Indigenous in the City

Indigenous peoples worldwide are becoming increasingly urbanized, particularly the young indigenous population. Cultures and identities that were once pushed to the rural peripheries, now have to survive and grow in an urban context. The NUORGÁV project (2015 – 2022) investigates urban indigenous politics, with a special eye to how young indigenous people organize and attempt to influence the provision of services to the urban indigenous populations.

NUORGÁV is an international research project that gathers and compares data from four countries: Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. The project is focused on the situation of the border-transcending Sámi nation.

The project is a cooperation between the institute NIBR under the Oslo and Akershus University College , the Nord University, and the Arctic Centre under the University of Lapland. It is financed by the Norwegian Research Council’s Programme for Sámi Studies.

The project ended in 2022, with the publication of the book “An urban future for Sápmi?” (Berghahn, 2022). Read more about the book and the articles produced by the project under “products” at this website.

New book: “An Urban Future for Sápmi?”

Presenting the political and cultural processes that occur within the indigenous Sámi people of North Europe as they undergo urbanization, this book examines how they have retained their sense of history and culture in this new setting. The book presents data and analysis on subjects such as indigenous urbanization history, urban indigenous identity issues, urban indigenous youth, and the governance of urban “spaces” for indigenous culture and community. The book is written by a team of researchers, mostly Sámi, from all the countries covered in the book.

Read more about the book and order it here.

Read the introductory chapter for free: Urbanization and Indigenousness by Mikkel Berg-Nordlie, Astri Dankertsen, and Marte S. Winsvold.

Contributors in alphabetic order: Anna Andersen, Chris Andersen, Mikkel Berg-Nordlie, Astri Dankertsen, Marthe Winsvold.

Editors: Berg-Nordlie, Dankertsen, and Winsvold.


“I am very impressed… The book is well-written, analytically sound and solid, has a really good empirical basis, and presents some lines of argument that are both innovative and interesting. Adding the Russian Sámi context to the bigger field of Sámi studies is really called for, and gives important insights.” 
• Torjer Olsen, Arctic University of Norway

“The book is very interesting, well written and relevant. I found it entirely fascinating and educational, and could see a lot of connections to issues that other urban Indigenous groups across the globe face.” 
• Kelly Greenop, University of Queensland

Example images from “An urban future for Sápmi?”

New article: “No Past, No Name, No Place? Urban Sámi Invisibility and Visibility in the Past and Present”

In Aboriginal policy studies Vol. 9, no. 2, 2021, Mikkel Berg-Nordlie “explores the broad erasure of Sámi from urban landscapes, focusing in particular on their urban invisibility with respect to Sámi place names and the absence of “places of remembrance” for Sámi history.” (Chris Andersen, editor).

The article is available for free here:

New article: “Safeguarding Cultural Rights of Sámi Children and Youth in Finland”

An article about the cultural rights of indigenous young people that has special emphasis on the linguistic aspect of cultural identity.

Article published in The Yearbook of Polar Law by Tanja L. Joona of U. Lapland and the NUORGÁV project.


The article examines the common global phenomenon of indigenous urbanization. In Finland, more than 75% of the indigenous Sámi children are born outside the Sámi Homeland area. The development is fast and poses different kind of challenges for the entire Sámi society and culture. Youth and women are more likely to settle in urban areas and it is their Sáminess that is to survive or die in the cities. Indigenousness is no longer tied with traditional livelihoods or land use but instead requires other forms of cultural maintenance. In the contemporary situation Sámi have started through their own associations and networks require more appropriate services in the cities, including Sámi language learning in the schools and kindergartens. This is not always satisfactory. The article evaluates the existing international and domestic (Finland) legislation in regard to Sámi language, but also the implementation of these rights in practice.

Article homepage here.

New article: “Is an urban Sámi future possible?”

A post-colonial perspective on young and urban Sámi.

In the most recent issue of Norsk sosiologisk tidsskrift, Astri Dankertsen & Christina Åhrén discuss the survival and growth of indigenous identity and culture among urbanized youth. The article is based on interviews with young Sámi in different Nordic states’ urban areas.

The article is available in Norwegian at Idunn.


Northern Europe’s indigenous people, the Sámi, experience, like other indigenous people all around the world, an increasing urbanization (Peters & Andersen, 2013). This is relevant especially for the younger generations, where ever more young Sámi grow up in or move to the cities. Concurrently with the increasing urbanization of Sámi, new questions arise regarding a Sámi future in the cities, where Sámi visibility and cultural survival in the city become important issues. We are interested in how colonial relations, representations and practices are reproduced in the present. We have interviewed Sámi youth in selected Nordic cities, representatives of Sámi youth organizations, Sámi civil society stakeholders in general, in addition to relevant authorities. In the article, we explore how Sámi youth, Sámi youth organizations, the majority society and its institutions create new urban Sámi spaces through interaction. Through Sara Ahmed’s (2004) concepts comfort/discomfort, we analyze how colonial structures are experienced on the microlevel in urban societies where there is not always space for Sámi language and culture.

