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.
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.