Where do artists and lawyers meet in the Arctic?

My research located in the wider context of the Arctic research

My doctoral research “Law of Ecocide and Art as an Agent of Social Change” deals with the themes of international criminal law, Law of Ecocide and artist’s worldwide participation to widen and deepen the public debate around it during the years 2021 – 2025. In my plan, the arctic viewpoint is planned to come into the third article of the total of four academic articles and I intend to conduct interviews with artists from arctic areas for that purpose. Right now my research happens in the context of the international campaign aiming at criminalizing mass damage and destruction of nature and ecosystems and I am aware that the arctic areas aren’t yet part of the public discussion or represented in the campaign. This particularly in the context of arctic research is the gap I have identified and my choice of theory is to analyze the interviews through the cultural theory of articulation according to Stuart Hall. I have chosen that theory because of the interesting situation of an international criminal law in the making and the articulations that are happening in that process literally – in relation to different member states and the indigenous peoples that take part in the process as well. The significance of the research is multi-faceted, because it is a way of communicating knowledge in the society as well as bringing findings to the academic community through the articles. I am following the process of the law making and artists’ participation in it and have a great position to be discussing it with the experts from both the law context as well as the artists who go to the deeper layers of the whole topic with a different language. In this blog I look at the questions that have arisen during last autumn and Dr. Hanna Lempinen’s course on Arctic Research in Lapland University, and reflect them in relation to my research.

It is highly interesting how the themes of sustainability of food production and population growth were a concern addressed by UN and international agents after the second World War and how that marks also the focus on the “efficient use of science to ensure effective use of the resources to raise the standard of living.”(Aull et al. 1950; McGormick 1991) We can certainly see now that natural resources were thought to be limitless or renewing, and that the aims to raise the standards of living were successful indeed, but worked through with the variety of colonialistic manners of exploitation and inequality of the ownership of those resources, which in turn has become extremely problematic in last decades. The history of sustainable development in the arctic has repeating dilemmas of geopolitical power struggles as well as the questionable concepts which contradict the worldviews of the native peoples (see for example Wenzel on Inuit Quaujimajatuquangit presenting the different approaches, 2004). This actually is where my positioning as a researcher is located partly as the indigenous people’s voice is a particularly important matter in Stop Ecocide International’s discussions around criminalizing Ecocide internationally. 

I am particularly interested in the problems and possibilities of the Law of Ecocide in addressing the arctic indigenous peoples position and state politics and that in comparison to other indigenous peoples’ positions in different parts of the world. What are the particular questions that the arctic peoples without a state are facing in the current development of climate change and biodiversity loss? The legal definition of Law of Ecocide was drafted by the Independent Expert Panel in the year 2021 and published in June 2021. A French lawyer Valerie Cabanes, who has worked extensively with the indigenous groups in Brazil, has said recently that she is especially content with the legal definition mentioning cultures. She continues that many of the times the core of the problem are the states themselves and in mentioning the cultures, the state leaders would be held personally responsible for the permissions granted for companies and decisions made. My view is that in the Arctic, this is also a part of the discussion of security, and there is a big question, which comes back to the colonial or decolonizing discourses. The question should be asked: whose security is being talked about in the first place? In EU -conference Beyond Growth in autumn 2019 Paul Okumu, the head of the secretariat of African Platform posed a similar question to the European politicians: when they are talking about well-being, whose well-being and with what standards are they concerned of. He mentioned that when he goes to his home village in Kenya, and sees the people there, the conversation of well-being in EU conferences seem selfish and out of proportion in the bigger picture. I wonder if this is also the case in many of the Arctic rural areas, where conditions are harsh and the lack of infrastructure is a real problem for the so-called sustainable development. (i. e. the case of Oscarville in Alaska.) 

The rapid increasing warming and changes in the natural environments as well as new corporations seeking new land for mining make big themes that artists are addressing. I’ve been listening to the song “Reindeer of Diamond” by Mari Boine, which tells about the companies looking for the natural resources from the Sami lands, without acknowledgement of the native peoples life that becomes threatened as it is one with nature. For me this song brings about very important knowledge about the emotional side of the arctic matters, that rarely come through in the official and rational discussions. This is at the core of my research questions: what are the ways that artists can reach different audiences in the campaign of Stop Ecocide International, and why is this important in the arctic? In the SEI campaign the aim is to criminalize Ecocide by amending Rome Statute, which in other words means that the persons who are the high level decision makers would be personally responsible in front of international law for their actions (in a similar way than the war criminals are now through the ICC). Right now there exists no such law that would create a legal duty of care for the companies and states to protect the ecosystems and cultures. This is highly emotional to many many people in today’s world, because the future window for next generations is looking desperate at the moment all over the world, according to for example IPCC reports. As a researcher I am  interested in the ability of art and for example songs like joik to bring together the emotional sides of the interconnectedness of all life, locally and globally and the acute or long term threats for planetary life as we know it. How can and could art act as an agent of social change in the arctic? The non-verbal parts of Mari Boine’s song are obviously very beautiful and deeply meaningful, they make the message resonate on an emotional and feeling level. It is untranslatable to spoken or written language and that is exactly where the value of it is. 

One appealing area of arctic research for me is the theme of indigenous rights and as mentioned in the book “Arctic Sustainability Research: Past, Present and Future” there has been a concept called “legal pluralism” and how traditional indigenous legal knowledge can be “translated” into official jurisprudence (Dahl et al. 2005, 14). In Marjo Lindroth’s lecture about critical approach to arctic studies (25th Nov in Lapland University) there was also a significant topic about indigenous rights, and in what different ways the rights can become even an obstacle for a real sovereign agency in the political world and decision making. When the rights of indigenous peoples are to some extent glorified, in reality it can be that these peoples’ voices remain in instances like the UN and Arctic Council but don’t have any political power – that can even strengthen or reproduce the colonial “governmentality”. I will also try to find examples of artworks that comment on these topics.  I think that this is a topic that I should read and study more, because it will provide important viewpoints to my research and it’s framework. I study the intended reach of the proposed Law of Ecocide to the indigenous peoples. It is discussed already in a small scale at least in the Faith for Ecocide Law -seminars, where for example Sami spiritual leader Eirik Myrhaug Partapuoli’s statement says the following: “Since we don’t have national states it is important that an international law is implemented, so that states will have to take it in account.”  


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