Keywords: sámi, urbanity, indigenous people, colonialism, decolonization

New article: “The governance of urban indigenous spaces: Norwegian Sámi examples”

This article explores different ways of governing urban indigenous social spaces, with an eye to how local indigenous self-government is facilitated or frustrated.

In Acta Borealia‘s most recent issue, Mikkel Berg-Nordlie looks at “urban indigenous spaces”: organized social spaces that enable the practice, preservation, transfer, and development of indigenous culture, language, identity, and community in an urban setting. The article is based on studies of indigenous culture houses and Sámi national day celebrations in the urban areas Alta, Trondheim, and Oslo.

Click here to read the article on Acta Borealia‘s website. A limited number of free copies of the article is available here.



A major challenge in Norway is the absence of actors that represent the entire local indigenous population. The main Norwegian Sámi NGO is a driving force in establishing and governing indigenous spaces, but is now one of several and often competing organizations due to specialization (new organizations form to promote specific subgroups’ interests) and partisanization (organizations compete in elections to the Sámediggi representative organ). Social media facilitate communication across organizational divides, but do not produce any unified local indigenous “voice”. Private businesses and public cultural institutions take part in establishing and governing indigenous spaces – the former often in complete autonomy from Sámi NGOs, the latter more likely to seek cooperation or coordination. Local and regional state-based actors generally do not take initiatives to establish indigenous spaces, but involve themselves as co-organizers with Sámi leads and as sources of (often unstable) economic support. The state-based Sámediggi is increasingly proactive: financing, facilitating contact between actors, and occasionally participating directly in urban indigenous governance. The Sámediggi provides a unifying representative voice at the macro level that is missing at the local level.


Conference Program: “An urban future for Sápmi?”

Final program for the Tråante Conference at Sverresborg Museum in October 2017.

Presentations on October 19th will be predominantly in Norwegian, and on October 20th predominantly in English.

Following each researcher’s presentation, 15-20 minutes are set aside for open discussion.

Thursday October 19

  • 09.00 Registration. Chair: Daniel Johansen.
  • 09.30 Conference opens
  • 09:40 Welcome speech by Saemien Studeenth Tråantesne – Trondheim Sámi Student Union. Presentation of the organization.
  • 09:55 Kristin Strømsnes (Co-authors: Per Selle and Anne Julie Semb): “Er en urbanisering av den moderne urfolkspolitikken mulig?” [Is an urbanization of modern indigenous politics possible?]. Discussant: Astri Dankertsen.
  • 10.40 Break – free coffee and fruit will be available
  • 10:55 Mikkel Berg-Nordlie: “Urbane samiske rom – nettverking og konflikt rundt samiske arenaer i byer” [Urban indigenous spaces – networking and conflicts concerning the establishment of urban Sámi arenas]. Discussant: Anna Afanasyeva.
  • 11:40 Torunn Pettersen og Jo Saglie: “Samer i byer og samer sør for Sápmi – om “nye” bosettingsmønstre som tema i valgprogram ved sametingsvalg i Norge” [Sámi in the cities and Sámi south of Sápmi – about «new» settlement patterns as a subject in election platforms during Sámi Parliament elections in Norway]. Discussant: Marte Winsvold.
  • 12.30 Lunch – food may be bought in the cafeteria
  • 13.00 Astri Dankertsen: «Skape rom for bysamiske identiteter» (Creating spaces for urban Sámi identities). Discussant: Daniel Johansen.
  • 13.45 Keynote speech: “Urbanization of the Sami in Scandinavia: Between recognition and contestation?” by Torill Nyseth and Paul Pedersen. Discussant: Mikkel Berg-Nordlie and Tanja L. Joona.
  • 16.00 Conference closes

Friday October 20

  • 09.00 Registration. Chairs: Halvor Haugan
  • 09.30 Welcome speech by Aili Keskitalo, President of the Norwegian Sámediggi.
  • 09:45 Sverresborg Museum’s Sámi-oriented activity and Sámi urbanity in Trondheim by Ingeborg Collin Høgseth.
  • 10:00 Tanja Joona: “Safeguarding Cultural Rights of Sámi Children and Youth in Finland with special emphasis to Identity – In Theory and Practice”. Discussant: Marte Winsvold
  • 10.45 Break
  • 11.00 Anna Afanasyeva: “Mechanisms of Sami cultural preservation in urban localities of the Murmansk region, North-West Russia”. Discussant: Mikkel Berg-Nordlie
  • 11:45 Ellen Marie Jensen: “Indigenous Diasporic Communities in Urban America: Sámi Americans in Critical Alliance with Urban Indigenous Peoples in the USA”. Discussant: Anna Afanasyeva.
  • 12:30 Lunch
  • 13:00 Keynote speech: Dr. Chris Andersen: “I Met a Man Who Wasn’t There”: Indigenous Presences and Absences in Canadian and Scandinavian Capital Cities”. Discussant: Astri Dankertsen
  • 16.00 Conference closes
  • 18:00 – Researcher dinner

