About the project

Indigenous peoples continue to face concrete forms of colonialism and resource extraction, which threaten their land-based livelihoods and existence as peoples. Yet, contemporary societies also manifest growing interest in, and appreciation of, indigenous cultures and identities. This is particularly evident within the arts and popular culture, where indigenous artists, themes and heritage flourish in unprecedented ways, prompting new talk about an ongoing “renaissance” of Indigenous cultures and identities. NESAR seek to examine the politics and social contexts of this turn, and to explore the novel issues, challenges and opportunities that the "new Sámi renaissance" is bringing up on the level of Sámi cultural politics and policy.

The notion of renaissance derives from the French word for “re-birth”, and it is usually associated with European revival of classical influence in the 14th and 16th Century. Its inherent eurocentrism notwithstanding, the notion has been used repeatedly in various indigenous contexts, for instance to describe the “rebirthing” of indigenous consciousness (Battiste 2014), to designate moments of extraordinary production in indigenous arts and literature (e.g. Lincoln 1983; Hirvasvuopio-Laiti and Siivikko 2019; Lehtola 2004; McLean 1998), or to describe the success of indigenous ethnopolitical mobilization more broadly (Allen 2002, Aikio 1999). In most cases, however, the renaissance has been analyzed primarily, if not exclusively, as an emancipatory moment of cultural recovery, which is constituted by processes internal to indigenous societies and communities, and within the broader transnational context of decolonization.

In contrast, a central hypothesis underlying NESAR is that the new indigenous renaissance warrants much broader analyses of the complex social, political and economic forces which contribute to, and regulate, indigeneity’s growing prominence. Also this “renaissance” is grounded in the history of indigenous ethnopolitical mobilisation and in the development of indigenous rights and self-government. Those processes have significantly improved the social and political standing of Indigenous peoples, contributing to indigenous cultural revitalization and to increasing pride that young generations of Indigenous people now take in indigenous identities, languages and heritage. Having said that, today also people with no indigenous background are showing unprecedented interest in, and attraction to, indigenous cultures, languages and identities, and this, too, is contributing to the dynamics of the new renaissance. Growing attraction to indigeneity is particularly evident within the arts and popular culture, but extends well beyond that: recent scholarship shows that also people with very distant or no indigenous ancestry have begun to claim indigenous identities in increasing numbers (Björklund 2016, Junka-Aikio 2016; Kowal and Paradies 2019; Lehtola 2015; Gaudry 2018; O´Donnel and LePointe 2019; Leroux 2019; Sturm 2011).

 White attraction to indigeneity is not new as such. Critical scholars of settler colonialism argue that settlers are compelled to appropriate or mimic aspects of indigenous culture and tradition, and even to “become Indian”, in order to imagine themselves as natives to the land they have occupied (Allen 2002, 9-10; Deloria 1998; Wolfe 2009; Tuck and Yang 2012). However, by the twenty-first century, indigeneity’s appeal seems to have become even more intensive. For instance, if the “West” has always been defined by a longing for the “exotic” (Said 1978), in the context of contemporary fragmented societies, imaginaries of indigenous peoples’ strong connection to land, tradition and spirituality might seem particularly inviting. Second, as Halter (2001) and Hardt and Negri (2000, 137-159) argue, postmodern capitalism tends to transform ethnic and cultural difference into consumables and “market niches” which are particularly appealing to affluent and non-racialized (in other words, white) segments of the society. Thirdly, Indigenous peoples’ struggles against the extractive industries and other invasive forms of land use, and discourses which connect indigeneity with respect for nature and biodiversity, have constructed indigeneity as an ethical positioning which is valued growingly at the time of climate crisis. Lastly, the development of indigenous rights, institutions, and policies which aim for positive discrimination have contributed to a new ecology of ethnic identification in which indigeneity appears less as a hindrance or social stigma, and more as a possible asset which might offer access to benefits, entitlements, positions and opportunities earmarked for indigenous peoples, or improve social and political voice and visibility.

For all these reasons, indigeneity appears today increasingly as a form of cultural capital (Bourdieu 1973, Bamblett et al. 2019; Björklund 2016 and Junka-Aikio 2019), which is valued and considered worth pursuing, owning and consuming across ethnic difference, by diverse actors, and for a variety of different and often conflicting reasons. Indigeneity is desired, appropriated, performed, admired and appreciated, used for pure economic gain, and asserted as a moral force against environmental destruction and capitalist greed. Although this is contributing to the revitalization of indigenous identities, communities and cultures, it is also giving rise to new struggles around indigenous voice and identity, and presenting entirely new questions, challenges and opportunities, which indigenous communities and professionals working with indigenous arts, culture and government need to face, seize upon, and tackle in practice. So far, however, the nature and scope of these changes and challenges remains largely unexplored, and more knowledge is needed to understand how this shift in the relationships between indigenous and majority societies is affecting indigenous cultural politics and policy.

NESAR seeks to address these gaps in knowledge by exploring the thematic in the Nordic and Sámi context. In addition to taking interest in the cultural politics of the “new indigenous renaissance”, we understand it as a prism, through which much larger processes relating to social change within the Nordic societies and especially in relationships between indigenous and majority societies, can be examined and made visible. Our primary objective is to strengthen Sámi self-determination and cultural revitalization through better understanding of the complex social, political and economic forces which are reshaping the politics of indigeneity within Nordic countries. Secondary objectives are: (1) to identify new issues, concerns and opportunities that growing interest in, and revival of, indigenous arts and popular culture is presenting to the Sámi society on the level of cultural politics and policy, (2) to analyze this shift critically, as an aspect of broader change in the nature of Nordic colonialism and in relations between Sámi and majority societies, and (3) to generate research-based knowledge that could support sustainable indigenous cultural policy design and implementation, and be of use for the Sami society and  for Nordic and Sámi stake-holders.

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