella lives far away and there is neither road nor transport to his campsite. They decided already to give up their plan to visit Yuri Vella when out of a sudden a helicopter appeared.
I was one of these students. This was the moment when I met for the first time the men who should become my most influential teacher of anthropology and whose forest camp became for me a second home.
Recently a friend asked me what I learned from him in the first place and while thinking about an answer I discovered that it is really hard to say. The reason is that it reached from the most practical things like how to light a fire in the in the forest to the most theoretical ones like how to understand human-animal relationships.
Yuri Vella was born at the 12th of March 1948 in the nomad camp of Kyli Aivaseda not far from the village of Varyogan. The village was the place the nomadic reindeer herders from the Agan river basin were supposed to settle down. Here he went to school, here he was appointed as the head of the village administration for a short period, and here he established the open air museum, where he saved traditional buildings and objects from the forest settlements destroyed by the oil industry.
The forest lifestyle of the Nenets and Khanty fishermen, hunters and reindeer herders, which was under thread by the ruthless oil-development became his most important issue from the perestroika times on. He worked himself as a hunter in the area his grandfather used to hunt on and later he decided to establish a reindeer herd and to live permanently on the territory where I met him in 1993.
At the beginning of the 90ies he organised demonstrations of the local people against the ruthless actions of the oil companies that destroyed not only the settlements, the sacred places and cemeteries of the Khanty and Forest Nenets but poisoned the river and swamps with oil and contaminated the air with the gas they burned. At this time he also understood that there is more that get lost than just the environment. The language, the knowledge, the values of a lifestyle that is based on a respectful relationship between animals, people, and forces that are more powerful than humans started to disappear. He decided to make his own live and his own settlement in the forest a place where people could learn about these things. He made himself a living example, which could teach not only his family members and relatives but also all people interested, be it school children from the oil-town or foreign anthropologists.
I think this congruence of words and deeds was the most impressive feature of Yuri Vella. False politeness and strategic submissiveness were completely foreign to him. I was impressed by the degree of autonomy he claimed not only in his thinking but also for his lifestyle. He seemed to be free from all the conventions of modern live and social prestige and decided himself about the values he accepted from the traditions of his Nenets ancestors and of European cultural heritage.
I had the luck to be introduced by him to some of the elders that where still deeply rooted in the values and traditions of the forest life – Oleg Aivaseda, Valjoma Aivaseda, Oisia Iusi and Egor Kazamkin. Nowadays, when I work with Nenets elders I often feel that it is due to Yuri Vella that I learned to listen, to be patient, to provide the feeling that their knowledge will be in competent and respectful hands.
Here I think I learned as well the most important theoretical lesson in a very practical way. While building the winter hut or the reindeer fence he would mix very practical teaching with reflections about spiritual forces and political circumstances. He told about the threat of the oil industry for the reindeer, about the spiritual landscape of ancestral tradition and about the ways how to orientate oneself without compass and map in the landscape in almost one sentence. My well build hierarchies of knowledge were tumbling down. I understood that there are no authorities the legitimacy of knowledge is based on. His mixture of pragmatism, firmness in principles, and personal experience skipped all hierarchies of scientific, empirical, indigenous, and spiritual knowledge. His writings and his poetry are a proof of his disregard towards established knowledge forms. They mix poetry and prose, science and the traditional spirituality with always a social and political agenda and are not afraid of very personal statements about love and human relationships. To write a poem, to build a wooden sledge or a block house, to organise a protest against an oil-company or to establish a forest school for reindeer herders children this were all not separated projects but rooted in one live that centred around the coexistence of men, forest and reindeer.
I could tell what I learned about indigenous storytelling, about the role of reindeer in Nenets and Khanty culture, about indigenous spirituality, about gender relations and the differences between Nenets and Khanty people. To elaborate on it would go far beyond the frame of an internet blog and some of it, like the ways to deal with forces more powerful than men, I cannot share with an anonymous public.
I will just tell a little bit what I learned about politics, about the possibility to influence the actions of much more powerful institutions and discourses that influence ones live. His political thinking developed in the conflict between indigenous people and oil companies. He saw its deeper historical roots in different relationships to the land and its resources between state bureaucrats, oil-workers and reindeer herders. His way of political engagement was again a very personal one. Instead of searching for a place in established political institutions he chooses to defend his own small ancestral territory from the destructive development by the oil company LUKOIL. He tried to be the David against Goliath and to use the weapons of the weak. He was very much aware of his lack of power in terms of economic weight. Oil companies were able within a growing nationalistic discourse to present their interest in profit at any cost as a national interest of Russia. The only chance in this situation was to use all means of symbolic politics, to make politics not with money and influence but with words, pictures, and art. Without building up broad alliances with media, scientists, social and ecological organisations even over cultural and political differences he would have not been able to fight this uneven struggle. It required certain skills to navigate between principles and compromises and often he was calling himself the “clever Nenets” if he again found a way out of what seemed to be a dead end. He refused to give up his reindeer pastures for payments by the oil companies and managed to stay uncorrupted in contrast to a lot of other indigenous politicians which could not stand the pressure of the oil-lobby or powerful political parties. He was able to keep his own sovereignty, the inner freedom. He gave me the certainty that if one builds up a respectful relationship with nature and other humans one can skip all social conventions and should be not afraid of power, politicians, oil companies or other somehow influential people. I learned from him the meaning of respect, the meaning of silence, what it means to see.
