Indigeneity and Environmental Humanities: Two interlinked workshops

The study of environmental humanities and of indigenous people and indigeneity as an identity and as a field of knowledge are broad and overlapping fields of investigation that need to be interrogated together, in an integrated way. This will be the leading theme in two interlinked workshop, on 12 September and 17 October, organised by the Centre for Concurrences in Colonial and Postcolonial Studies together with the Cluster for Nordic Colonialism (the September workshop) and the Cluster for Colonial Connections and Comparisons (the October workshop).

Research on indigeneity enquires into issues of livelihood, place-based belonging and knowledge, and how human ways of being in this world (to paraphrase Hanna Arendt) are entangled with the non-human natural environments. Indigeneity is further claimed, both as existential selfhood and political subjectivity, not least from challenges posed by identities and boundary making shaped by modern nation-states and infrastructure which 'minimizes local affective senses of place, dwelling, and boundary' (Smyer Yu, 2017). However, the archetypical 'indigenous' may be difficult to distinguish in countries where the physical separation, often instigated by colonial encroachments and appropriations, has dissolved under the weight of forced migrations, urban markets and modern consumption patterns. The socio-political and economic histories attached to place bring the question of law and legal history to the foreground and challenges any stereotypical identification.

From the close connection between indigenous identity and land – identity ascribed to a particular place, or the making of a place through experience and practice – the study of indigeneity is equally part of the growing field of environmental humanities. This rapidly growing field of research engages with meaning, value, responsibility and purpose, and is a response to the environmental challenges of our time. It locates human histories within earth histories, in the long temporal frames of geological time, and engages with questions of the mutual conditioning of human and non-human lives. This includes the impact of settled agriculture on the environment, the use of fossil fuels or urbanisation, as well as the spread of virus, the impact of earthquakes, and the perennial floods and droughts that moves the earth and denudes the soil from water. Environmental humanities scholars see humans not as outside nature, but the two as dynamically interdependent. Thus it collapses the old nature/culture divide and the social and natural ecologies merge.
The two fields share qualities that engage many academics who engage in both critical enquiry and engaged action. They challenge the researcher to acknowledge her/his own subjectivity – we cannot avoid being part of the realities we study – while simultaneously put scholars to the test of the capacity of combining academic stringency with empathy.

Key speakers
The key speaker on 12 September is Dan Smyer Yu, Professor of Anthropology, Director of the Centre for Trans-Himalayan Studies at Yunnan Minzu University, China, and on 17 October, K. Sivaramakrishnan, Department of Anthropology and Co-Director of Programme in Agrarian Studies, Joint Coordinator, Combined PhD Program in Anthropology and Forestry & Environmental Studies, and Co-Coordinator of the Yale InterAsia Initiative, Yale University, USA.
The programmes for the workshops are fixed. Participation is free but limited to the size of the room. Please send an email if you would like to join us. There are unfortunately no funds available for travel and accommodation for non-speakers.

Abstracts

Heritage processes in post-extractive histories in Norrbotten, Sápmi, Sweden
Dag Avango
Division of history of science, technology and environment, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm

One of the characteristics of the mining industry, in the Arctic and elsewhere, is its sensitivity to fluctuations in world markets prices and demand. During periods of high demand for metals companies expand their mining operations. When demand decrease or prices fall, companies may decrease or even close production for good. The county of Norrbotten, the northernmost part of Sweden / Sápmi has been subject to such a boom and bust cycles through the last 150 years, which have had profound consequences for natural environments, for the indigenous Sami population as well as for other local people. In this paper I will explore how these local indigenous and non-indigenous communities in Norrbotten have dealt with material and immaterial legacies of extractive industries when undergoing change and why. I will draw on examples from the municipalities of Kiruna, Gällivare and Älvsbyn, that are currently in the midst of a complex processes of either moving (Kiruna), being dismantled all together (Malmberget) or becoming subject to entirely new mining projects (Nautanen, Laver). Local residents (indigenous and non-indigenous) as well as business and state actors are all struggling to influence the future there, through planning, construction, heritage designation and preservation, relocation and by engaging in public debates and dialogues about the future through printed materials, exhibitions and media. In this work they all have something in common – they relate to the past. I will explore their way of constructing and using the past in these activities as heritage processes and as politics of memory (Harrison 2013). What roles have material and immaterial legacies of past and ongoing mining operations played in future visions and activities of different actors in Norrbotten and why? Have the legacies of past mining activities become a resource for building new futures there and in that case how, for whom and why? Which lessons can be drawn from Norrbotten for other mining towns undergoing change in the Arctic?

