Ysyakh 2020 – solstice festival online

Midsummer, solstice on the 21 June is for many northern peoples and cultures an important holiday. In Finland it’s called Juhannus and a state holiday. In Yakutia, where I am now, it’s called Ysyakh, and considered the Sakha people’s new year day. The 2020 celebrations obviously come in a very different format in comparison to any previous festivities, for a number of reasons including but not limited to the corona virus.

The president of Yakutia ‘Il Darkhan’ Aysen Nikolaev congratulating for the Ysyakh 2020 on regional TV. Note his Sakha festive clothes, the Sakha horse on his left, the sacred horse pole Serge behind him, and the few participants in the ritual with covid-19 masks
Continue reading “Ysyakh 2020 – solstice festival online”

Future Arctic Ecosystems revisited or reindeer herding at the verge of extinction?

30 Oct, 14:00, Rovaniemi, Arktikum, 2nd floor, coffee room.

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The world’s northernmost herding horses? at work in herding reindeer, Kharaulakh, Laptev Sea

In this Wednesday Afternoon Coffee Chat (WACC) Florian Stammler will have a dialogue session with Aytalina Ivanova from Yakutsk reflecting on Arctic research agendas. What was supposed to be the first trip in a new multi-party consortium on scenarios of a changing Arctic became an example of how research agendas can – and should – change in response to the concerns of those people with whom we work in the field. During the first research trip, it turned out that rather than the project topic – people in the field were concerned about other things that are more immediately related to their future as a community. You are welcome to join and find out what worries people even more than the changing Arctic Climate. This WACC will feature impressive photos and videos from a very extreme environment on the shore of the Arctic Ocean, with nomads who unite tradition and innovation in very original ways. All welcome, coffee and biscuits will be served.

We don’t survive – we live here!

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).

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practicing governance on the land: herding reindeer through a gold deposit in Neryungryi District, Yakutia

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!”

Assessing damage to indigenous cultures by industrial development with maths?

I just read an interesting post by the Russian news agency TASS (in Russian) announcing proudly the launch of a new method for assessing damage to indigenous culture and livelihood during industrial development of the Arctic. Russian scholars in this field know that there has been long a discussion about how the only Russian law on the anthropological expert review (etnologicheskaia expertiza) in Sakha (Yakutia) does not duly consider damage to culture and instead has a clear focus on compensation of material damage to natural resources that indigenous people use, as Ivanova has shown (2016:1237).

Now it seems that the working group of scholars and parliament committee members that want to push ahead with a Russian-wide law on the etnologicheskaia expertiza want to focus on assessing impacts with a participatory method that bases on a mathematical model. However, from the one article that I found by one of the authors it remains unclear to me if there would be aspects considered such as loss of spiritual knowledge, language, values and other aspects where indigenous cultures differ from the dominant societies of the state they live in.

While this is certainly a timely discussion, I wondered from reading that news post how the new scientific method advertised there wants to reliably assess such damage using mathematical formula only? The text says that researchers from the Russian Economic University and Kuban University have developed a mathematical formula allowing to consider the interests of all stakeholders around investment projects in the Arctic. In the text, economics Professor Violetta Gassiy is quoted as advertising this new method as a good replacement, because the method according to which damage has been assessed so far considers 101 criteria and therewith would be “very complicated”. But I wonder, isn’t it dangerous to simplify impact on local and indigenous cultures according to a ‘one fits it all’ formula? Countless anthropological research has shown that cultures are hugely diverse and function in a very tightly integrated reciprocal relationship between people and their specific environments.

I don’t want to dump the method of our colleagues prematurely, but I want to raise awareness of the fact that just by considering what local people express as their immediate interest in an industrial project may not necessarily be the best assessment of its possibly detrimental effects to culture. So far I thought that one of the advantages of the etnologicheskaia expertiza model in Russia is that it actually relies on trained anthropologists to assess JOINTLY with local experts the long-term impact of an industrial project on culture. This, I think, goes BEYOND the hopes of members in a community to get one-off payments as compensation or employment in the industry during the project life-cycle. I am not arguing that the hopes and opportunities for local people from industrial development projects are not important to consider. It is great if colleagues in Russia have come up with a good formula to do so.

All I am saying is that by no means does this replace the need for thorough assessment of cultural impacts by trained anthropologists together with local practitioners using our main method of participant observation.

A fair impact assessment must consider hopes, opportunities as well as threats and dangers of industrial development for indigenous societies. It must not be limited to assessing compensation payments for damage that occurs on the way, but should show avenues for PREVENTING such damage to happen in the first place. Together with colleagues we have highlighted this need for going beyond damage compensation towards damage prevention in social and cultural impact assessment more than a decade ago. With continued exploration and extraction of energy and mineral resources in the Arctic, this need did not diminish but increase, but the prevalent extractivist approach to natural resource governance does not always consider this need, as we have shown recently in a special volume on the topic.

