Rapport fra seminaret
Indigenous knowledge – the practice of sustainable existence
In connection with Marjetica Potrč’s exhibition On Coexistence at Kunsthall Trondheim researches, artists and writers gathered for a two-day seminar, May 5. – 6, to discuss strategies for how to move towards a sustainable existence by learning from local and indigenous knowledge systems, and how this knowledge can be used in scientific research on climate change.
The event ended with a statement being sent from the seminar, in support of the Original Miccosukee Simanolee Nation Aboriginal People, and as a reply to the generous contribution to the discussion received from Bobby C. Billie, the spiritual leader and one of the clan leaders of The Council, the original caretakers of E cha bon mic (Florida).
Below is an attempt to summon up the topics that were discussed during the two days. Find the filmed documentations of the contributions to the seminar by clicking on the different speakers.
Marjetica Potrč: Public Space is a Social Agreement
Drawing from her research time in the Brazilian state of Acre, in Amazonia, Potrč argued that the appropriation of space by local communities, whether this is an urban public space or a territory in the rainforest, is fundamental for the construction of a new, sustainable citizenship. She discussed the interdependence between people and public spaces – and how these social agreements made in relation to public spaces and the land, are temporary. Potrč gave examples of the importance of exchange of knowledge between indigenous communities and Western theorists and scientists – the rural and the urban knowledge – in order to develop a sustainable human relationship with nature in the Anthropocene age.
Marie Roué: Sami Knowledge in a Changing World – Sami Ecology and Science of Snow
Roué illustrated, by discussing Sami reindeer herders’ deep knowledge about their animals behaviors, snow quality and lichen, how this knowledge is based in experiences of impermanency and constantly changing conditions, especially in relation to weather. She pointed to the problems occurring in scientific calculations about the amount of land, needed for a certain number of animals, since those calculations are based on an idea about the average and normal year, which may never occur. She also pointed out that conditions may vary from year to year in the same place and that it’s crucial for herders to have access to options that is suitable for the specific conditions a certain year. The very precise and sophisticated knowledge that the reindeer herders possess are of great value for contemporary science and common research projects are carried out developed.
Douglas Sheil: Toward Democratic Conservation: Peoples, Preferences and Principles
Sheil argued that the planning and practice of conservation, which seeks to protect our shared global heritage, should be subject to democratic checks and balances, like other societal goals. He demonstrated with examples from different parts of the world, how preservations projects are far more successful if the local knowledge is being part of the research. He also pointed to the fact that “preservation” had been carried out perfectly in areas where the indigenous and local peoples had been in the control over the area. The traditional way of living and their relation to land and nature, has in itself a protective effect on the land. Douglas Sheil also talked about how this insight has not always been guiding preservation projects, and the former caretakers of the land, has been forced to leave.
Frank Ekeberg: Migratory birds and Cross-Border Cultural Connectivity
Ekeberg highlighted how migratory birds offer a window into cross-border cultural connectivity and how declining bird populations and environmental change affect ecologically-bound cultural identities. In his talk he demonstrated how birds are indicators on climate change and how bird populations around the world are declining due to industrial land use and climate change. Frank Ekeberg also talked about the importance of feathers in indigenous cultures and how declining bird populations and state regulations, which are meant to protect birds, are disturbing traditional respectful relations between humans and birds.
Judith D. Schwartz: When the Land Needs the Animals Like Animals Need the Land
Judith D. Schwartz discussed how essential grazing animals are for the land they live on, and their pivotal role in promoting land health, biodiversity and water security. Grazing animals, like cows, goats, sheep or reindeer, are central to the lives of many of the world’s communities, and in some at the core of their tradition, like the Sami reindeer herding communities. Contrary to what is often assumed grazing animals improve the quality of the soil, it can hold water better and it contains more nutrition since the animals´ hoof makes plant material mix better with the soil. When plants can grow, erosion is prevented. For Norwegian reindeer herders, the fact that more animals means a better quality of the land, holds a specific interest since the state laws today prevents herds from growing beyond an estimated “ideal” size, in an attempt to protect the land from overgrazing. Schwartz also referred to recent research on the albedo effect and discussed how the earth’s surface is kept cooler when grazed by animals.
Douglas Nakashima: Indigenous Knowledge for Global Environmental Decision-making: Emergence and Contemporary Challenges
In recent decades, science’s hegemony has been increasingly challenged by the growing recognition of other systems of knowledge, which brings with it several challenges including managing interactions and expectations with the scientific community, countering erosion of indigenous cosmologies in the face of accelerated environmental and social change, and sustaining indigenous knowledge transmission to ensure its continuing dynamism. Douglas Nakashima offered insights to the work currently been done in UNESCO, for a better understanding of indigenous knowledge and for building structures that can include this knowledge in the current discussions on climate change.
Ánde Somby: When a Predator Culture meets a Prey Culture
In his presentation, Ánde Somby analyzed the relationship between a hegemonic culture and a dominated culture, and what kind of structures could be found in the meeting between these different cultures. He pointed towards concrete strategies used by the hegemonic culture to uphold a power position including the erasing of the knowledge and history about indigenous peoples, justifying suppressive actions through moral superiority, establishing institutions that seem to serve indigenous interests, but in reality serve the majority’s interest.
Gene Ray with Bobby C. Billie: Messages from Echabonmic
Gene Ray presented statements from Bobby C. Billie, the spiritual leader and one of the clan leaders of The Council of the Original Miccosukee Simanolee Nation Aboriginal People, which are the original caretakers of E cha bon mic (Florida). Bobby C. Billie was present through recorded videos, and addressed the ecological emergencies now unfolding on their land and the threats to his people’s survival. The immediate danger of the disappearance of the original landscape, through roads being built that prevents the natural flow of water through the wetlands became clear in the documentations. The landscape and nature are the foundations of the traditional culture, which is now threatened.
The seminar is a part of Tråante, which informs the activities at Kunsthall Trondheim throughout the year 2017. This year, 2017, the Sami (the indigenous people of Norway) celebrate the centennial anniversary of the first Sami conference. Sami participants from all of Sapmi – the Sami territory that stretches through Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia – gathered for the first time in Trondheim in 1917.
The seminar was kindly supported by Fritt Ord and Art Council Norway.