Environment, Politics, and Identity in Modern Greenland
Peder Roberts
Division of history of science, technology and environment, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm

This paper is concerned conceptions of environmental resilience and fragility among both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Greenlanders during the latter decades of the twentieth century. My primary case involves mining — an industry often regarded as almost paradigmatically non-Indigenous — with a secondary focus on regulations for the hunting of mammals (principally seals and polar bears). The lead-zinc mine at Maarmorilik (operational 1973-90) became controversial firstly for the emissions of heavy metals into surrounding waters, with severe consequences for marine food sources, and secondly for its negative impact on hunting by prematurely breaking up spring ice. During these same years in the early to mid-1970s Danish and Greenlandic authorities enacted new regulations protecting Greenlandic fauna, including the creation of the Northeast Greenland National Park and an international convention regulating polar bear hunting. But by 1990 this momentum had shifted. When the mine's closure was raised in the Greenlandic national assembly, the sentiment was one of sadness and loss — and that environmental concerns should no longer be regarded as so important when it came to evaluating mining. The undercurrent of resistance to Danish-imposed conservation measures also remained. This account challenges a historical periodization that regards fragility as the dominant concept in Arctic environments from the late 1960s. Perhaps more importantly, it also prompts reflection on how increased Greenlandic control over environmental regulation in a political sense shaped conceptions of how the specific physical geographical environments of Greenland could be intertwined with a form of Indigenous Greenlandic life into the future. I conclude by suggesting that the reality of climate change, and its effects on the geological and ecological parameters of Greenland, must not blind us to the agency of Indigenous Greenlanders in negotiating new relationships with their environments. An important challenge remains: to be alive to the significantly unequal power structures that frame the scope for Greenlanders to act while refusing the essentialist narration of the "ecological Indian".

Environmental Humanities as Values and Responsibility: Some Thoughts on Urban Ecology and Urban Nature from India
K. Sivaramakrishnan
Yale University

Apart from scientific and policy responses to global environmental change, environmental humanities have been understood to focus on fundamental questions of meaning, value, responsibility and purpose. In the first part of this brief note we will consider what it means to, thus, envisage a thicker notion of humanity while drawing lessons from existing traditions of study in environmental history, religion and ecology, literary and artistic insights into nature stewardship, and environmental justice. In the second part the discussion will turn to a potentially useful distinction between urban ecology and urban nature, while considering case material from both south and north India, to reflect on how, perhaps, humanistic values and responsibility get localized through environmental concern and new ways of inhabiting a world of nature.

Remnants of the Race: Prehistory and Aboriginality of Human Antiquity
Pratik Chakrabarti, Manchester University

This paper investigates why and how aboriginality and indigeneity became linked to prehistory in the nineteenth century. Throughout this period, aboriginal populations in India, Australia, South America and Africa were referred to as 'living fossils'; remnants of prehistoric humans. Paul Tournal and Boucher de Perthes proposed the deep geological antiquity of humans in the 1830s and 1840s based on palaeontological discoveries of human remains and stone tools respectively. These geological and archaeological explorations of human origin took place around the same time that European ethnologists encountered different aboriginal populations in Asia, Africa, Pacific islands and South America. The paper explores how the objectives of the two enquiries merged.

It locates this problematic at the intersection of the disciplines of deep past such as palaeontology, anthropology and evolutionary biology, which in turn led to the 'naturalization' of human antiquity and the linking of aboriginal populations to prehistory. The creation of this synergy between human and earth history entailed simultaneous journeys into the past and the present; on the one hand were the investigations into fossilised prehistoric human skulls and bones, stone implements and burial remains. On the other, there were the ethnological studies of living tribal populations as aboriginal inhabitants. These were substantiated by Darwinian zoological and racial studies among tribal populations as descents of primates.

Environment, indigeneity and Adivasi histories in Jharkhand
Sanjukta Das Gupta
Sapienza University of Rome

In this paper explores how environment shapes not only livelihood practices and customs, but also indigenous subjectivities and identities, with reference to the Adivasis of colonial and contemporary Jharkhand. For the major agrarian Adivasi communities of the region – the Santal, Munda, Oaoan and Ho – membership to a village was of prime importance as it conferred on them their distinct social and cultural identity and determined the nature of their relationships both within and outside their own community. The village thus constituted an ethical, spiritual as well as a political space. Oral histories of villages, as well as clan genealogies which established their link to land and underlined their rootedness to it, demonstrated an indigenous historical awareness, which was anchored to the adivasi identity of the self and rooted in their world-view and notions of belonging.

Venue: Teleborgs slott, Växjö, Sweden:

Programme for the workshop

9:30-10:00 Introduction
Gunnel Cederlöf
Centre for Concurrences in Colonial and Postcolonial Studies, Linnaeus University

10:00-10:30 Heritage Processes in Post-Extractive Histories in Norrbotten, Sápmi, Sweden
Dag Avango
Division of history of science, technology and environment, KTH Royal Institute of Technology
Comments by Arun Kumar

10:30 Coffee

10:45-11:15 Environment, Indigeneity and Adivasi histories in Jharkhand
Sanjukta Das Gupta
Sapienza University of Rome
Comments by Stefan Eklöf Amirell

11:15-12:00 Discussion

12:00-13:00 Lunch

13:00-13:30 Remnants of the Race: Prehistory and Aboriginality of Human Antiquity
Pratik Chakrabarti
Manchester University
Comments by Sarah Irving

13:30-14:00 Environment, Politics, and Identity in Modern Greenland
Peder Roberts
Division of history of science, technology and environment, KTH Royal Institute of Technology
Comments by Eleonor Marcussen

14:00-14:45 Discussion

14:45 Coffee

15:10-16:00 Environmental Humanities as Values and Responsibility: Some Thoughts on Urban Ecology and Urban Nature from India
K. Sivaramakrishnan
Yale University
Comments by Bruce Buchan

16:00-17:00 Discussion

Welcome!

Gunnel Cederlöf
Centre for Concurrences in Colonial and Postcolonial Studies, Linnaeus University

Teleborg castle Gunnel Cederlöf Add to your calendar