01.03.2020 11:14

Indigenous knowledge in the Arctic: discourse for identity

Indigenous knowledge in the Arctic: discourse for identity

The starting point of this report is, of course, the question of what is meant by a word combination in the title «indigenous knowledge». Who are the indigenous of the Arctic and what this knowledge is about? Only by answering these questions will it be possible to showcase which identity indigenous knowledge has in the given region.

The very word «indigenous» is not one-dimensional; it combines many a definition from different sources: native, local, traditional. Native means that generation after generation, people inherit lands that are well known to their predecessors. Local means that every single population, even if dwindling, holds on to the lands they inherit, and care about the soil to toil and wildlife to domesticate and feed on. Traditional means that children are born to the ways of their parents, so they from the very beginning have a view that shows them things quite different from what those not indigenous see.

These ways and this view is basically what constitutes indigenous knowledge. As the carriers of knowledge are people, a question arises: who represents indigenous knowledge and where. There is where the Arctic Council appears. Representation in this high level intergovernmental forum is not individual, it is states that preside and make decisions. Indigenous peoples do not have their own states, but their under-representation was unimaginable. The Arctic Council responded to this need of identity, and indigenous organizations appeared within the body of the forum as Permanent Representatives. This status didn't grant to those who speak for the indigenous political powers, but from then on, they were heard. At one of the meetings, the Arctic Council postulated that only that indigenous formation could be a Permanent Representative which unites either several peoples in one country or one people across several countries. Thus, the Arctic Council recognized indigenous peoples as actors to be taken into consideration.

It is clear that by recognizing indigenous organizations, the Arctic Council had to recognize all things indigenous, one of which - and to some researchers, most important one - is knowledge. Indigenous knowledge shares the three characteristics mentioned above: it's native, there's certain primary source of it, it's local, it concerns particular conditions on particular territories, and it's traditional, which basically means it is unique, thanks to its native and local nature. From this it has been concluded that the ways of gaining and systematizing indigenous knowledge also differ from those employed by the scientific tradition of the member states of the Arctic Council. All these observations led to a point that indigenous knowledge is perceived by both sides as alternative knowledge. But is it additional knowledge or rival knowledge?

We are obviously dealing now with discourse on knowledge. The view of knowledge as discourse is held by a prominent constructivist Michelle Foucault. He argues that discourse is «by nature, the object of a struggle, political struggle». Everything that is political and that is struggle implies rivalry. Indeed, according to a number of the researchers of discourse on knowledge, there are misunderstandings between indigenous peoples and scientists of member countries that are based on:
1) resistance by member countries to share the responsibility for planning and decision-making,
2) there is resistance by scientists and administrators concerning the role, content and utility of indigenous knowledge, and
3) there is resistance by many indigenous peoples to the value and accuracy of scientific information and scepticism about the motives.
The question of indigenous knowledge is about power; demanding the use of indigenous knowledge is a demand that 'the power base must be shared'. By claiming the knowledge is 'indigenous' the basis of using this knowledge becomes political. Stressing 'indigenous' knowledge refers to the direct participation of indigenous peoples' groups in decision-making. According to the indigenous peoples, the use of their knowledge is an issue of self-determination.

On the other hand, the process of recognition and attempts of incorporation of indigenous knowledge have taken place since even earlier than the establishment of the Arctic Council. In the declaration signed in 1991 that lay the foundation of the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy, the states emphasized recognizing 'the special relationship of the indigenous peoples and local populations to the Arctic and their unique contribution to the protection of the Arctic environment'. Two decisions were made in Nuuk in 1993 to enhance the participation and contribution of indigenous peoples. First, the government of Iceland offered to host a seminar on indigenous knowledge. A seminar was held in 1994 to clarify how indigenous knowledge was applicable to the AEPS and its programs. Second, the Indigenous Peoples Secretariat (IPS) was established with the financial help of Denmark to assist and coordinate cooperation between indigenous peoples' organizations. The AEPS seminar saw the role of indigenous knowledge as 'relevant'. It could help identify important research areas, expand understanding of the natural world, and bring useful insights into natural processes. There is a rather large consensus among the participants that indig-enous involvement in the AEPS has made the process 'a different product,' compared with their lack of participation.

All these examples date back to the late 1990s; by now, after almost fifteen years of progress, the amount of scientific works done or assisted by representatives of indigenous organizations has increased. The most comprehensive list of Arctic-related works is found in Equatorial North: Centering the Arctic in Global and Local Security (2010, assistance by the Nunavut Indian individuals and organizations). The literature under consideration is divided into several categories, from tourism to education, but there are two that are particularly interesting, as there is more works listed than in any other section: Arctic biodiversity (56 entries, of them 22 indigenous), and Arctic Food Security (29 entries, of them 19 indigenous). Thus, in the period from 1996 (the earliest work) to 2012 (the latest one) 85 works had been written and published, of them 41 - slightly fewer than half - were devoted to indigenous affairs. Of these 41, however, fewer than ten were born by indigenous experts or organizations.

Therefore, attention has increased dramatically to human security issues in indigenous regions. However, it doesn't give indigenous peoples securitizing power as it doesn't propose new methods and paradigms but only unique facts. Indigenous knowledge as a tool of political struggle is far from strong. Thus, indigenous knowledge cannot be christened 'rival knowledge'. This all combined enables to conclude that indigenous knowledge has come a long way from initial recognition to the role of additional knowledge.

As revealed by an example, this indigenous knowledge is strongest in such aspects of human and environmental security as the Arctic nutrition and Arctic environment. This adds a new flavor of identity to indigenous peoples, showcasing that they care more about the health of all things living in their locations, than about things military, industrial, social or transport.

Finally, the nature of this identity is reciprocal, meaning that by recognizing indigenous populations the Arctic Council has become the only high level intergovernmental forum in the world where indigenous representatives play an important role in important discussions. In other words, by recognizing the unique, the Arctic Council has itself become unique.

Д. О. Яковенко

Indigenous knowledge in the Arctic: discourse for identity

Опубликовано 01.03.2020 11:14 | Просмотров: 64 | Блог » RSS


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