Listening to Indigenous Voices
Photo — Tobias Normann Valentin
Indigenous Peoples comprise less than five percent of the world’s population, yet their traditions, learned through generations, protect 80 percent of global biodiversity. At SPACE10, we want to learn from this intergenerational wisdom and amplify these voices in imagining a collective future for people and the planet. With Ancestral Futures, we pass the mic to Inuk filmmaker and activist Aka Hansen, who curated a series of conversations with Indigenous changemakers from the Arctic region.
Aka lives in Nuuk, the Greenlandic capital, but joined us in Copenhagen for a two-month residency. Her films, which focus on Inuit identity and elevating Indigenous voices, have introduced many people to her region and its cultural traditions. SPACE10 cultural research lead Binit Vasa chats with Aka about the goals of her residency, reclaiming Kalaallit culture and values, and connection to the land.
Binit: Aka, thank you so much for joining this residency and curating conversations from Indigenous speakers across the Arctic region. My first question is: why did you join this residency, and how did you approach it?
Aka: The first time I entered SPACE10 was this summer. I was participating in a talk called Decolonising Our Community, which focused on the queer community. Later, in October, SPACE10 contacted me and asked me to join this residency. I was very happy to be asked, but I have to admit, I was unsure about being part of something founded by IKEA because Indigenous Peoples are often exploited by big companies.
I joined because I wanted to take up some space. I wanted to reach out and listen to other Indigenous Peoples because we have so many things in common. Not only history but also how we view the world. Many of our worldviews are not based on productivity, but on community.
The goal of the residency is to put forward voices that I think are necessary to make a better future. I want to highlight these perspectives that are sometimes kept out of the conversation.
Let’s talk about your perspective.
I was born in Aarhus, Denmark. My mother is Greenlandic and my father is Danish. From childhood, I have been in and out of both cultures. I find this to be a gift. It helps in having a perspective that you’re not only able to do something one way, but that different people, different cultures, do it differently. I did not have a relationship to my land, or to my culture, growing up, due to colonisation and assimilation. During my 20s, I realised I needed to reconnect and reclaim pride in my culture.
So that led me to what I’m doing now — as a filmmaker, but also an activist and a truth-teller. That’s my perspective. It’s not just the relation to the land that is lost, but also the relation to my grandmother, and my mother, that I’m trying to reclaim. Because my mother is my connection to the culture.
When you talk about reclaiming — can you give us insight into what makes this Indigenous connection to the land so valuable?
When I’m trying to explain my views, others want to segregate them: climate change is in one box, there’s another box with culture, another with language, and another box with food. But for me, everything is interconnected.
How I treat the earth is linked to my language, but also my community, my grandparents, and my ancestry. Within history, this was disconnected.
It’s important for Indigenous Peoples to reconnect with what we call Sila in Greenland. That word explains the whole universe. Sila is the weather, and also consciousness. It’s not easy to explain, because it’s also linked to another concept Inua — which explains the soul or spirit of anything physical that’s on the planet. These concepts do not exist in the so-called civilised world. It makes it easier to exploit the world’s natural resources when something is a dead object and not connected with everything else.
What spiritual practices do you have to connect to land and nature?
In Greenland, with everything we do, we’re honouring and respecting nature. If we go hunting, we have to respect nature. We don’t hunt for fun, and we don’t take more from nature than we need. Having a different sense of time can be spiritual. Time is different for different cultures.
How important is family as a vehicle for transporting culture?
It’s so important because my culture is based on clan. The family structure is very important — it is the base of everything. I wish my grandparents were still around. We lost so much with the generation who grew up in the 1950s, when assimilation was happening. There is a gap between the Elders (my parents’ generation) and mine.
We need to listen to the Elders and hear their perspectives. But we are also trying to find sense in the world we are living in right now.
Some of the people who are reclaiming these things are from younger generations, because we didn’t grow up with the system that they grew up with.
Do you consider the possibility of synthesising Indigenous and non-Indigenous ways of living? If those worlds were to meet, what would it look like?
Me! It’s not necessarily that we need to sync them together. I will be happy if some of the people who are joining the Ancestral Futures conversations are inspired to think from different perspectives. If something resonates with you — feel free to take it with you. Maybe it doesn’t happen right away. Maybe it will linger and grow. With this residency, we’re planting some seeds. Let’s see what happens.
A warm thank you to Aka Hansen for this generous, seed-planting journey. Listen to the full conversation. Read abridged versions of Aka Hansen’s conversations with Paninnguaq Lind, Brianna Olson-Pitawanakwat, Alice Qannik Glenn, and Sunná Nousuniemi. We’ve woven these stories together in Ancestral Futures.
Aka Hansen is an activist, mother, and Inuk filmmaker from Greenland. After gaining recognition in Greenland’s film and television industry, she founded Uilu, a production company on a mission to tell more Indigenous stories with Inuit voices. She has been active in recent debates on the decolonisation of Greenland.
Binit Vasa is cultural research lead at SPACE10, currently exploring how we can support the undervalued ecosystem services of forests using technology and design.