At the Arctic University of Norway (UiT), the Indigenous Citizenship and Education Project organized a conference from September 26-27, 2019. Researchers from around the world came to present their work related to the two main conference themes: indigeneity and education. The two keynote presentations were, “Indigenizing education: Reflections on theories and concepts,” given by Torjer Olsen and Hilde Sollid (UiT), and, “The Sámi Environmental Citizenship: Rights and Responsibilities,” presented by Sanna Valkonen (University of Lapland). The following article details some of the presentations and highlights the overarching discussion topics which emerged over the two days.
Last month the Indigenous Citizenship and Education Project hosted an international conference on Indigeneity and Education at the Arctic University of Norway in Tromsø. The conference brought together researchers and educators for two full days of presentations. The conference primarily focused on the education aspect of the project, featuring presentations on national curriculums, educational materials and teacher education. Kaijsa Kemi Gjerpe (UiT) began the discussion, describing how Sami people and their history are represented in two different textbooks in Norway. Focusing on Indigenous languages, Paulette van der Voet (UiT) presented on Sami language education policies in Norway, and Åse Mette Johansen and Hilde Sollid (UiT) gave an example of place-based Sami language learning materials from a Coastal Sami area. Kendyl Reis (UiT) presented her ongoing research into how Indigenous topics are being integrated into the education system in the Midwest of the United States.
Then in their keynote address, “Indigenizing education: Reflections on theories and concepts”, Hilde Sollid and Torjer A. Olsen from UiT and the ICE project, presented a proposed model for an understanding of Indigenous education. They emphasized the importance of thinking and talking in terms of process rather than of static categories. Thus, in the process of indigenizing education, educational systems seem to be in a movement from being arenas of assimilation to being arenas of decolonization and – potentially – of indigenization. At the same time, Indigenous communities – and the situations of Indigenous communities – are diverse and complex.
During the afternoon, Kristin Gregers Eriksen (University of South-Eastern Norway) and Stine H. Bang Svendsen (NTNU) pointed out the colonial aspects of education as an institution and explored different ways to include Indigenous topics into mainstream education. Similarly, Hans Mark Svedal and Henriette Harbitz (Western Norway University of Applied Sciences) brought up challenges to including Sami topics in Norwegian teacher education programs. Linita Manu’atu (Tonga Institute of Education) and Mere Kepa (The University of Auckland) finished the day with an engaging presentation on the role of Indigenous scholars in institutions of higher education, highlighting the need for solidarity and mentorship between Indigenous scholars and students. Manu’atu jarringly stated that Indigenous scholars must, “publish rather than perish.” These are only some examples of the many topics presented, giving an idea of the quantity and complexity of the issues raised around the subject of education.
The second day, Sanna Valkonen (University of Lapland) gave her keynote presentation titled, “The Sámi Environmental Citizenship: Rights and Responsibilities.” Coming from a political science background, Valkonen discussed the concepts of Indigenous, environmental and global citizenship from the Sami context in Scandinavia. Valkonen gave numerous examples of these different concepts from her experiences as part of “Viidon Sieiddit,” a collaborative project involving researchers and Sami artists that explored the Sami people’s changing relationship with nature from the past to the present in order to understand the concept of environmental citizenship within the Sami context. Valkonen highlighted how the Sami artists involved in the project translated aspects of their Indigenous identities onto the national and international level through environmental advocacy in their work, demonstrating environmental citizenship.
The following presentations continued to address different understandings of citizenship and reflected on how those perceptions affect education. Researchers working with the citizenship aspect of the Indigenous Citizenship and Education project analyzed political theorist Melissa Williams’ concept of citizenship as shared fate and theorized how this might apply to Scandinavian context. Williams’ idea of citizenship as shared fate poses both Indigenous peoples and the majority society are distinct, but they share the same state and must work cooperatively as equals to ensure both of their futures. Though citizenship is generally understood as an individual’s relationship to the nation-state, Kjersti Fjørtoft (UiT) and Annamari Vitikanien (UiT) discussed different interpretations with a focus on this concept of shared fate. Interestingly, this led to a discussion on how different understandings of citizenship could affect education. Else Grete Broderstad (UiT) gave an overview of the policy field of Sami education seen through the lenses of the legal and political rights of citizenship and stages of Sami rights recognition. Reflecting on these discussions, Broderstad stated,
In practical terms the tension between citizenship understood as equal individual treatment and universalization of individual rights versus the collectively grounded rights of indigenous peoples, can be bridged. But the success depends on many different contextual conditions, presupposing indigenous autonomy and self-determination through self-governing arrangements, an active nation-state, an image used on the Scandinavian welfare states and extending indigenous perspectives and participation into non-indigenous affairs.
Finally, members of the Hunter Gatherer Advocacy Group led by Jennifer Hays (UiT) also presented some of their research projects and how their work with Hunter Gatherer groups presents unique challenges for Indigenous education.
A striking feature of this conference was the various positionalities of the participants. The conference presented a unique opportunity not only for those working directly with the Indigenous Citizenship and Education project to meet, but also for master’s students, post-docs and professors alike to discuss the themes of indigeneity, education and citizenship within a broader global context. Kristin Evju and Velina Ninkova (UiT) were the two main organizers of the conference. Reflecting on the conference Evju states,
We are very pleased with how the conference turned out! It was great to observe how much research is taking place that focuses on Sámi and Indigenous perspectives in education, from so many different viewpoints and within so many different contexts. This was a relatively small conference and the first we hosted as part of the ICE-project. We are looking forward to developing the format and content further when we arrange our final, larger, conference in 2021!