Researcher bios

Anna Afanasyeva, Phd fellow UIT- Arctic University of Norway, carries out research in her own community – the Sami of the Kola Peninsula.  Afanasyeva has been involved in various project-related activities targeted at indigenous cooperation across the Northern borders, such as the project “Skolt Sami culture across borders” and ”Indigenous Entrepreneurship 2”, as well as community–based research such as documentation of endangered Sami languages of the Kola Peninsula. Her PhD project is devoted to analysis of assimilation of the Kola Sami in Russia through education policy, 1917– 1990.

Chris Andersen received his PhD in 2005 from the Department of Sociology at the University of Alberta and became a faculty member of the Faculty of Native Studies in 2000. In 2014, he was awarded Full Professorship. He is the former Director of the Rupertsland Centre for Métis Research and is currently the Dean of the Faculty. Dr. Andersen is the author of two books including, with Maggie Walter, Indigenous Statistics: A Quantitative Indigenous Methodology (Left Coast Press, 2013) and “Métis”: Race, Recognition and the Struggle for Indigenous Peoplehood (UBC Press, 2014). In 2015, the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association awarded “Métis” the “2014 Prize for Best Subsequent Book in Native American and Indigenous Studies” and in 2016, it was shortlisted for the 2015 Canada Prize. With Jean O’Brien, he also co-edited the recently published Sources and Methods in Indigenous Studies (Taylor & Francis, 2017). Andersen was a founding member of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association Executive Council, is a member of Statistics Canada’s Advisory Committee on Social Conditions and is editor of the journal aboriginal policy studies.  He was recently named as a Member of the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists.

Mikkel Berg-Nordlie is a researcher (PhD) at the NIBR Institute for Urban and Regional Research at the Oslo and Akershus University College. His research is mainly on indigenous peoples’ and ethnic minorities’ political organizing, state-civil society interaction, representation, governance, and discourses. His research is mainly on Russia and the Nordic countries. Together with Jo Saglie and Ann Sullivan he has edited the book Indigenous politics: institutions, mobilization, representation (ECPR, 2015), and with Indra Øverland wrote the book Bridging Divides. Ethno-political leadership among the Russian Sámi (Berghahn Books, 2012). Together with Sabine Kropp, Aadne Aasland, Jørn Holm-Hansen and Johannes Schumann he has edited the upcoming book Governance in Russian Regions (Palgrave, 2018).

Astri Dankertsen is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Faculty for Social Sciences at Nord University, where she works on a project on psychiatry in Sápmi, with focus on youth, gender and Indigenous perspectives. She also is currently a research fellow of the project “An urban future for Sápmi? The influence of Sámi youth organizing and political networking on the Sámi policies of Nordic cities” (NUORGÁV). Her PhD thesis 2014 was about Sami everyday life in the Lule and Stuornjárga areas of Sápmi, Norway, seen from a post-colonial/affect theory perspective, with a focus on melancholia, loss and reconciliation.

Ellen Marie Jensen is a PhD research fellow in Indigenous studies in the department of language and culture at UiT – Arctic University of Norway. She holds master degrees in Indigenous Studies and English Literature and Cultural Studies. Jensen has also worked as a teacher, editor, and translator. She is the author of We Stopped Forgetting: Stories from Sámi Americans (2012) and the editor of What We Believe In: Sámi Religious Experience and Beliefs from 1593 to the Present (2015).

Tanja Joona is a Doctor of Social Sciences who works as a senior researcher at the Arctic Centre of the University of Lapland. Joona’s main research interests focus on comparative legal and political aspects of Sámi society and especially issues dealing with traditional livelihoods, international human rights law and identity questions. She has several positions of trust at the University of Lapland, e.g. member of the Arctic Centre Board. She is also the Chair of the Doctoral Programme “Communities and Changing Work”.

Torill Nyseth is a professor of social planning at UiT – Arctic University of Norway. Her field of research is place research, urban planning and local forms of governance. Together with Paul Pedersen she has edited the book City Saami and authored the article Urban Sámi Identities in Scandinavia.

Paul Henry Pedersen was a senior researcher at Norut AS until 2012. His fields of research have included labor market research, migration and ethnic relations. Among his latest publicatsions are the books Sápmi slår tilbake (“Sápmi strikes back”, 2012) and City Saami –  Bysame eller same i byen (“City Saami – urban Sámi or Sámi in the city” (2015, with Torill Nyseth) and the article Urban Sámi Identities in Scandinavia: Hybridities,  Ambivalences and Cultural Innovation (Acta Borealia, Vol 31, No 2. 2014, with Torill Nyseth).