I really welcome if this new method in Russia, if it becomes applied, is going to be seen as a tool to meet the need for participatory action together with local people in assessing their immediate needs, but that it would not replace our longer term joint challenge of trying to maintain culturally specific lifestyles of local and indigenous peoples in the Arctic basing on their unique adaptation to the Arctic environment and their knowing how to use the renewable natural resources in it in a reciprocal and sustainable way.

PhD / MA course extractive industires at the world’s biggest hole

The Uarctic Arctic Extractive Industries PhD programme organises its Trubkamira_askYakutiaspring 2016 course, this time also open for M.A. students, eligibility for participation see below.

The course is hosted by the North Eastern Federal University, Yakutia, Russia, February 16-22, 2016. Yakutia in Siberia is not a cheap, but fascinating place to go. Interested students can apply for funding. Please express your interest to one of the Thematic Network leaders if you want to participate. Continue reading “PhD / MA course extractive industires at the world’s biggest hole”

Meeting the world’s youngest farmers of native cattle in the world’s coldest inhabited place

During fieldwork for our Arc Ark research project, I walk the street in Sakkyryr, the central village of the Eveno-Bytantay Ulus (District) of the Sakha Republic, Yakutia, East Siberia. I stop to take a picture of two beautiful white cows as they feed on something I can’t quite identify, out on the street at minus 20 degrees

The cows Khatalyk and Dais feeding outdoors
The cows Khatalyk and Dais feeding outdoors

Continue reading “Meeting the world’s youngest farmers of native cattle in the world’s coldest inhabited place”

Arctic Ark: new project on animal breeds, species and human practices in the Arctic

We are very happy to announce that we started working on a new project funded within the Finnish Academy’s Arctic programme, called

Eveny reindeer, courtesy of Narya Starostina, Eveno-Bytantay, Yakutia
Eveny reindeer, courtesy of Narya Starostina, Eveno-Bytantay, Yakutia

Arctic Ark. Human-animal adaptations to the Arctic environment: natural and folk selection practices (Arc-Ark)

The Arctic is often seen as a biodiversity-poor region, where animal husbandry is solely based on herding of reindeer (Rangifer tarandus). However, in northern Europe and Siberia, also breeding of special autochthonous cattle (Bos taurus) and horse (Equus caballus) breeds has a long tradition (for example, Northern Finncattle, Yakutian cattle, Mezen horse and Yakutian horse). Continue reading “Arctic Ark: new project on animal breeds, species and human practices in the Arctic”

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.

Fishing fieldwork, ORHELIA Arctic Yakutia

My last summer entry from this Yakutia fieldwork finally brings me to the fieldwork PRACTICE there with the inhabitants of the Lena Delta and coastal area in Yakutia. As some of you may know, one of our crucial methodological approaches in the ORHELIA project is to marry intensive life-history interviewing with anthropological participant observation, which we believe enables us to understand better people’s life histories and ask more qualified follow-up questions.

Fishing is on industrial scale,but still a deeply culturally rooted practice  & important identity marker
Fishing is on industrial scale,but still a deeply culturally rooted practice & important identity marker

Our programme for the field was to spend half of the time in the village talking to elders about their recollections of the past and their evaluation of the present. The other half we wanted to go out to the summer fishing place and participate in the summer fishing campaign. Continue reading “Fishing fieldwork, ORHELIA Arctic Yakutia”

Finnish, Lithuanian and local resettlers in the 1940s to the Lena Delta

Today I continue fieldwork reports from the ORHELIA fieldwork in the Lena Delta in cooperation with Yakutsk University (NEFU).

During our first walk through the village of Bykov Mys we found out about the great proud but also sad history in Soviet times. Completely unexpected for us was the news of extensive Finnish resettlement to this far northern corner in the 1940s.

Fieldwork partner Ulyana Prokopievna Koloddeznikova investigating old photographs from the glorious and sad past at Bykov Mys
Fieldwork partner Ulyana Prokopievna Koloddeznikova investigating old photographs from the glorious and sad past at Bykov Mys

Just after the Finnish-Russian war, many Finnish people from the Leningrade and Karelia area were deported to the Lena Delta area. The other dominant resettler nation was Lithuanians. Both groups endured huge suffererings on their way to the North and were dropped off without any preparation on the cold Arctic shore. There they had to fish without any equipment and even footwear, so they stood barefoot in the icy water. As they did not have reindeer skins or other warm clothes, eye-witnesses tell they even put newspaper around their feet for protection against the cold. Continue reading “Finnish, Lithuanian and local resettlers in the 1940s to the Lena Delta”