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Urban Indigenous Takeover

The potential in meetings between indigenous groups and modern cities will be explored at Oslo World this year.

To be indigenous is often assumed to be a rural condition. It is associated with traditional ways of living and is sometimes held up as the direct opposite of modern, urban lifestyles. Idealized, but pushed out of the mainstream. We associate these groups with something untouched, without a place of its own in the modern mosaic of 21st century city life.

The thing is, none of this is especially true today. In Norway, the capital of Oslo is the largest sami city and the global trend is that indigenous peoples are increasingly characterized as urban populations. According to the United Nations, in a global context, the “Push” factors contributing to indigenous peoples’ migration to urban areas include land forced dispossession, poverty, militarization, natural disasters, lack of employment opportunities, and the deterioration of traditional livelihoods.  

We have gotten used to the fact that cities attract all kinds of folks – that it is diverse in its nature. But still, urban indigenous often face racism and discrimination. And even if the diverse nature of cities should leave ample room for new and creative urban indigenous narratives, this is far from the truth most of the time. Some of the great challenges meeting them are ideas of authenticity and stereotypes. In short: That we can’t really imagine a place for indigenous people in cities.

In Norway, there has been an upswing in interest around sami music and culture in recent years. We saw this during last year’s Oslo World, when the band ISÁK performed one of the definitive shows of the festival. Other innovative artists have emerged and a lot of Norwegian music heads have discovered the different artistic possibilities inherent in joik. This year feels like a good moment to dig deeper in the subject matter.

How can urban indigenous narratives help to decolonize the arts? Is the process of recognizing indigenous voices still an utopia? How do Indigenous artistic expressions establish, reshape, challenge, and/or complement the hegemonic narratives? How, in these processes, can traditional notions of a homeland and a nation be deconstructed? Are urban indigenous narratives heard or silenced?

These are some of the questions we will ask at the SALT Art Centre, where there will be discussions, art and film screenings. Later, Maxida Märak from Sweden and A Tribe Called Red from Canada will perform at Parkteatret.


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