At the Well blog


Global (main)stream of the margins

What we can learn from the margins, why the margins are important, and why the margins should have the power to make decisions about their own affairs.

At the indigenous people’s film festival, Skábmagovat, held in Inari, painful, funny, sad, and unifying stories were told about the life of indigenous people’s in the marginal stream; on their own terms, from their own perspective, and in their own language. Skábmagovat is a good example of the vitality of the margins and the fact that narratives in your own language and from the point of view of your own culture are vital to every people.

This year, the theme of Skábmagovat was the films of Aotearoan (New Zealand’s) indigenous population, the Maori people, and the music video Lipn by Suohpanterror and Ylva also premiered. The Sami and the Maori people, on opposite sides of the globe, are the (main)stream of their own margin. The meeting of the mainstream of the margins is an important interface in many ways. As an old Sami proverb says: “When many small rivers join together, a large stream is created”. The meeting place is somewhere to brainstorm, create, envision, share, learn, and become empowered.

I met Maori filmmakers and told them how, as a winter people of the Arctic region, we are very dependent on the cold, snow, and ice. Due to climate change, our lives are changing now, in this moment, and we know that the change is raising sea levels in the Pacific Ocean, half a world away. Islands, nature, peoples, and cultures are in danger of disappearing forever due to the rising sea levels. The change breaks my heart, and I cannot bear to think that the foundation of our lives, as it becomes something else, is destroying other things elsewhere.

Over a year ago, I participated in the Run for your life climate performance as the first runner. The baton was a fist-sized, round stone from the shores of the Arctic Ocean. The message of the relay race was a poem by the Sami national poet, Nils Aslak Valkeapää: “Take a stone in your hand and hold it in your fist until it begins to throb, live, speak, and move”. 

A thousand people passed the stone from hand to hand for more than 4,000 kilometres from Kiruna to the UN COP21 climate change conference in Paris, and it participated in the two-week negotiations with the representative of the Marshall Islands. After the conference, the stone continued its journey to the Marshall Islands to strengthen the connection between the Arctic region and the Pacific Ocean; because the same water flows everywhere, everything exists in relation to everything else, and nothing is unconnected, not we, not they, not those.

When I told the Maori filmmakers that the stone from Run for your Life was on its way to Aotearoa, a Maori woman disappeared and returned with a hand-sized stone with a ribbon around it.Ahakoa he iti te matakahi ka pakaru i a au te totara. – Although the wedge may be small, it  will split the totara tree”. She gave the stone to me to lead the way.

Indigenous peoples have a strong sense of solidarity and are one big family. According to the philosophy of life of the Sami, a good life is one that is based on living ecologically in harmony with nature, showing respect for all living things. In a similar way, other indigenous peoples have co-existed with nature for many thousands of years. A way of life that looks to the future is an essential part of the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples: to borrow, take, and give back just what is needed.

Indigenous peoples have encyclopaedic knowledge of their own regions. They are the best protectors of their own areas and most likely to guarantee the sustainable use of the ecosystems of their own regions. Indigenous peoples only account for four percent of the world’s population, but the most significant concentrations of biodiversity in the world are located in the traditional areas of inhabitation owned and governed by them. The traditional regions of indigenous peoples make up 22% of the world’s surface area, with 80% of the world’s biodiversity. Numerous studies attest that the biodiversity governed by indigenous peoples keeps large amounts of carbon dioxide bound in the trees and the ground. Furthermore, the way of life of many indigenous peoples is carbon neutral or carbon negative.

We in the margins live in a reality where the power for self-determination is elsewhere. Every day we witness the disappearance of something dear and important, and we know that it may be impossible to ever restore it. We are aware that the loss of one species is a threat to another because we are watching and witnessing it, even right now. That is why diversity and the margins are needed; because if one suffers, everyone is affected. The margins are a necessary part of diversity, and they create and promote well-being for all.

Reinforcing the ownership and proprietary rights of indigenous peoples, as well as protecting and promoting indigenous rights, is extremely important so that indigenous peoples can protect their land and the earth’s biodiversity, as well as slow down climate change. The margin of indigenous peoples is of value in itself, but its value in the global mainstream is equally important. The margins with their sustainable solutions are vital to the mainstream, and that is why indigenous peoples should be listened to and included in decision-making that pertains to all, at all the different levels.

As a bold actor, Suohpanterror will work on the problems and solutions of the Sami margin for the duration of the grant funded by Kone Foundation. How to build a resilient margin, self-determination for your own people, the basis of which must be traditional Sami knowledge, and an ecological philosophy of life? What can a marginal stream offer to the mainstream, and how can we fundamentally change the mainstream? Every single day, I pick up a stone, listen to it talk and turn towards the margins because that is where the solutions are.


Jenni Laiti

Jenni Laiti (1981), from Inari, is a Sami activist who lives with her husband and two children in Jokkmokk, Sweden. Laiti is a Sami artisan by profession and has been actively involved in the activities of the Suohpanterror collective over recent years. Suohpanterror engages in politics in the form of art and activism; it represents creative resistance and artistic protest at the frontier between art and activism. Kone Foundation is funding Jenni Laiti’s work with Suohpanterror in 2017–2018.

Photo: Carl-Johan Utsi