Opening Plenary: Resistance, Reindeer and Racism

Indigenous Terra Madre, June 17-19, 2011

Yesterday I left Barcelona and took the plane to Stockholm, Sweden. There I met up with friends from India and Jordan who had started their travels three days earlier. Needless to say, they were exhausted.  We waited for our plane to the north of Sweden, to the town of Lulea. From there, we were assured that buses would be waiting to take us on the two hour drive to a town above the Arctic Circle, called Jokkmokk.   The busses were there and what may be the most diverse group of people to gather in Lulea settled in. There were delegates from Ethiopia, Argentina, Mongolia, Jordan, India, Ghana, Italy, Canada, Congo, Sweden… and those are the ones that I had the fortune of speaking with (that is, the ones who managed to stay awake!) At 1am the horizon turned red but the light remained constant. By 2am it was getting brighter. We had made it to the land of the midnight sun.

By 2:30 am we were stumbling into our hotel, assigned our rooms and we sank into deep sleep despite the lack of darkness.

We woke up somewhat refreshed this morning and settled onto reindeer hides (which were luxurious) for the opening Plenary of the first Indigenous Terra Madre (world meeting of indigenous food communities).

The Sápmi people welcomed us to their land at the time of the midnight sun. Over 50 food communities and 171 delegates are here with the collective aim of opening up discussions around local food system, conservation of biodiversity and traditional resource management and forwarding the values of good, clean, fair.

The Chair of the plenary session provided a history of the Sápmi and then asked us: Do you want the good life, or do you want the easy life? Globalization can make the lives of some easier, but will not necessarily move us towards the good life. He reminded us that our lifestyle matters but that this was an ethical statement which requires us to expand our perspectives to consider global level issues.

One speaker, referencing James Scott, noted that indigenous peoples are “peoples who have learnt the art of not being governed.”  Three factors were said to contribute to resting falling subject to state governance: rugged terrain; migration or shifting/rotating geography; and oral cultures. As a student of governance, I found this particularly interesting. And of course, indigenous peoples have intricate governance systems, but Scott is referencing the governance of the State, a historically oppressive and oppressing force.

Indigenous peoples face various threats to their livelihoods, lifestyles and cultures. Some of the threats discussed in the morning plenary include: illegal logging; land acquisition; development; re-location; land tenure; climate change; and, discrimination. A speaker from Brazil mentioned that as an Indigenous person, he faces a great deal of prejudice and discrimination: “if we wear western style clothes, we are not recognized as indigenous. If we wear our traditional clothes, we are discriminated against.”

A final issue addressed at plenary was that of visas and the neo-colonial implications that follow. Many delegates were unable to get visas to Sweden to attend this international meeting (sponsored by the EU, UN among others). There was fear that people (indigenous leaders, connected to their lands and communities) would arrive and try to stay in Sweden. Apart from the racist implications of this, there are also important implications for the sovereignty of indigenous people as they are unable to decide who can come and meet and participate in this important meeting.

This is an interesting question to consider: indigenous sovereignty should come with the right to determine who accesses their territories but there territories and sovereignty remains finally the right of the state.

 

Next post: Lunch (reindeer and berries).

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