Indigeneity, Language and Authenticity

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Minorities and Art

One of the things that upset me the most about the way mainstream media approach minorities, is the belief that we, as members of a minority or indigenous culture, or as speakers of an endangered language, have to work as stereotypical representatives of a culture which isn’t our own entirely, but rather a Western reinterpretation, based on misunderstandings and romantic ideals in the first place.

As speakers of an endangered language, we are rarely asked what we’re doing to enrich, challenge and reinvent our language, we are instead asked what we are doing to protect and save our language. Seeing as, to the majority, our language is already dead, it cannot be vibrant, it can only be clawing its way back to a more or less boring existence.

As minority writers, indigenous artists and musicians, our work is next to always interpreted as something that comes directly from a mythical link to our heritage and that, rather than being art as any other form of art, is a manifestation of e.g. Saaminess, Gaelicness and so on.

An English artist is never asked if a painting of a mountain is a manifestation of their Englishness, but have an indigenous artist paint a car and its a critique of colonialism, have them paint a spoon and the damn spoon will, according to the critics, still be connected to the indigenous person’s indigeneity in some way or another. The spoon is never just a spoon, or a symbol of something non-indigenous, it is always a representation of the minority.

So the critics.

A Western artist is an individual, an indigenous artist, however, is interpreted as a mouthpiece for a culture and nothing else.

Those looking at our art or listening to our languages are too blind to see that not everything we do has to be a political statement; just like anyone else, we, too, are quite capable of being influenced by the things around us that aren’t necessarily ‘traditionally’ Gaelic or Saami, to use myself as an example.

And even more importantly, as members of minorities or indigenous groups, we have reached a point where we are denied the right to call the things that we produce, be it poetry, music, art or clothes, e.g. Saami, lest they live up to a perceived idea of what a Saami is, not to other Saami, but to the majority.

Forgive me, but I have never been a reindeer herder – as much as the reindeer is an important part of mainstream Saaminess, only 10% of all Saami work as reindeer herders and my ancestors were forced to give up reindeer husbandry by the state in order to become small-scale hunters and farmers and thus it would, to me, be rather odd to use the reindeer as the most prominent feature in my art.

And yet, ask anyone outside of the Saami community what a Saami is and what Saami art looks like, and we’re back to a reindeer herding, gåhtoe dwelling and gaeptie wearing person who spends his evenings in front of an open fire, where he yoiks and drinks coffee.

In other words, a romantic misrepresentation of a people who is just as modern as any other people.

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