Colonialism: Ghost for Indigenous Peoples

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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The colonialist past of many countries in the Global North has been widely discussed in recent decades (Lehtola, 2015). In the Nordic States, in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Canada, and Australia some notable members of the dominant populations have shown willingness to reach some reconciliation with the past to be able to move forward together. Some even went as far as making official apologies on behalf of the State for “those gross injustices” (reference), that the minorities of the country had suffered. And while it could be seen as an improvement and a sign of a good will, there are still grave concernes, voiced by for example, UNESCO report (reference), emphasizing that indigenous population is “… often victims of displacements, dispossession of their lands, or lack of access to basic social services, it has become increasingly difficult for them to transmit their distinctive knowledge, values and ways of life from one generation to the next “.

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In addition, according to the same report, many indigenous peoples remain particularly vulnerable, especially to the impacts of globalization and climate change. In my synopsis I want to focus on environmental injustice, that the Sami, indigenous population of Northern Europe (more specifically, Finland), are facing now due to the proposed construction of the Arctic Railroad, that will enevitably cut through their native lands and. This fact prompted Sami to raise red banners along the proposed route, with signs stipulating (in both Finish and English) “Our land, our future”, “No consent, no access”, “Forest is life” and “Stop CO2lonialism”(link to video).

The last sign I find particularly interesting and want to focus on it in this synopsis. That brings me to my research question: “How could colonialism be linked to “burdensome anthropogenic environmental change” (insert reference) inflicted on Sámi population in Finland?” . Case – Protest of indigenous people against “Arctic railroad project” other similar cases The changing climate and weather conditions in the Sápmi already have and will have a great significance for the traditional Sami reindeer herding and threaten Sámi livelihood. This paper is inspired by recent protests by the Indigenous Sámi youth organization, Suoma Sámi Nuorat and other activists against industrial exploitation of the Great Borealan (check) Forest in the Sápmi in Finland. These unique forests are now threatened by joint Norwegian-Finish Arctic Corridor Project (check the name), which aims to facilitate shipping products from the Arctic Coast. These forests are essential for traditional Sámi reindeer herding and in many ways are a source of their livelihood. A planned Arctic railway would not only cut through the territories of Sámi homeland and destroy their forests, but also increase the further exploitation of the Arctic. Despite a provision, stipulated in the Finnish constitution regarding obligatory consultations with the Sámi Parliament on the “use, leasing and assignment” of state-managed lands in traditional Sápmi territory, the Finnish government did not consult Sámi leaders before requesting an assessment of the Arctic railroad project.

Analysis This synopsis aims at linking colonialism to environmental injustice to show that there is a pattern of infliction of anthropogenic environmental change that has been part of colonialism for quite some time. I found it particularly interesting that even though the local Saami wanted to be involved in the decision-making process in regards to the Arctic Railway Project, they were denied this possibility. Since this railroad inevitably would cut through the reindeer habitat – and therefore once again inflict environmental change in Sapmi – one could assume that they would play an active role in the discussion on how to avoid change that change within the lands, that support their culture and traditional way of life. That brings me to my question – so is there a link between current possible environmental change could be linked to colonialism and colonial power structure. In plain terms – why did the Sami found it necessary to protest against the building of a railway with a sign “Stop colonialism!”.

Colonialism became associated worldwide with the extraction of resources and the alienation of indigenous people from their lands. Due to the asymmetric power structure between the indigenous people and “the State” the equal participation in, for instance, environmental management could not be achieved. It is, therefore, necessary to analyze the (colonial) power structure from more thoroughly to properly determine its relevance and consequences for the Sami people. I would also argue that the collective memory of the colonization is relevant for this case since it often works as a narrative in the indigenous communities, not only recounting the colonial past, but also explaining the current situation and giving meaning currently perceived hierarchical power relation between “the state” and the Sami. The works of Nora (1989) and Said (2000) have shown that the collective memory of the past should first of all be seen as representations of the past that give meaning to and explain present situations and relations rather than work as a mere record of historical events.

The Finnish experience highlights that “contemporary environmental destabilization is experienced additively, as a current form of change occurring on top of the history of pre-existing anthropogenic environmental change causing by settler and other kinds of colonialism” (cf. Reo et al.). (check this quote). This particular case could be seen as colonial “déjà vu” (Whyte, 2016). According to Whyte “indigenous peoples face climate risks largely because of how colonialism, in conjunction with capitalist economics, shapes the geographic spaces they live in and their socio-economic conditions.” Climate injustice, for Indigenous peoples, is “less about the spectre of a new future and more like the experience of déjà vu” of colonialism. This case could also be viewed in relation to other topics of the course, ex. reparations and neoliberal order, discussion about space and place, Nordic exceptionalism and so on.

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Colonialism: Ghost for Indigenous Peoples. (2021, Oct 20). Retrieved from