SEK 15 million to research on Indigenous peoples’ survival in the Nordic countries and North America

How have Sami and North American Indigenous communities survived when they have been faced with colonial powers’ impact on the environment, nature, and biodiversity? This is the theme of a new research project that has been granted SEK 15 million in funding from FORMAS. Gunlög Fur, professor of history at Linnaeus University, is project manager.

Many climate reports indicate that life on Earth is under threat. It is a situation that is unparalleled for most people living in the rich countries of the world. However, many Indigenous peoples have historically already lived through extensive changes to their life environment and been forced to rebuild communities after catastrophes. How did they survive?

Research on the survival of Indigenous peoples

That is the background of the project “Surviving the Unthinkable: Ecological Destruction and Indigenous Survivance in North America and the Nordic Countries, 1600-2022”. The project consists of five researchers and one artist, from Sweden, Finland, and the U.S. Two of the project group members belong to Indigenous peoples.

Together, the researchers will make comparisons between experiences in North America and the Nordic countries to gain an understanding of how Sami and Nort American Indigenous communities have survived when they have been faced with the colonial expansion’s impact on the environment, nature, and biodiversity. The researchers will study different locations and periods during which the living conditions of the Indigenous peoples changed dramatically, showing how colonialism and environmental degradation went hand in hand.

Culture and art important components for survival

Three central themes of the project are:

  • forced borders
  • education and assimilation policies at boarding schools for Indigenous children
  • preservation of traditional knowledge through storytelling, art, and written sources

“The project has special focus on how the preservation of culture, art, and traditional knowledge has contributed to the survival of Indigenous peoples. Earlier studies have pointed out the importance of these components for survival. We have used the author Gerald Vizenor’s (Anishinabe) term for this and call it ‘survivance’. It puts emphasis on active and creative action to survive”, Fur explains.

“Our idea is that Sami and American Indigenous peoples should be able to use the results from the project when they seek recognition and protection of environment and biodiversity. But also that the results can be used to point out possibilities for how societies can meet climate change and loss of nature and biodiversity”, Fur concludes.

The project has been granted funding from FORMAS for the period 2022–2026.

Additional research grant

In addition to this, Gunlög Fur has also received a so-called Sabbatical grant of SEK 1.8 million from Riksbankens Jubileumsfond. Sabbatical is a grant intended for the completion of previous research. For Fur, this means summarising over ten years of research on contacts between Swedish emigrants and American Indigenous peoples during the 19th and 20th centuries in a monograph.

“This study is important as Swedish and Norwegians were two of the European peoples who arrived early in great numbers to the areas that were not yet dominated by the United States. They took part in and became tools for policies that expelled the Indigenous peoples from the Midwest. At the same time, the idea of good relations with Indigenous peoples thrived in Sweden”, Fur explains.

The project is called “Borderland of Swedish-Indigenous Encounters – Swedes and American Indians in North America, 1840s–1930s”.