Unique symposium brings together members of Indigenous communities and scholars

The symposium "Bridging Cultural Concepts of Nature: A Transnational Symposium on Indigenous Places and Protected Spaces of Nature" takes place between September 19-21 at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies.

Scholars and members of Indigenous communities such as Maya, Maori and Sámi will meet in Helsinki this week at a unique symposium to discuss the role of Indigenous communities in national parks. Issues from Indigenous agency and presence at national parks to different ideas of sustainability will be addressed at the symposium. Models of co-operation of Indigenous peoples and national parks are at the heart of the symposium.

When it comes to national parks, there are many groups involved. First of all practitioners who work on site such as park rangers and educators, but also policymakers, park administrators and NGOs serve as active participants. Recently, members of Indigenous communities have also been included. One of the aims of Dr. Rani-Henrik Andersson, the main organizer of the event, is to facilitate and encourage conversation between all stakeholders. 

"I've had the idea for a symposium that brings together scholars and members of Native communities for a decade already. I'm so excited that we have turned this idea into reality," Andersson explains. "I've visited most of the major national parks in the US as part of my research. During that time I realized that the voices and viewpoints of indigenous peoples were lacking at the national parks," he continues.

The idea behind national parks is largely a Western notion. Different ways of seeing nature and related themes such as the environment, sustainability and nature protection will be brought to the forefront of discussion.

A clash between these divergent ways of seeing nature has often resulted in dispossession, treaty violations and the loss of sacred places at the hands of government-protected spaces of nature for Indigenous peoples.

Policymakers from Brazil to Russia have ignored Indigenous voices when it comes to the preservation and management of protected nature areas. This has resulted in many Indigenous communities having tense - even antagonistic - relations with these spaces of nature, most of which nation-states once carved out of Indigenous homelands.

"In many cases in the United States, for example, Native people were moved out of the way for national parks. They would be settled in the East side of the park and would be invited to come in to perform dances for tourists," Andersson explains.

A brighter future?

In recent years, Indigenous communities and practitioners have also found productive forms of co-operation in national parks. For example, the Haida people in British Columbia, Canada co-manage Gwaii Haanas National Park together with Parks Canada. In Australia, aboriginal Ngunnawal rangers guide visitors through Namadgi National Park.

"This is all part of a bigger plan, actually. One of our goals is to come up with a kind of manual that includes case studies of collaborative models and practices that have been proven to work so that we can spread these good ideas," Andersson explains.

This shift in Indigenous engagement with national parks provides scholars new opportunities to investigate their role within nation-states. The goal of the symposium is to act as a bridge by bringing together scholars and members of Indigenous communities from around the world to discuss these timely issues.

Check out the symposium website here for more information.

Behind the scenes

Conference organizer, Dr. Rani-Hen­rik An­dersson, is a Core Fel­low at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies.

The symposium is part of a five year research project that has been ongoing since 2014. The project explores Indigineous concepts of nature and reflects them with the Euro-American worldviews and concepts of nature.

Andersson served as the McDonnell Douglas Chair, Professor of American Studies at the University of Helsinki Finland during 2014–2016 and was recently appointed Senior University Lecturer of North American Studies. He is the author of eight books including the Lakota Ghost Dance of 1890. His most recent book A Whirlwind Passed Through Our Country: Lakota Voices of the Ghost Dance focuses on Lakota accounts of the Ghost Dance and the Wounded Knee Massacre.

Andersson's current research at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies is on the topic of Social Network Analysis and computer modeling in the study of the human past.