Torunn Pettersen has a part time position as researcher at the Sámi University of Applied Sciences.  She has a master in political science and a PhD in health science. Her research interests include conditions for gathering knowledge on Sami societal conditions, studies of Sami and other indigenous people’s living conditions, and Sami elections.

Jo Saglie has a doctoral degree in political science and is senior researcher at the Institute for Social research.  His research interests include local elections, local democracy, political parties, elections to the Sami Parliament, and indigenous politics.

Kristin Strømsnes is professor at the Department of Comparative Politics, University of Bergen. She is also a senior researcher at Uni Research Rokkansenteret. Her research includes political participation and voluntary organization. She has co-authored the book «Den samiske medborgeren (The Sami Citizen)» (2015). She has published several articles on Sami identity, Sami civil society and Sami political participation.

Marte Winsvold is a political scientist (PhD) and researcher at the Institute for Social Research.  Her research interests include political participation, local democracy, youth participation, and political leadership.




Conference: “An urban future for Sápmi?”

A conference on Sámi urbanization and Sámi urbanity will take place in Trondheim during the fall of 2017. The conference will be held in Sverresborg Trøndelag Folk Museum, lasting two days, October 19.-20, 2017

“An urban future for Sápmi” aims to gather researchers on Sámi urbanization and urbanity from different institutions and states. Researchers on indigenous urbanization in other countries will also be present as specially invited guests.

The main part of the conference will be open to the public and there will be no participation fee.

UPDATE: A preliminary program  is now available here.

“An urban future for Sápmi” is  part of Tråante2017, the centenniary celebration of the first border-transcending Sámi political meeting. It is organized by the NIBR Institute of the Oslo and Akershus Unviersity College and  Sverresborg Folk Museum, in cooperation with the Institute for Social Research. The conference is also part of the NUORGÁV project, and financed by the Norwegian Research Council‘s Programme for Sámi Research.


Research workshop in Lapland

On September 1-2. 2016, Nuorgáv’s final research workshop was held in Rovaniemi (Lapland Province, Finland).

Special subjects for discussion was the planned book An urban future for Sápmi, and the project’s closing conference which is to be held in Trondheim during the fall of 2017 and be open for the public.

The Arktikum Centre at Rovaniemi's University of Lapland served as the venue for NUORGÁV's Fall 2017 workshop. Image: Wikimedia Commons, by Francisco M. Marzoa Alonso

The Arktikum Centre at Rovaniemi’s University of Lapland served as the venue for NUORGÁV’s Fall 2017 workshop. Image: Wikimedia Commons, by Francisco M. Marzoa Alonso

News about the book, the conference, and the seven academic articles to be published as part of the project, will be posted on this website.

The workshop in the city known as Roavvenjárga in North Sámi was also attended by members of the Nuorgáv reference group of Sámi and municipal representatives, as was the previous workshop in Tromsø.

The 2016 workshop was hosted and organized by the University of Lapland. Previous research workshops have been held in Oslo (Sámi: Oslove) and Tromsø (Romsa) in Norway, at the NIBR institute and the youth culture house TVIBIT, respectively.


Team members

The project is a cooperation between NIBR (Oslo, Norway), Nord University (Bodø, Norway) and the Arctic Centre (Rovaniemi, Finland). The following researchers constitute the project team.

NIBR Urban and Regional Research Institute, Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences

Mikkel Berg-Nordlie.  Key subjects: Urban indigenous governance, urban indigenous spaces, youth organizing, education and kindergardens.  Case areas: Oslo, Trondheim, Alta (Norway). Project leader, 2017-2022.

Jørn Holm-Hansen. Project leader, 2015-2017.

Nord University

Astri Dankertsen. Key subjects: Urban indigenous identity, youth organizing.  Case areas: Bodø, Tromsø (Norway).

Arctic Centre, University of Lapland

Tanja Joona. Key subjects: Youth organizing, youth interest representation.  Case areas: Helsinki, Oulu, Rovaniemi (Finland).

Researchers with other institutional attachments

Anna Andersen (Centre for Sámi Studies, UiT – Arctic University of Norway). Key subjects: Education and kindergardens.  Case areas: Murmansk province (Russia).

Chris Andersen (University of Alberta). Key subjects: Global comparison. Indigenous urbanization.

Marte Winsvold (Institute for Social Research). Key subjects: Youth organizing.  Case areas: Oslo (Norway). Project leader, 2015.

Christina Åhrén (private researcher). Key subjects: Youth organizing.  Case areas: Umeå, Stockholm (Sweden).