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€ 1.8 million project on indigenous peoples living in the Arctic

How do indigenous peoples organize their homes and households in the circumpolar Arctic? Centre for Samí Studies at the University of Tromsø has received € 1,8 million to direct an international project that will address this question.

Centre for Samí Studies is an important contributor in strengthening indigenous perspectives in research work established within a wide range of fields at the University of Tromsø in Norway. Samís are the indigenous peoples of northern Scandinavia, Finland and northwestern Russia. The Centre however has also a substantial international perspective.

The European Science Foundation (ESF) is acknowledging this international perspective by making the project “Home, Hearth and Household in the Circumpolar North“ the largest of the seven projects in ESFs BOREAS programme. All projects in the BOREAS programme are within the field of humanities or social studies in an Arctic perspective.

International focus

Thirty scientists from Norway, Sweden, Canada, Finland, USA and Russia will participate in this three-year project. They will draw parallels between past and present settlements by research within fields of history, archeology and anthropology.

The Centre for Samí Studies will also arrange an international seminar for the scientists involved in all of the seven ESF projects. Professor David Anderson coordinates the BOREAS-project at the University of Tromsø.

– The European Science Foundation is acknowledging the significance of understanding what is of importance for indigenous peoples in the circumpolar Arctic, he says.

Extraordinary similarities

Local living conditions of many different indigenous peoples will be examined and compared during this project. The scientists at the University of Tromsø will mainly focus on historical living conditions of the Samí people.

- There are many extraordinary similarities in the way the indigenous peoples of the circumpolar Arctic have organized their homes in the past. One common factor is that many of these peoples took mobility and flexibility into a great consideration when building their homes. They still do, actually, even though they use modern materials. Our question is why did these similarities occur, says archaeology professor Bjørnar Olsen.

Olsen is a participant in the “ BOREAS: Home, Hearth and Household in the Circumpolar North “ project. He stresses the significance of moving away from the stereotypical thinking, when conjuring an image of Samí living.

- The Samí form of living has varied over time and throughout the Samí areas. The people also interacted with other peoples. To be able to fully understand their living conditions, we will have to look back one to two thousand years. In this way we will be able to see the dynamics in the Samí patterns of living, rather than rely on generalisations, says Olsen.

Recovering traditions

The indigenous peoples of the circumpolar Arctic have been exceptionally capable of adapting their culture to hard times and changing conditions. Scientists at the Centre for Samí Studies do not believe that it is a loss of cultural identity that the Samí no longer live in tents. They are however pointing out that many of the handcraft traditions of different indigenous peoples are lost, and may be recovered through this project.

The organization of the rooms in a home is more than a question of practicality, the scholars claim. It also indicates a lot about what is of importance for the people inhabiting the home. For instance: Religious and social conventions played a significant role in the making of an old Samí settlement.

People in High North development

The “Home, Hearth and Household in the Circumpolar North” - project is closely related to the development projects instigated in the High North – the area above 70th parallel - by the current Norwegian government. Issues in terms of energy supply, oil exhumation and the environmental consequences concerning these, are often overshadowing the social implications of such development.

- The High North is more than a source of oil and gas. Research within the field of social studies and humanities is crucial in understanding how the development of the High North will affect the people who live there, says the director of the Centre for Samí Studies Else Grete Broderstad.

The Faculties of Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Tromsø have already the High North as their primary research area. In this context, however, the BOREAS - project is the largest venture to date.

By Maja Sojtaric
Journalist at University of Tromsø

Else Grete Broderstad | alfa
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