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We left our tents for a better life

Gáisebákti, Gabna čearu, Giron/Kiruna. (Photo. Krister Stoor)

Written by Krister Stoor

Várdduo, Umeå University, Sweden

All culture is change,

Indigenous intellectual traditions in a changing world

My Sámi parent's generation, born in the 1930s, lived a life long away from the modern society. They went to boarding schools for six years that was all their formal education. My generation was the first to have the opportunity to take higher education and degrees. It is therefore a privilege. As an Indigenous scholar, is it my obligation to serve my community and my people first-hand and not to forget the old values.

However, there are always obstacles to join the formal academic system with the traditional Indigenous knowledge. How do we consider and recognise stories and traditions they shared and value the knowledge in the global society?

The Sámi people’s tents are a part of our tradition and cosmology. In the tent made of wool from sheep or turf was the centre of the world. In the centre of the tent were the hearth that gave us warmth and a place to cook our meal. Around the fire did we talk, singing and telling stories about ancient times or what had happened last days or last year. It was a natural spot to share knowledge. When the Sámi people did move into houses during the 20th centuries, what happened then to our memories? Did we still talk about ancient times and the movement of the reindeer herd? In our archive, we find stories recorded since the beginning of the 1900s to the 3rd millennium. By comparing stories from different eras is it possible to maintain knowledge and changes. We, the first academics born in a modern society and with traditional values, had to deal as intermediate between the old and the new.

Forest Sámi goahtit from Church town in Árviesjávrrie/Arvidsjaur, Sweden.

(Photo. Krister Stoor)

Verbal art is a folkloristic field that has been the primary focal point of my own research. Yoik is a verbal art, which includes both song and spoken messages. It relates stories of old times; events and it has been transferred across generations. With the new techniques that developed during the 20th century, it was possible to achieve a more comprehensive understanding of yoik. Now it was possible to re-listen to the stories that were told and place them in a context where the performers’ artistic skills, together with their social background and their relation to their audience were evident. Earlier, messages could be lost, but now it was possible to understand the stories better, because a message has a double subjectivity, the sender’s and the receiver’s way of interpreting it. Such details are at risk of going undetected unless the performance can be observed many times. As Richard Bauman (1977) has noted, performance is an important key analysing traditional songs, and it is crucial to consider both the performer and the audience. The performers may change the story, depending on the response of the audience or the listeners’ ability to understand the subject. In most stories one can find knowledge that has been transferred across generations (Vansina 1985).

This is one of the reasons this Dialogues and Encounters in the Arctic project is so valuable and important. We need these meetings with elders and stakeholders to have a dialogue about the past. The past is present and shall not be forgotten. This is our responsibilities to serve our elders and to keep our memories alive. Because ancestral knowledge is a powerful ally in times of adversity (Basso 1996:102). The key is enculturation, how do we learn our knowledge? Yes, by trying and trying over and over again. I will not be a master in wood cutting if I do not try and let the real master be the teacher. By failure you will learn. Don't be afraid to make a mistake!

Young man taking care of a draft reindeer during the summer in Laevas čearu, Giron/Kiruna, Sweden. (Photo. Krister Stoor)

In text references

Basso, Keith. 1996. Wisdom Sits in Places. Landscape and Language among the Western Apache. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Bauman, Richard. 1977. Verbal Art as performance. Rowley: Newbury House.

Vansina, Jan. 1985. Oral Tradition as History. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

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