Focal Point North – Network, indigenous institutions and knowledge production
The Focal Point North Project is is funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs through its Barents 2020 programme and is a joint initiative between the Faculty of Humanities, Social Science and Education and the Centre for Sami Studies (Sesam). The main project started in 2013 and will run for four years. Project leaders are Professor Bjørg Evjen (Sesam) and Professor Hans-Kristian Hernes, (Department of Sociology, Political Science and Community Planning). The Tromsø Research Foundation (Tromsø forskningsstiftelse) has provided funding for a pilot project.
The academic background for the project is UiT’s focus on indigenous research, in general, and, in particular, the arrangements revolving around the international Master’s programme in Indigenous Studies. This multidisciplinary study programme is built around the disciplines of history, social anthropology, political science/law, language and literature. The primary focus of the programme is the international indigenous movement in time and space. The Master’s programme in Indigenous Studies has a strong connection to the region where it is offered. The Focal Point North project is justified by the need for an increased knowledge production and for a better networking between the indigenous institutions.
The project’s objective is to develop the knowledge of indigenous peoples in the North, as well as the cooperation between relevant institutions. The project focusses on the encounters between various peoples, on resource exploitation and rights, and on climate change policy and institutions. The project is aimed at regional and international cooperation by means of seminars, field trips and publications. Through various measures, the project endeavors to achieve the following goals:
1) Increased knowledge of the peoples in the North
Increasing the knowledge of the ethnic groups in the Barents region is a primary objective of the project. The situation of the indigenous peoples is different from area to area; however, there is scarce systematic insight into these differences, both in the past and in the way they are reflected in today’s society. We can thus gain better knowledge of the situation of the indigenous peoples/minorities in our own neighbouring countries, especially Russia. Therefore, the Focal Point North project seeks to increase the knowledge of society and culture among different ethnic groups in the Barents region by means of joint seminars, field trips and publications.
2) Driving forces and vulnerability in the North
The nature and society of the northern regions are defined as highly vulnerable. Today, they are subject to strong driving forces – globalization, climate change, environment, and resource exploitation – which can lead to a fundamental transformation of the social activity and necessitate a new way of thinking about governance (institutions, regulations, roles). The fundamental social changes will determine the key framework conditions for the development and not least affect the situation of the indigenous peoples. For this reason, it is important to systematize the knowledge of how this will determine the key framework conditions for the development in the northern regions, where the need for knowledge is considerable in the public debate.
3) Network and cooperation between indigenous institutions
In the last few decades, a large number of institutions have been established and, in some cases, further developed, which play a clear role in obtaining and disseminating knowledge about the indigenous peoples’ situation. These are scientific and educational institutions, museums, various types of festivals, local centres for language and culture, and NGOs. The establishment of these institutions has resulted in a veritable knowledge accumulation and revitalization of indigenous culture. On the other hand, the network between the institutions is partially lacking. UiT wishes to become a hub in a network of northern institutions with different purposes and tasks. The core of the network will be the development of cooperation with Umeå University, Northern (Arctic) Federal University in Arkhangelsk and, in a more international context, with the University of Saskatchewan in Canada. The goal is to establish Master’s programmes related to indigenous studies at these institutions. This core will be expanded and strengthened through cooperation with other indigenous institutions and mutual development of competence.
1: Field trips
- take place twice per year;
- contribute to the cooperation with key indigenous educational institutions;
- are a meeting place and collaboration arena for the institutions;
- actively involve staff and students in the development of new knowledge about the indigenous peoples in the north.
2: Academic seminars
- are held annually on a topic related to the field trips;
- present recent research on topics related to the indigenous peoples;
- contribute to the production of publications for educational purposes;
- develop networks between indigenous institutions .
3: Appointments to adjunct professor positions
- Individuals with specific expertise from partner institutions will be linked to the academic community at UiT.
- They will strengthen the research collaboration and develop joint research projects.
- Master scholarships will be awarded to students who take a two-year degree at UiT.
- Guest scholarships will be awarded for shorter periods for employees at partner institutions.
- The scholarships will strengthen the knowledge base on indigenous peoples in the Barents region in educational programmes at UiT.
- They will meet the need for qualified staff in key indigenous institutions in the North.
- They will establish strong professional networks that provide the basis for the development of new research.