How does Sami international solidarity looks like? This was the central issue discussed at the workshop held last week by the Forum of Development and Cooperation for Indigenous Peoples, hosted at the Center for Northern Peoples in Manndalen, in Northern Norway. Here is a short about what was discussed.
Henrik Olsen from the Sami parliament expressed how Sami international solidarity is translated as a strong support in the international arena. As an active example of what is and can be possible for Indigenous people. The Sami Parliament is there to safeguard Indigenous people on all forums, by emphasizing local and traditional knowledge in decision-making.
Karoline Trollvik from the Riddu Riđđu festival steps up and unfolds on how the very mandate of the festival is to shelter a safe space for indigenous expression. Riddu Riđđu has gradually used its status to help other indigenous peoples to highlight topical issues, not only for the Sami people in Sapmi, but indigenous peoples worldwide. A big task, which is often challenging. Although it is not an explicit political festival, through cultural effort, it gives voice and visibility to people who otherwise may not. For some indigenous artists, coming here is a unique opportunity to represent.
But there is also other examples of how the festival has helped – not just in its mandate. Peoples from Guatemala came in 2011 and created a map, which is now exposed in the Nisga’a house (also created by indigenous people from Canada). They then came back to Guatemala and created their own festival.
One of intention for this meeting was to exchange in a conversational atmosphere. This was definitely the feel of the day. After short presentations from the guest speakers, soon conversations opened onto direct questions; is it possible for the Sami parliament to work with other Indigenous peoples of the North? Like other groups in Russia? Hildegunn Bruland asked.
Another brought up how there could be more projects with kids, bringing awareness as soon as possible. Partnership was also a strong point raised, to extend the reach to other indigenous groups, with all the potential for indigenous mobilisation. Partnership between universities and cultural centers as portals to put forth Indigeneity.
How to know?
One of the main point brought about by Mona Solbakk (Center for Northern Peoples) is the need for a place where we can treasure knowledge. She explained the essential need to allow for better access to knowledge. Institutions should be developed and expand on networks. Turning now towards Torjer Olsen and Bruland, she reinforced a better integration and involvement from universities and colleges in northern Norway.
Her understanding of Sami international solidarity is to create more space for promoting Indigenous art and knowledge. Institutions that would focus on breaking down the very concepts of what is indigenous? Who are they? How many are there Indigenous groups in the North? What is the Arctic?
Participants acknowledged how universities could help with documenting Sami and Indigenous knowledge and culture.
In the afternoon, Jennifer Hayes dives right in; how can we do cooperation when there is so many bigger organisations that try to break the good partnerships to get a hold of the resources? The countries with the most money (or capacity) are too often the ones breaking the International conventions and rights for Indigenous peoples. Places like Africa are constantly the scene for such blatant operations. So what are the concrete possibilities we are taking away from this?
To this, one needs to keep in mind that Sami international solidarity is important, not as a funding source, rather as a voice for Indigenous issues. Sami international solidarity finds its strength in cultural and political representation.
Solbakk to answer that the impact of a healthy space for indigenous culture is far more than we can imagine. Lots of people come here (either as travelers, to festivals or visiting institutions) and go back with some deep inspiration. The growing space for Sami culture is a very inspiring example for all other Indigenous groups.
Selena Raven Cordeau, author for FDCIP and student in the Master’s in Indigenous Studies at UiT The Arctic University of Norway.