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Decolonising the Eye: Visual Sovereignty in Sámi Film and Storytelling

LEE, KELSEY,ERIN (2022) Decolonising the Eye: Visual Sovereignty in Sámi Film and Storytelling. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



The Sámi indigenous people, who hail from the northernmost territories of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Kola Peninsula of Russia, have in recent years undergone a burgeoning of productivity in their visual media and cinema industries. This proliferation of creative material has been accompanied by a significant amount of international attention, collaboration, acclaim, and honours at both mainstream and indigenous film festivals, from Sundance in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.A. to the imagiNATIVE Media Arts Festival in Toronto, Canada. However, this primacy of Sámi narrative agency, as well as input and ownership over their portrayals in broader global media, is relatively new and has emerged only within the last few decades. Indeed, prior to the 1960s and 70s, roughly, depictions of indigenous peoples, their lives, and traditions were largely dominated by outsiders. As a consequence, the Sámi and other global indigenous groups have been forced to grapple with the widespread misapprehensions of majority cultures as well as stereotypical, simplistic, and reductive depictions of their lives, epistemologies, and identities in both ethnographic media and other forms of global cinema.

In this thesis, I will emphasise that the stereotypes that populate Nordic mainstream media, which often depict Sámi characters as victims, alcoholics, slum-dwellers, mystics, or as little more than combatants in territorial disputes, have emerged in part from narratives that have stemmed from the domestic colonial legacies of the nations they inhabit. Specifically, I will argue that Norwegianisation, a colonial paradigm that defined Norwegian politics from roughly 1850 to 1980 and aimed to acculturate and “civilise” the Sámi people for the benefit of the newly sovereign nation, still leaves a narrative trace that paints a reductive picture of the Sámi minority, and that this influence continues to impact the Sámi presence – or lack thereof – in Nordic media. Conversely, and perhaps more importantly, I will also explore how Sámi cinema constitutes a form of storytelling emancipation as well as visual sovereignty for indigenous peoples, allowing them to consume alternative, humanising, and diversified narratives and imagery related to their historical and contemporary lives and cultures. In this way, I will suggest that Sámi creativity is intimately related to a decolonial endeavour that has been blossoming since the events and activities associated with the Sámi Cultural Revival of the 1970s and 80s, one which champions self- determination, dignity, and the survival of indigenous epistemologies in Sámi communities.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Anthropology, Department of
Thesis Date:2022
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:22 Aug 2022 13:54

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