The brief for this project is to understand and communicate the connection of diverse communities through stories of experiences from and with Sami communities, an indigenous people of Sweden. We explored connections and interconnections between the different communities. With a starting point of ethnographic fieldwork in a Sami community in the northern part of Sápmi, Sweden. The goal was to learn and exchange experiences in co-creation.
The output and end result is an interactive exhibition that is based on our experiences and learnings from the meeting between the different communities. The aim was to shift perspectives and see each others "weness" instead of otherness. The final exhibition "hi/stories of change" was exhibit as part of Priority:Minority exhibition at Västerbottens Museum in Umeå.
Umeå Institute of Design, Swedish Sami National Organization, The Sami Handicraft Organization
Mixed throughout the project, exhibition together with:
Shib Shankar Sahoo
Participatory design + field work
participatory field work
insights through storytelling
participatory field work
From Umeå to Jokkmokk
We left Umeå to travel nine hours north to Jokkmokk, a small village and the area where one of the biggest Sami communities in Sweden are located. Here we were hosted by a local Sami for a few nights and got to participate in hers and the community’s daily life. We learned new stories and cultures and also shared our own stories.
What happens when two communities look into each others curious eyes?
Participatory field work
During the five days we stayed in Jokkmokk we participated in the daily activities of the community, such as feeding reindeer, cleaning their enclosure meeting many talented craftsmen and woman, and Sami artists that are fighting for their rights. To participate in this way allowed us to get a feeling for the daily life and thinking. The conversations and discussions where between everything from bread baking to who we identify as and how the climate this year affects the reindeer and makes it hard for them to find food.
reflexive, responsible, respectful research
We learned that in the aboriginal culture they have a conversation/interview technique called yarning that is about giving back as much as you are given, sharing back. I had this technique in mind going to Jokkmokk and talking to people. Making sure that I shared my life and experiences as well, to have an open mind and learn as much as I can through participatory observation.
The picture shows a gift from China we brought as a thank you.
Conversations and snowballing
During the five days we where away we met many new people and had many interesting conversations touching upon heavy topics such as history and oppression, cultural heritage, sustainability and how it is to live as an indigenous people today. This experience and shift in perspectives made me reflect upon my own culture and heritage. While talking to people they often referred us to the next person that they thought would be interesting for us to talk to.
Handicraft showing who you are
The Sami culture is traditionally showing identity through details in the handicraft and clothing. Depending on the pattern and choice of colours you can read from where you are and from which family. This is a really strong tradition that is still kept today.
Why Jokkmokk and the Sami community?
Humble design and listening
By going to Jokkmokk, and the two other villages my colleagues visited, with a humble mind and to listen we were part of a meeting and a participatory design processes of mutual learning and sharing in a diverse context. In this case a meeting between the Sami community and us. This to develop an ethical perspective on how to design for/with/across communities and stakeholders and how to facilitate a more democratic way of designing and thinking.
insights through storytelling
After the trips, we started to digest all of our experiences and new learnings through storytelling. This phase included writing and telling our stories in different ways, a workshop together with other students at the school and the collaborating Sami organisations and clustering our insights and stories into topics.
Here are some of the insights that made the biggest impression on me and that affected me most.
Connection to nature
What I really admire in the Sami community is the connection to nature and how everything is orbiting around nature even in the daily life. There is a huge knowledge about how to behave, what to do and not to do in nature for it to be sustainable.
Know who you are
When we asked what power is, the answer was quick: to know how you are. In the Sami culture, this also includes knowing your heritage and ancestors. That is very impressive I think, that knowledge about yourself and who you are is so valued upon. This makes me think: what is knowing who you are for
me? To be secure about me? Know my own personality both good and bad? And can you truly know who you are?
Sustainability can be many things. Being in Jokkmokk I heard many stories about, what my view of environmental sustainability actually is doing to the nature that I didn't know before. How it effects the reindeer herding, fishing waters and green infrastructure. Perhaps water plants and windmills are sustainable in terms of global emissions but not for the local nature. Sami see on nature in a long term. Generations forward and want to keep the nature for them.
Knowledge makes you richer
“I don’t pick mushrooms. The reindeers need it better than me.” This is an example of knowledge and unselfishness in nature. Knowledge about nature and what to do and not to do, when to wait and when to help, what is normal in nature and what is not.
Power is when you know who you are
“First you need to know who you are, then you can learn, and get self-esteem.” (there is a fear of losing the culture because it is not being taught by the parents or the school)
“Power is when you know who you are and to be secure about it."
Sami has a long-term way of thinking (at least 1000 years) compared to the "western" way of a short term of thinking (200 years). What happens with the land after 200 years when the mine is over? We need to think about the time after that. 1000ds of years, many generations ahead, nature should still be there for them.
During the workshop, we read and shared each other's stories. We tried to see the connections, interconnections, similarities, and contradictions through connecting them with string in different colours.
We are walking through the snowy white forest, checking for holes and rips. Suddenly a herd of animals is moving, running as one single big mass in a wide circle around us. We stop and just are just standing there watching and listening to the reindeers moving fast. The sound from the big hooves hitting the ground. The woman is starting to hum and talk in a melodic voice, to the animals or to her self is hard to know.
After digesting all the stories and impressions we gained we started to cluster them in different topics to work with for the exhibition. Many were about sustainability, nature, the interconnections in the culture, heritage, consequences, and oppression. What we realised was that there was an overall topic that was represented in all the others. Identity.
Shifting perspectives and highlight interconnections
We divided the exhibition into three parts that talked about different topics, oppression, heritage and connections in nature. In our part of the exhibition, we worked with nature and interconnections in nature and culture as a starting point. We wanted to show the different perspectives that are created depending on who and from where you are looking. First, we tried to create different perspectives but realised that if we decide the perspectives we are pointing fingers on what is right and wrong which is not something we wanted. Then we tried to show the consequences of actions in nature but by doing that we are again defining what is right and wrong. What we wanted to achieve was to show the diversity and trigger a reflection process with the visitors, upon themselves the same way we had been reflecting during the field trips. So we decided to make a tool for the visitors to create their own story and self-reflection.
For the final exhibition, the idea was to give a tool for the visitors to reflect over their own identity. We guided the visitors through a reflection process that started with open-ended questions on the floor. Then they where asked to decide and build their own identity. We first had culture as a word to value but realised that actually, culture is what we are building, culture and identity. We wanted to show how diverse we all are, to highlight that we decided to collect all the identities and have the visitors weave a carpet together. A way of co-create the exhibition. The idea was that the carpet will grow during the week it was open.
Development of the final exhibition piece
Weaving your identity
What is most important to you?
The visitors got to order the pieces of fabric in what is most important for them.
Tie the cloths to each other.
Then tie them together into a long string. The best part was to see how the visitors hacked the way of sorting and chose to tie only one colour or several colours at the same place.
Weave your knitted clothes on the ropes.
After sorting the visitors were to weave the cloths into the ropes to make a carpet of identity. The more the carpet was growing the more diversity it started to show.
This project has given me insights into how it is to live as an indigenous people and how important it is to have an open mind and see things from different perspectives. And to always try and prove your pre-assumptions wrong. To be able to do this it is important to listen and be humble and never think that there are we and them but rather have a "weness" mindset as designers.