Sub-theme 3. Indigenous peoples and globalisation
The Arctic – commons and the diversity of (de-)colonial configurations
The Arctic is geopolitically often considered as ‘commons’, depending on interpretation of contemporary international law, international political configurations and shifting interests of states across the globe to claim their share of what Arctic states consider ‘their’ geopolitical estate. At the same time, ‘commons’, as coined in the context of this conference, describe ways of Indigenous engaging with the land in multiple forms through the passage of time, in particular highlighting that land and all what ‘land’ entails has social meaning and ordering beyond commodification and capitalist mobilization. Indigenous people across the North who have been colonized in different forms and during different times by different/shifting states and empires, have in common the history of expropriation and inclusion of ‘resources’ into capital(ist) accumulation. Nevertheless, Indigenous self-determination, decolonization movements and politics, cultural revitalization, or, new and radical forms of indigeneity that are embedded in the contemporary political economy, challenge (international and national) political institutions, states and, public mainstream understanding of difference, values and, in particular, of the commons.
Bearing in mind the extreme diversity of Indigenous societies across the (sub-)Arctic, this panel wants to introduce configurations of contestation, resilience, conflict and new forms of intersected economies that have emerged through the course of time in different political histories.
A broad variety of paper contributions are welcome in order to highlight concerns and debates on commons from an (sub-)Arctic perspective as well as works on methodology in a decolonial setting and theory building around studying the questions of ‘commons’ in the North.
1. Social Aspects of the Transition from Transport Reindeer to Reindeer Pastoralism
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Sweden
The transition from a foraging to a pastoral economy occurred independently and at different times in numerous aboriginal societies around the world. Among arctic and subarctic reindeer herding peoples in northern Eurasia it manifested, from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, in a movement that implied a radical shift in economic focus. People went from living foremost on hunting and gathering, with small numbers of domesticated reindeer mainly for transports, to reindeer pastoralism with large reindeer herds. Although it was a massive transition, rather close to our time, remarkably little is known about what consequences it had on local governance and social relations for the groups involved.
Northern Fennoscandia was one of the first to witness the transition to reindeer pastoralism, and the indigenous Sami of northern Sweden are an especially suitable case for addressing these gaps. The historical sources are exceptionally rich. What makes the Sami an interesting case is that reindeer pastoralism developed in a foraging culture, with many households continuing as hunters and fishers even after reindeer pastoralism dominated society.
Land used for foraging and by pastoralists are common-pool resources (CPRs): fresh water, hunting grounds, and grazing land. The transition to reindeer pastoralism was induced by market/trade opportunities and the transition these societies underwent was driven by concomitant self-governed responses to this transition. In the paper we will investigate how the transition affected social relations, i.e., social justice, servants, marriage strategies, networks, etc.
2. Reconciliation and the Commons
Institute of Social Anthropology, University of Bern, Switzerland
Indigenous leadership programs have been emerging around the world in recent years. This process often has to do with the fact that in post-colonial contexts the call for self-determination and self-government of Indigenous groups is becoming louder and louder. Closely related to this are often issues of land management and conservation. In Canada, the loss of the commons is rooted in colonial history as well as in the ongoing legacy and various forms of colonialism. With colonization, access to land was taken away from Indigenous people and has been and continues to be reclaimed ever since. This presentation will address the intersection of reconciliation and governing the commons. It tackles the question: How do which and whose notions of land management strategies of the commons become useful and political instruments of reconciliation? Thus, Indigenous Leadership programs are considered as a resistance strategy to the loss of the commons. The topic will be discussed based on results from anthropological fieldwork conducted as part of a master’s thesis in the Yukon, Canada. Two examples will be analyzed: the national Land Guardians Initiative which was founded in 2020 and a Youth Training in ethical knowledge sharing to advance northern, indigenous-led conversation and stewardship in which I participated. This is also against the backdrop that the role of the youth is perceived as central.
3. Commons between clan territories and ‘grazing in the air’: a century of land use negotiations in the world’s number one reindeer pastoralism area
University of Lapland, Finland
This presentation traces the changing negotiations of Nenets nomadic reindeer pastoralists with outside agents about their territorial behaviour on the Yamal Peninsula in the Russian Arctic. The Nenets have a flexible approach to the use of territory by humans and animals that is based on needs, seasons and situations, also allowing simultaneous use of the same land by different users. Nonetheless, a clear sense of belonging of people to their clan territories with their sacred and ancestral sites persists until the present. This traditionally egalitarian acephalous society has made only superficial attempts to codify their land rights vis à vis powerful land use competitors such as state farms or state oil and gas companies, and yet nobody worldwide herds so many domestic reindeer in a fully nomadic livelihood, with migrations of up to 1200 km yearly still performed on reindeer sledges only. Considering the scarcity and unpredictability of resources, freedom of movement and flexible access remains the rule, even more so at times of increased frequency of natural disasters due to a rapidly changing Arctic climate. The development of reindeer pastoralism and the resilience of their nomadic livelihood proves the Nenets right when they say “the Russian law ends at the outskirts of town, and beyond we live according to the ‘law of the tundra’”.
This example shows how territoriality based on a sedentary mindset and boundary defence imposed from outside agents may coexist with a commons idea based on ways of knowing and cooperation among the pastoralists.
4. How essential is land title? Reindeer grazing on abandoned mine sites in South Yakutia, Sibera
Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, Finland
This presentation asks what we can learn from the specific case of an Evenki reindeer herding community that were forced to graze their animals on pastures in midst of a recently abandoned gold mining site. The community is one of the very few left of its kind, where in summer reindeer milk is among the staple foods, and where reindeer are still ridden. After numerous changes in the post-Soviet institutional setup, the community got a common land title, but for land that has become entirely unsuitable for their herding operations. As a result, they graze on the abandoned mine site without any title, at the same time benefiting from the leftover infrastructure by the industry. In this case where extractive industry has been the principal land user for more than 100 years and the pastoralists are the newcomers without any documentation, a legal anthropological approach can help us clarify to what extent codified rights on the land are essential for supporting a livelihood and culture.
5. EU-PolarNet. Co-ordinating and Co-designing the European Polar Research Area
University of Vienna & Austrian Polar Research Institute APRI, Austria
EU-PolarNet 2 is the world’s largest consortium of polar research expertise and infrastructures, composed by 25 partners representing all European Member States and Associated Countries which have well-established Polar Programmes. The ambition of EU-PolarNet 2 is to establish a sustainable and inclusive platform to co-develop and advance European Polar research actions and to give evidence-based advice to policymaking processes. This project will allow to further develop the coordination of Polar research actions in Europe and with overseas partners. By involving all relevant stake- and Indigenous rightsholders it will support the development of transdisciplinary and transnational Polar research actions of high societal relevance. This presentation will highlight the importance of advancing co-creative and decolonial methodology in Arctic research practices and address how these principles play out in the work of EU-PolarNet.