We have had intense conversations following presentations on mining in Sápmi and a film on anti-mining blockades and protests by Sámi and other activists against a cannibalizing form of extraction that undercuts the very basis of life. As I write this I read news posted to Facebook by indigenous friends in Canada about the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) assaulting peaceful Mi’kmaq led anti-fracking protests today in new Brunswick. In Uppsala this week, we have also heard presentations and responses on dam safety and dam disruption of Sámi lifeways; on traditional Sámi foodways; on indigenous language and cultural revitalization in Scandinavia and Russia; and on the role of urban indigenous people and institution building in the development of living indigenous cultures, and for opposing the colonial state. And we’ve heard about the role of women's activism in India for advocating for tribal rights and welfare, and indigenous epistemologies as incisive critique of western imperialism that perpetuates extreme global disparity and environmental destruction.
We are sharing our differences in indigenous experience that have to do not only with differences in indigenous cultures, but also in national contexts and colonialisms. And we are sharing lessons learned in challenging colonialism, including ongoing colonial relations inside the academy. Once we not only survive, but begin to do anti-colonial work in more privileged positions within the university or in government, what are the common challenges we encounter inside these institutions and within fields that continue to be integral to colonial projects (e.g. engineering, genomics, anthropology, development studies, natural resource management)? How do we work in different indigenous and national contexts to address these challenges?
We are aided in our people-specific struggles against colonial states by sharing lessons between us and by supporting one another in such work. Key to doing this is to understand not only the similarities between us, but also the differences in our respective cultural and nation-state contexts. I am active with the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA), an organization that has helped me network with indigenous intellectuals chiefly in the English-speaking world - in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the Pacific, and the United States. NAISA is also working hard to increase its networks in Latin America. Along with my participation in NAISA, my conversations with old and new friends encountered in Uppsala, from Sweden and from around the world, remind me of the power of the category "indigenous."
Anthropologist Mary Louise Pratt notes in the volume Indigenous Experience Today (de la Cadena and Starn, 2007) that indigeneity is a generative and productive category. It not only contributes to the rise in numbers of indigenous people worldwide, but it enables mutual recognition and collaboration by peoples across disparate geographies. It facilitates survival and acknowledges the historical rupture of colonialism. It enables us to share lessons learned for how to combat the colonial states and institutions that would erase us, and in the process destroy the very basis for human life - those nonhumans with whom indigenous peoples recognize our co-constitutive relations. In other words, we understand our peoplehoods as emerging in concert with particular landscapes or waterscapes. We exist as peoples in relation with those places and indigeneity helps us defend those relations and to combat colonial states predicated upon our ancestors' and our continuing dispossession from those places. This is the nature of genocide against indigenous peoples by the way, the simultaneous destruction of co-constituted peoples and their nonhuman relations. Those who insist on defining genocide only according to something akin to the European Holocaust cannot see this.