On the 17th of August Roza Laptander and Stephan Dudeck drove the 330km to Inari and where surprised how many familiar faces they recognized in the audience and among the speakers. Stephan ran into Dina Vasilievna Gerasimova, who appeared to celebrate her 70th birthday that very day. And we met Dmitry Ottovich Khorolya and delivered Florian’s greetings.
It would be tiresome to name here all the VIPs from Russian and Fennoscandian institutions dealing with traditional knowledge and reindeer herding and most of the papers contained well-known statements about the importance of safeguarding traditional knowledge for the future of reindeer husbandry. Of course we were proud that the director of the Arctic Centre Paula Kankaanpää mentioned prominently the work of the ORHELIA project as one of the activities of our institute to research and maintain indigenous knowledge in the Arctic.
It is of course a riddle how all these non-traditional institutions, bureaucrats, and highly educated people could contribute to the transmission of knowledge that is so highly rooted in everyday practices, nonverbal communication and rural livelihoods. But there were some examples that could give an idea that it’s possible that scientific knowledge and traditional knowledge can be mutual supportive. One example was the educational initiative of language nests, where preschool children learned again the almost abandoned Inari-Sámi language, which led to a real language revival. Vladislav Peskov from the Association of Nenets People , mentioned that it became nowadays a must that scientific research on traditional knowledge returns the collected materials and the results to the communities where it stems from. This should happen in a form that people could understand and use the materials provided by scientist for their community purposes.
But one unusual story stacked in our minds and we were discussing it on the way back. It was a fable told by Rodion Sulyanziga from the Association of Indigenous people RAIPON. When he once asked an old man about the past and the knowledge of the ancestors, he got the answer that he can tell him only one story about a cat that took a little tiger to nurture. One day when the tiger was full-grown he just wanted to strike away the small cat with his paw. But the cat jumped on a tree and told him: “You know, I taught you everything except for one thing: how to climb on a tree!”
After the conference we “kidnapped” Galina Platova from Yasavey and Galina Nazarova, the director of the Naryan Mar college for humanities, to Rovaniemi to discuss in detail a project to publish oral history materials and make them available for the people in the regions we are working in. Our dream is to have once a website where people can listen to the stories of the elders and learn something about the history of different places and indigenous communities from Finnish Lapland to the Yamal peninsula. Of course we will let you know more about it as soon as we decided how to finance and organize the work.
Does every person who grew up in a curtain place have roots like a tree? Well, trees have roots, which go very deeply to the ground to get nutrition. A human being been has other roots which connect him or her with a curtain place or territory. People have different nature, but this affection to the place where a person grows up is like putting roots.
We all know how difficult and sometimes even painful it is to leave to another place after living there for a long time. It is like cutting roots, and it gives feeling of instability and vulnerability. When people start to move to a new place it is like putting new roots again, but these roots could be not so deep, like the main stem stayed in the place where a man was born.
Well, how does this work with nomads? They migrate all year round. It seems that they have roots on the whole territory of their migration or even on the whole tundra. Migrating from one place to another they still are connected to their roots of migration and they feel at home and protected there.
Here is a picture of a Nenets man from the Yamal peninsula. Prokopij Vylka (1967) is a handicapped person. He looks very much like the American actor Richard Gere.
Unfortunately, he is not as lucky as his look-alike. Once he lost his way in the winter tundra. His legs were frozen and in the Yamalo-Nenetskij regional hospital doctors amputated them till his knees. Prokopij returned to the tundra. He lives in a tent with his parents, wife and two sons. He feels himself more comfortable here than in a warm and comfortable apartment in a settlement, even as an invalid person.Here in the tundra he feels like even his homeland gives him the power to follow the normal rhythm of nomads in the tundra and to be strong in his mind.
Prokopij migrates on a reindeer sledge. He even helps to collect wood and water and he is making sledges by himself for other people. He cannot throw the lasso or catch reindeer anymore. His sons do this now. It is very seldom that handicapped people continue to migrate in the harsh arctic climate, although some Nenets continue to live this way at a very advanced age.
In many works on reindeer herding Komi people are considered as innovators who made reindeer herding not only a way of life but a profitable economy. One innovation that they did in the small village of Khongurei (see my fieldwork blog stephandudeck.wordpress.com) Nenets Autonomous Okrug, European Russian North, turned out to be rather counter-productive in the end:
When the first Komi settlers arrived to establish the village, the reindeer herders of the Nenets Kolkhoz “Naryana Ty” (red reindeer) led a fully nomadic life with their families out in the tundra. Their children went to school in the Russian village of Kotkino and came home only for the school holidays in the summer.