Decolonising the Anthropocene: Indigenous and language-oriented perspectives

Panel in the Think Corner, Stage (Yliopistonkatu 4), April 28th at 13–15

The term, the ‘Anthropocene’ roughly denotes the most recent 12,000 years of history in which humans have significantly impacted our planet’s climate and ecosystems. Various start dates for the Anthropocene have been put forward, ranging from the beginning of the agricultural revolution to the first atomic blast in 1945. Although the term has not yet been formally adopted by the International Union of Geological Sciences, it has gained traction in environmental policy circles. 

Indigenous scholars, among others, have questioned the universality of the term “Anthropocene”, considering that its framing is largely Western-biased and anthropocentric. Critics have argued that the term dangerously misrepresents all human actions as being inherently destructive, and that it fails to recognize the long-term positive interactions between Indigenous Peoples and their environments. This event aims to re-conceptualise the Anthropocene by discussing Indigenous views of human-environment interactions, and how such connections have shaped – and continue to do so – our planet’s climate and ecosystems.

The event draws on empirical studies of Indigenous languages and practices. It uncovers the diversity of narratives about humans' roles in the natural world, and the myriad ways in which humans–nonhumans interactions are conceptualised and evidenced in Indigenous languages. In the first year of UNESCO’s Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022–2032), this event also brings together Indigenous Studies scholars addressing the deeply intertwined relations between biological and linguistic diversity. 

The speakers include:

Pirjo Kristiina Virtanen, associate professor of Indigenous Studies, University of Helsinki. She has worked extensively with Amazonian Indigenous societies, namely Arawakan-speaking Apurinã and Manchineri and their socio-cosmologies and language. 

Stef Spronck, postdoctoral researcher in linguistics at the University of Helsinki. He has worked with Ngarinyin people in northwestern Australia on the documentation and preservation of their language since 2008.  

Outi Laiti, affiliated postdoctoral researcher in Indigenous studies. Her field of research is education and computer science with focus on Sami culture in video games and programming. 

Victoria Soyan Peemot, affiliated researcher in Indigenous Studies, University of Helsinki. Her research addresses language and bonds of horses and herders in the Sayan-Altai Mountain Region of Inner Asia. 

Álvaro Fernandez-Llamazares, HELSUS postdoctoral researcher, University of Helsinki. His research areas are ethnoecology and biocultural diversity, largely focusing on the study of the knowledge systems of the Tsimane’ people in Bolivia, and the Daasanach community in Kenya.

Aung Si, postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute for Linguistics of the University of Cologne. He is Myanmar citizen, who grew up in India. He completed Doctorates in Biology and Linguistics at the Australian National University, and currently carries out research on the biological knowledge of small language communities.

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